What it is like to Cruise again
Updated: Feb 20, 2022
In July 2021, I was invited to sail onboard Royal Caribbean International’s Freedom of the Seas 4-night cruise from the Miami port.
It had been at least 18 months since my last cruise and I knew it would look and feel different with all the new Covid protocols. Here is what my experience was like cruising again and why I sailed on two additional cruises just a few months later.
Since every cruise line and every cruise line itinerary has its own set of sailing requirements, it's important you carefully review those protocols frequently. Most sailings are only accepting guests 12 and older who are fully vaccinated and 2-11 year olds with proof of a negative Covid test.
All passengers need to show proof of a negative Covid test and guests who are not vaccinated may also undergo additional Covid testing at the port, onboard during their cruise and prior to disembarkation.
Additionally, all guests regardless of their vaccination status must complete Royal Caribbean’s health questionnaire which can be completed on the Royal Caribbean app the day before embarkation. These questions pertain to the guests’ current well-being and any Covid-related symptoms they may have experienced within the last 14 days.
It’s also important to note that all crew members on Royal Caribbean ships are required to be vaccinated and these crew members also wear masks at all times, even outdoors.
Masks and physical distancing
All guests regardless of their vaccination status are required to wear masks while indoors in public spaces. Royal Caribbean provides disposable masks and hand sanitizer in each stateroom. Guests may remove their masks in their stateroom, onboard in outdoor spaces, while stationary and actively eating and once they disembark at Royal Caribbean’s private island Perfect Day at Coco Cay.
Areas on the ship that is open to all guests have designated physical distancing markers and signage on tables/chairs which indicate that no one may utilize them. These signs are to prevent parties from sitting too close to one another. Since the ship was sailing at a much lower capacity, finding a place to sit was never an issue even with limited seating.
Venues for vaccinated guests only
Certain venues are completely off-limits to unvaccinated guests such as the casino, spa and a few lounges.
Some of the showtimes and activities are also exclusive to vaccinated guests only.
These events include specific ice skating showtimes, trivia contests and silent disco parties.
Vaccination-designated bracelets are checked at the entrance of these venues and vaccinated guests are also informed that they may remove their masks while inside.
In the dining room and theater, guests are directed to sit on separate floors based on their vaccination status. If a party is traveling together with children under 12, then all those guests would sit on the levels designated for unvaccinated guests. In the unvaccinated section of the theaters, guests are also asked to keep their masks on during the show.
Parents will be pleased to know that the complimentary youth and teen spaces are open to all guests 3 to 17 years of age. Some programs have been modified and some sections of the clubs were closed. It was interesting to see that the arcade is open, but the kids' indoor playground was temporarily closed.
Dining and buffet restaurants
Hand washing and hand sanitizer stations are located at the entrances of every dining facility and all guests are directed to utilize one of these stations prior to entering.
At the all-you-care-to-eat dining facilities, guests hand their plates to the crew members and point to the entrees they would like to eat.
This included the condiment stations such as the taco toppings bar.
The drink stands are also manned by staff members who fill up your cups with the beverage of your choice.
Some specialty restaurants such as Izumi Hibachi & Sushi and the Chef's Table are only available for vaccinated guests.
Other specialty restaurants like Giovanni's Italian Kitchen, Chops Grille and Johnny Rockets welcome all passengers.
Stateroom cleanliness and air circulation
In each stateroom, a visible card on the desk outlines all the cleaning protocols onboard. Royal Caribbean features an HVAC system that continuously supplies 100% fresh, filtered air from outdoors to all indoor spaces. Additionally, Royal Caribbean uses EPA-certified disinfectants and techniques like electrostatic fogging to clean frequently and consistently. Everywhere I turned, crew members were wiping down high touch areas such as handrails, elevator buttons and door knobs.
Housekeeping service is performed in your stateroom twice a day just like they did on pre-Covid sailings.
While the towel folding still occurred daily, I noticed that they did not utilize personal items like sunglasses and hats to “dress up” the towel creations.
I am not certain if that was because of Covid or just mere coincidence.
Hand sanitizer stations are visible throughout the entire ship and it is difficult to walk more than a few feet without spotting a nearby dispenser.
Stations are prominently located outside of elevators, entrances to restaurants, theaters and many other ship venues.
My biggest tip would be to make sure you continue to moisturize your hands during your cruise.
While these hand sanitizer stations are essential in helping keep everyone healthy, your hands will feel the effects of the dryness with constant use.
Ports of call
The two ports of call on my 4-day cruise were Nassau, Bahamas and Royal Caribbean’s private island, Perfect Day at CocoCay. Each destination had very different protocols.
In Nassau, all guests are permitted to disembark the ship; however, if you are unvaccinated, your only option for exploring Nassau is with a reservation on a Royal Caribbean port excursion.
All other guests are permitted to explore Nassau on their own or participate in a Royal Caribbean port excursion.
Mask wearing is required on transportation in Nassau and at one of the island’s most popular destinations, Blue Lagoon all guests are required to wear masks outdoors unless they are swimming.
When the ship arrived at Perfect Day at Coco Cay, Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Bahamas, all vaccinated and unvaccinated guests were allowed to disembark at their leisure, regardless if they had a port excursion reservation or not.
Masks are also not required on the island since everything is outdoors. Since the cruise sailed at limited capacity and was the only Royal Caribbean ship in port, physical distancing was very easy to do. There were plenty of lounge chairs available so everyone could spread out. Just like the dining facilities onboard, crew members assist with plating your dishes and filling up your drinks at the island's barbecue buffet.
Overall, my experience onboard Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas was absolutely spectacular! I appreciated all the new safety precautions and efforts put in place to help keep all guests healthy.
Most guests complied with the mask mandate, but those who were not in compliance appeared to have simply forgotten to “mask up” when exiting their stateroom or entering an inside space from an outdoor venue.
As a vaccinated guest, I did not feel limited by the endless opportunities and found the crowd levels and crew's attentive service to be quite luxurious. If there was anything lacking on this cruise, it would have been the lively atmosphere and energy on the pool deck. While there was no sail away party or poolside contests, the pool deck still offered live music and DJs throughout the day.
I personally enjoyed the laid back vibe, shorter lines, widely available seating and intimate gatherings. If you are someone who likes the freedom of selecting that perfect pool chair or dislikes waiting in long lines for food service and onboard activities, then I highly recommend sailing soon before Royal Caribbean increases its guest capacity levels.
Want to learn more about Perfect Day at CocoCay, Royal Caribbean's private island in the Bahamas? Check out How to experience the Perfect Day at CocoCay.
Lissa Ryan is a Senior Travel Advisor with Kingdom Destinations specializing in luxurious family vacations. Lissa helps busy parents who want to create travel memories with their families through luxury travel experiences, but are too busy or overwhelmed with all the effort and research that is required to plan that perfect vacation.
For more information or to schedule a consultation to discuss a Royal Caribbean cruise or any other luxury family vacation, please contact email@example.com.
*Please note that this blog was written about Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas 4-night sailing from the Miami Port. Other Royal Caribbean itineraries may have different protocols and pre-departure requirements. Since cruising travel requirements are constantly changing, please review the latest Covid protocols or reach out to lissa@kingdomdestinations for the latest updates.