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Cruises for U.S. Citizens Are Here and More Are Coming Soon! Is Now the Time to Book and Travel?

In the last two weeks Celebrity Cruises announced they would commence seven day sailings from St. Maarten, Royal Caribbean announced it would start Caribbean sailings and the week prior Crystal Cruises announced it would be doing seven day Bahamas cruises; all commencing in June or July 2021.  And smaller lines, such as American Queen Steamboat Company has just started sailing with Lindblad Expeditions smaller ship starting Alaska sailing in May 2021.  

Seabourn Odyssey


Worldwide, AmaWaterways is commencing river cruises in May.  Mediterranean sailings by MSC Cruises have been ongoing and in the UK, P&O Cruises announced it would start sailing this summer as well. Atlas Ocean Voyages is sailing in July and even the newly owned Azamara Cruises plans on sailing in July 2021.  Of course there are others who are planning to start very soon, but just haven’t announced it.  

And with this, the inertia has started and, well, let’s not say the floodgates have opened, but rather the travel industry hand is on the water faucet. (And my arm is waiting for my second Pfizer vaccination shot later this month so I can ‘er um test the waters!)

So what does this mean for you? 

What is the onboard experience going to be? 

Are you on the first ship, the second…or do you wait a bit to find out how things are working? 

For as many questions that you have, there is one thing that I am confident is rock-solid: What will be on the first sailings will change as time goes on. Why? Because we are in a transition period as more people are vaccinated and we learn how to better control – and live with – Covid-19 in our lives.  As you will see “living with” is the real area for discussion!  (One thing is for certain, I am not going to tell you what I think is best for you! What I will do is work to assist you in your quest to make that decision…Hence I am not going to hype the restarting of US cruising.)

Note right up front that none of the major lines are actually sailing from the US, but rather from nearby islands of Barbados, St. Maarten, Bahamas, etc. This is because the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) still has not provided any guidance as to what is acceptable while it allows airplanes to fly and international travel to continue. 

So before I get into the mechanics of it all, let’s get some perspective because it is going to directly affect your feelings and/or desires to restart travel and I want it to be more than an emotional decision; though emotions are so very important when discussing travel! (BTW, feel free to skip over this and get to the “HOW” below.)

A year ago we really had no idea of what we were dealing with. There were mixed messages (from claims it will all just go away to lock yourself away from everyone and everything). Covid-19 was spreading quickly, but nobody really knew how, so people became paranoid about, well, everything. And, of course, it was clear that older people were far more vulnerable to the effects of Covid-19 than most…that is “most”…younger people.  

We were told the concept of “shelter in place” was to protect the most vulnerable, with the majority of hospitalizations and deaths being associated with nursing homes and assisted living facilities and to “Stop the Spread”.  While there have been people throwing out the concept of “herd immunity” scientifically that isn’t going to happen in the foreseeable future. Why? Because we don’t live in small bubbles that don’t interact, there are not only a significant number of people in the US that won’t (for a variety of reasons) take the vaccine and, especially for travelers, the rest of the world does not have the same sort of access to the vaccines that the US and the UK have. 

Alas, the goal was never to eliminate Covid-19; something that we all agree would be fantastic, but clearly not – at least as of now- something that can reasonably be expected. But what we are achieving is a world where those who are vaccinated probably will not get ill, but if they do there is a very low risk of becoming seriously ill or worse.  

Now there are some “hot buttons” that go along with the “We can and must live with this disease”. 

  • After a year plus of being emotionally beaten up it is extremely hard for many to say, “I have the vaccine so never mind.”
  • Many are concerned whether the vaccines (or which ones) are truly effective and for how long. (Hint: Testing and monitoring has been going on since the trials began and there is no evidence published showing the vaccines aren’t still working for those early patients.)
  • There has been so much talk about vaccines that people are not aware of the great strides in antiviral medicines to be taken if one is infected.
  • We are told not to travel because of the concern over variants while at the same time being told flying on a airplane is safe due to excellent air filtration.
  • We are told to worry about variants, but that are told the variants that exist are effectively controlled by the vaccines (but watch out for possible new ones that are not yet in existence or known). 
  • While the flu caused thousands of deaths plus serious illnesses every year – as do malaria, typhoid, salmonella, TB, etc., we have learned to live with it through vaccines, antivirals, antibiotics and sanitary processes.  It would seem that living with Covid-19 is as much the same as it is different (because it spreads so easily). 
  • The infection and death rates vary greatly not only in the US, but throughout the world. Here is a very short interesting daily video from John Hopkins University showing same. 

