Thinking about taking a cruise during COVID? Here are some quick facts to help you make an informed decision.
Have the flyers, mailers and discounts coming in the mail recently got you thinking about cruising again? Since we received our first flyer in May we would glance longingly at those flyers with nostalgia of trips from the past. Since we have a member of our family who is a cruise planner, we decided to wait and see how safe cruising was. They were among the first to head out on the high seas when cruising resumed and always had great feedback.
COVID Hits Cruise Line Industry Hard
Cruise ships advertise themselves as a floating hotel however at the beginning of COVID-19 they became synically dubbed as “floating petri dishes.” As COVID began to take hold and the world shut down, our family began to watch horror stories of people stuck on cruise ships for weeks at a time or desperately trying to find their way home from closed ports and cities. Our heart broke as we read stories of close to 254,000 employees out of work….some of them who built weeklong relationships with our kids and may never know how much in a week’s time they helped shape the way our kids now see the outside world in a way we could never teach them. Our hearts ached for the employees, those who got COVID and the industry.
Last month, our cruise planner family member reached out and said that they felt after several rounds of cruising and refined cruise COVID protocols there were several cruises that had proven to be pretty safe statistically. We were told these ships had been sailing safely since July and that there were some decent deals to be had. As Christmas drew closer, we booked our cruise last minute, feeling safe. The Delta variant was winding down and the Omicron variant had just started to tease the news but at the time there wasn’t a lot of information about it.
We opted for a short three day cruise Carnival Cruise from Long Beach to Ensenada. In those three days away from technology and the world we found the Omicron variant had begun to not only spread but had tightly gripped it’s fingers throughout the world. While we were out cruising the CDC also announced it no longer endorsed cruises. In three short days we realized how much can change.
What We’re Covering
Since coming back from the cruise, we have had people ask us about what it is like to take a cruise during COVID. We are including this for informational purposes only. Please realize it may not reflect the experience of others. We will cover our experience with:
- COVID Testing
- Vaccines and Cruising
- COVID protocols being followed on board and at ports
- Cruise experience
- Friends, family and coworker responses to us going on a cruise
At the time we cruised, we were required to submit a negative COVID test two days prior to leaving. You can submit it up to one day prior to leaving. Our cruise ship had a list of approved testing centers to get our COVID testing done, but with it being Christmas and a lot of places having varied hours due to the holiday we opted to order an in home test and do a telehealth visit instead. It was very simple and easy. We ordered the tests and had them sent to our house. Once they arrived, we scheduled an online telehealth visit and then performed the test and showed our results in front of an online health representative. They emailed us our results which we also brought with us to show when we boarded the ship. The telehealth appointment was about 30 minutes long.
Vaccines and Cruising:
We were asked for our vaccine cards when we checked in for our cruise at the Carnival port. Since we both work in industries that require us to have our vaccines we don’t have experience trying to cruise without having your COVID vaccine. We were both fully vaccinated at the time we cruised and I had received my booster prior to going on our cruise.
COVID Protocols on Board and In Port:
On board: Before you cruise multiple multiple emails are sent to you. Emails asking you to fill out a health survey. Emails reminding you about your COVID test. Emails reminding you that the cruise will require you to wear masks. Once on board the cruise ship, signage was EVERYWHERE! Reminders were constant overhead and in activities by the cruise director, captain and staff. We knew and it was expected that anytime you were out of your room, you had your mask on. Reminders of “Sip and cover” was often heard anytime you went to shows with signs everywhere reminding you to ‘sip and cover.’ Every morning it was “goooooood morning Carnival Cruise Line Family! This is a reminder to mask up, have fun and ‘sip and cover!’”
The fitness center also encouraged you to have a mask on if you weren’t on cardio equipment. I ran on the outdoor track one morning and didn’t mask. I’m one of those lucky ones that passes out when I try to exercise in a mask and one of those that gets dizzy running on a treadmill too long. So I knew ahead of time I’d be running outside. Most people were good to give space while I ran. Most people actively running or walking on the outdoor running track were not masked. Some people outside would be laying on chairs or loungers without a mask but were good to be away from others.
The best part of the trip for me was the smoke free casino. I totally hope that they continue that after COVID.
The staff wore KN95 masks at all times. We noticed the comedy shows were only 30 minutes long and there was space left in between shows to clean. We noticed some activities (like the towel animal class, my favorite!) were cancelled.
In Port: We went to Mexico and it honestly felt like nothing was different from California. Masks were worn by residents and workers in all establishments we went to. Most people even wore them while walking past shops on the sidewalks.
