The Upside of Cruising During COVID
I have always been someone at the front of the line when it comes to trying new things; and no, it's not just because people in wheelchairs get to cut to the front of the line pretty much everywhere.
Keeping that in mind, it should be no surprise that I was the first in line to put the cruising industry's COVID-19 protocols to the test when cruise ships started sailing again in the US. My family cruises every year; it’s our version of a family reunion, or should I say a reunion with family members we can stand to be around for an entire week. My last cruise prior to COVID did not end well. I broke my hip, so needless to say, I was anxious for a “do-over.” When I found out that my parents had vouchers for a cruise, I saw it as my chance for redemption.
Our March cruise was different in many ways. The first area that future cruisers will notice a difference is the proof of vaccination requirement. This requirement changed the overall makeup of our typical cruise party. Without getting into the politics of the vaccine, there were a few members of my family who did not join us this time. Once you have presented proof of being vaccinated, you must still do other things before sailing with the cruise line. Forty-eight hours before sailing, you must also provide a negative COVID test.
The second major difference new cruisers will notice is the reduced capacity on board. When I sailed, Royal Caribbean was only sailing at 60% capacity. I wish that all cruises going forward would remain this way for a few reasons:
If you are a person with a disability like myself (I have cerebral palsy and use a wheelchair), the ship is much easier to navigate with fewer people on board.
People are more aware of those around them because everyone is trying to remain socially distant. People actually look where they are going and will step to the side and allow you to pass without causing a big issue.
Maybe this is just in my head, but it seemed as if people were more helpful on this cruise than in the past. This might be the result of a better appreciation for recreation and humanity as a whole.
The third major difference one will notice about cruising is how the safety briefing is conducted. Before the pandemic, passengers were divided and corralled into very crowded safety stations on board and required to watch a crew member demonstrate how to use the safety equipment. This process is now streamlined into a video that you can watch from your cabin. This had the double benefit of reducing the number of people in one area at any given time while speeding up the check-in process. For people with disabilities there was the additional benefits of closed captions, adjustable volume, and a much less stressful environment.
A final change that will dramatically impact cruising forever involves more diligent sanitation and cleaning processes. Even though most people in the US are fed up with COVID, it is nice to see that the rest of the world is still diligent. On the ship, there are countless handwashing stations. Along with an increased emphasis on sanitation Royal Caribbean does a great job of leading by example. Although it is not required on the ship, many guests and all the crew wore their masks when interacting with guests. I believe that while many in the US are tired of said restrictions, it is only through this new way of cruising that the world will slowly open up once again.
This is not a political piece by any means, but I raise the question that if the US ran like Royal Caribbean cruises, would we be further along in dealing with this pandemic? I’m not saying that I have all the answers, but to enjoy cruises or recreation in general, we may have to get used to these new protocols. The days of large crowds may need to be a thing of the past, at least for now. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the points I have raised in this article, I hope you learn from my experience when planning your future travel.
For general tips on cruising for wheelchair users, see my still relevant 2017 travel piece here.