All of this causes a variety of reactions from “I’m on the first ship” to “I’m still so confused/paranoid/cautious that I am still not going anywhere”…and everything in between.  

So with that, What are the Mechanics?  This much I do know from what the cruise lines have said publicly and in private conversations with me:

  • Most cruise lines will require the guests be US citizens or Resident Aliens.
  • Vaccinations will be required for all guests (except some children that cannot yet get the vaccine), at least for now. (I am not sure I’d want to expose children to areas with high Covid-19 rates, but with face masks, social distancing and hand washing it may well be safe.  And non-vaccine required cruises have been successfully operated in the Med and European river cruises for many months)
  • All crew will be vaccinated.
  • All ships have improved ventilation systems.
  • The ships will not sail full, but around 60% full. (Celebrity is, for example, not selling inside or outside staterooms…yet…but rather only balcony and above.) 
  • All of the visited ports in the Caribbean are onboard with the sailings and welcoming vaccinated visitors and, thus, you will be free to wander on your own, enjoy restaurants, private tours or, of course, take ship’s tours.  (Some cruise lines may limit this, but unless you hear otherwise…)
  • You will need to comply with the embarkation port requirements which probably include a negative PCR test result obtained within 72 hours of arrival. (I do not know exactly how those guests wanting a few extra days hotel pre-cruise will have to handle the cruise ship requirement for same, but you probably will have to obtain another negative PCR test before boarding the ship, so plan accordingly.  And, of course if a back-to-back is available it is not yet know if you will be required to disembark, obtain a new PCR test and then reboard to comply with local requirements.) 
  • You will be tested again before you board the ship
  • You will be monitored while on the ship
  • If someone tests positive Covid-19 during the cruise, the guest and close contacts will be dealt with, including having in place agreements with shoreside medical facilities accept these persons, but the cruise will continue.  (Remember, you are vaccinated!)
  • There will be buffets on most sailings, but not “self-serve” buffets.
  • Face masks may/will be required in certain areas of the ships (show lounges, elevators, fitness center, etc.), but not while eating or drinking or in your stateroom or suite or where social distancing is not a problem.  (Believe it or not, this is still not finalized for most lines starting up.)
  • There will be social distancing while dining. What the effect is on solo traveler experiences has not, for most, been defined. 
  • You will be tested before you disembark. (The US required a negative antigen test to reenter the US.)

As an example, here are more details on Crystal Cruises protocols.  You will note that it expressly states that things are dynamic

So if you are a solo traveler and comfortable dining alone if you must so you can start traveling (I most certainly am) and are otherwise a bit more flexible, now might be a great time to book travel.  If dining with new people you meet onboard is a crucial part of your experience you may want to wait.

I must also say that regardless of whether not wearing a face mask is a personal choice, political statement, or just a relief you want while traveling, going on a cruise now is NOT, I repeat: NOT, for you at this time. Things may change down the road, but these companies need to stay in business and they have to weigh the risks not only as to Covid-19, but the number of people that will not sail because of a lack of mask requirements. So just as dining alone may be a deal breaker…or not…so might wearing a face mask. 

So what is your next move?  I know many have been booking their 2022 and 2023 cruises and land journeys because it is presumed that by then things will be back to “normal”.  I figure there will be “back-filling” with most luxury travelers booking Summer 2021 sailings and land journeys after doing so. (Trust me on this: If you are interested in a 2022 cruise or land journey book it now because demand is very high and is only going to get higher!).

If you are a “I gotta go somewhere NOW!” person, bookings are just opening up and I am very confident with the pent up demand and the lower capacities things are going to sell out (or sell out in the desire categories at a minimum) very quickly. 

If you have already booked your 2022 and/or 2023 trips, and are wanting to go now, the Caribbean is easy and fun. If you are looking at later in 2021, Mediterranean  sailings are going to be opening up very soon too!  With Greece, Cypress, Croatia, Israel and others in the region opening up, I would plan on these regions being the ones to focus on.

 So give me a call, send me an email or shoot me a DM on Facebook. Sooner is definitely better than later!

Up Next: CDC Updates on Cruise Ships

Interested in a Luxury Journey by Cruise, Expedition, or Land?

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Email: eric@goldringtravel.com 

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