Tours: we had to wear a mask on our tour bus and had to keep our same seats the entire time during our tour. A lot of the stores and restaurants had you enter one side of the restaurant or store and exit the other. The tour guide told us that a lot of the schools in Mexico were still on hybrid learning schedules and mentioned that the particular day we were there was an online learning day.
Overall we didn’t feel our cruise experience was marred by the fact that we had to live a few additional protocols for COVID. The workers really did a great job of making you feel like everything was the same and being excited to have us back. We felt like the service we received was the same but the experience overall was not. We felt like that started at booking and was subtly noticed throughout the cruise.
- Booking: The first thing we noticed was the booking experience. We booked our cruise after talking to our cruise planner and because the QR code on our flyer said that we would receive a free room upgrade and $100 onboard credit. The cruise price was pretty low too and seemed like a great deal. That’s where things got tough. I couldn’t book the advertised cruise they sent me in the flyer at all with the instructions and QR code they gave me for redemption. I started to play around with various other discount codes I found online and that our cruise planner gave us and no matter what deals I found, the price of the cruise always ended up being about the same price…decent. I noticed the port fees and taxes changed if the cruises base price changed. I also noticed if they gave you room upgrades or credits, the price of both the cruises and fees changed. I even called Carnival to inquire about the QR code with the $100 onboard credit and free room upgrade and was given some bizarre answer by the cruise line. We opted to not fight it because it ended up being the same price in the end no matter which way we booked. Still a good price, but the booking process seemed more difficult than it had in the past. Several days after we booked our cruise and I had called Carnival to inquire about the codes, a representative at Carnival called my husband and asked if he would like to upgrade his room for a special cruise price of only $100 more. He said he was already supposed to have gotten it free. The cruise quickly ended the call.
- Food: As always there were gluten free food options for me, and the staff at the restaurant was great to go over the menu and allow me to arrange my meal each night for the next night. One night after longingly looking at all the bread being passed around my waiter found gluten free bread that I could munch on while waiting.
HOWEVER….we noticed some HUGE CHANGES on the menu and extra charges. Last time we cruised the kids ordered filet mignon every single night of the cruise. This time, filet mignon would cost you an extra $20 surcharge and was not included on the menu. One person actually ordered the filet mignon and as we saw it go past us we were floored by how small of a piece of meat it was for $20. My husband ordered the one steak that was on the menu one night and it was flat and thin…we ended up at the buffet after so we didn’t go hungry. We were understanding that the cruise line was probably trying to recoup their losts costs.
- Prepaid Gratuities?: We always opt to pay our gratuities when we book. However we noticed that at some restaurants and bars we were given slips that charged an additional server fee, etc. See drinks for more info on this!
- Drinks: Our pocketbooks got poked at the bars and with the unlimited packages. My husband always orders the unlimited bubbles package for an extra few dollars a day so he can have soda. Last trip we went on a bartender taught him the bars to go to that would give him just the can unopened instead of opening and pouring the soda into a cup. My husband loves that better because he can pack a can with him on port days or have an extra soda in the fridge. This time he noticed when he went to these particular bars he was being charged a few dollars everytime he went there. They would hand him his slip to sign and there was a $2-3 surcharge. In addition for already paying for the daily package.
We didn’t think much of it the first time it happened the first night. But the first night on the ship when we were in line waiting for the comedy club to open, people in front and back of us were complaining about the drinks. “I’ve had three drinks and usually I’m out!” one woman said. “I’ve had three drinks and I’m barely feeling ANYTHING!” Others mentioned the same thing. People were asking each other if they were a part of the bottomless drink package or not and it seemed like the answers were mixed. But a lot of people whether or not they had bought the package noticed that the drinks were more money, there were some additional charges added in even if you had prepaid gratuities or for drink packages, and many weren’t feeling the same effects they usually would with their evening glass of wine or mixed drink. Some even mentioned they just opted to buy bottles of liquor from the cruise ship store instead.
- Spa: The spa prices are always insane to me so I can’t comment on them. If I do a spa session I usually opt to do a free session the spa puts on the activity list but I found that even those had a $ sign by most of them this trip.
Friends, family and coworker responses to us going on a cruise
This has been mixed. But the reactions caused us to not really want to talk about our cruise afterward. Some people were really excited and asked questions similar to those we answered in this article and others were pretty upset or mentioned that they thought it was selfish that we had gone when it is so high of a risk. Our hope in sharing this information is that you make the best informed decision for you.
Disclaimer: I am not promoting or endorsing Carnival cruise or cruise ships. Choose to cruise at your own risk during COVID. I am merely sharing my experience. I was not paid to share my opinion.