I have written enough about Covid-19, travel hesitancy, and vaccinations. What I haven’t recently written about is what the actual, real life, experience is on a cruise ship with Covid-19 in existence because, well, there hasn’t been an opportunity. But now there is…and in both Europe and the Caribbean!
Seabourn Ovation’s Bar at the TK Grill
What I hope to do over these two journeys is to show you that things can be pretty darn normal, that some adjustments aren’t worth elevating to “It will ruin my experience” and that taking a cruise, flying in a plane, and staying in a hotel are safe; especially if you are vaccinated.
As a side note: Travel Hesitancy is real and I believe the cruise lines and travel companies, pretty much across the board, underestimated how deeply Covid-19 has affected the traveler’s psyche. I suggest looking out for some pretty aggressive promotions…because if comforting the soul is not enough, possibly an “offer you can’t refuse” might be enough to get you out of your house and into the world.
Seabourn Ovation in Greece – July 2021
I will be flying to Athens, Greece for the 14 night Seabourn Ovation sailing starting July 17, 2021. As both an undeniable expert on the Seabourn Guest Experience from the original triplets to the introduction of the innovative Seabourn Odyssey-class to the newest Seabourn Encore-class, I know what the Seabourn Guest Experience should be. And, thus, I can assure you I will not only be able to let you know how it is being delivered on this cruise, but what has been modified and what the effect is on the Seabourn Guest Experience, both good and bad.
Heck, you know I don’t hold back so you can have confidence that what I am telling you is accurate. None of the “new to Seabourn” amazement or the media hype.
I have to tell you that I know a number of the Seabourn staff and crew that will be on the Seabourn Ovation (and who have already arrived, vaccinated, and yet still are quarantining!) when I get there, and they are more than excited to be back doing what they love: Delivering the Seabourn Guest Experience to the guests!
Windstar Star Breeze Inaugural – June 2021
Literally hours after the Seabourn cruise was confirmed, I received an invitation from Windstar to join the Windstar Star Breeze for its Inaugural Sailing on June 19, 2021 celebrating it’s being stretched and seriously updated.
I will be flying to St. Maarten for a seven-night Caribbean cruise to join Chris Prelog, Windstar’s President – whom I have known since he worked in the dining room…possibly on the very same ship when it was the Seabourn Spirit (though I think it may have been the Seabourn Pride).
What is most exciting about this Inaugural, the Star Breeze has now well and truly been transformed, from the engines to the installation of a new midsection adding dining venues, an additional 50 suites, and upgrades and redesigns throughout the ship! You can (and should?) read more in this article: Windstar’s Star Breeze – Major Extension and Modifications Underway!
This will actually be the second Inaugural for the Star Breeze I will be attending, as I was also an invited guest when she was purchased by Windstar from Seabourn. At that time the Star Breeze had some modifications made and was “spiffed up”, but there was work to be done behind the scenes…and that, I understand, was the motivation to either “Go Big or Go Home”.
What Will You Learn? Will it Boost Your Confidence to Travel?
So what is that you will be looking forward to hearing about? What questions can I answer that will make you more comfortable booking a cruise on Seabourn, Windstar, or whomever, this summer or fall?
Keeping in mind that both Seabourn and Windstar require all guests to be vaccinated, let’s start with mask-wearing...which seems to be one of the biggest recalcitrant-builders. The Centers for Disease Control’s ever-changing and draconian – even to me – mandates and guidelines regarding mask-wearing by vaccinated people are extremely high on the list. (If you haven’t read my recent article that discusses the inconsistencies, here it is: My Recent Travels to New York City (AKA: You Have Been Vaccinated! Why So Hesitant?) – Goldring Travel)
Just yesterday (May 12, 2021) the CDC has again changed its position; this time to one that is more in line with science:
“Cruise ship operators, at their discretion, may advise passengers and crew that if they are fully vaccinated they may gather or conduct activities outdoors, including engaging in extended meal service or beverage consumption, without wearing a mask except in crowded settings,”
“Cruise ship operators may advise passengers and crew that if they are fully vaccinated they may engage in self-guided or independent exploration during port stops, if they wear a mask while indoors,”
Of course, the CDC announced the very next day (today) that masks are not required indoors for those who are vaccinated in most areas. I cannot understand why it excludes all “modes of transportation” when a cruise ship is a group of people essentially in a floating hotel, but with controls over who is in the “hotel” or restaurant. It is a process, I guess.
What does that tell me? That what I today understand will be the requirements of either cruise line may well be different when I board their ships in 1-2 months from now!
How does it bode for “Dining with whomever you want whenever you want?“ I believe extremely well. While so much emphasis has been placed on social distancing while dining, and there is a dining experience benefit of having tables spread further apart!, the concept of no mask-wearing “except in crowded settings” would seem to imply that this will be relaxed as well; especially on these smaller, luxury, ships that really aren’t capable of having “crowded settings”.
How does it bode for cocktails “at” the bar, rather than “near” the bar? Again, I believe extremely well.
How does it bode for independent shore excursions? Again, I think well…but with more of a caveat. We must all keep in mind that we are guests of each government, both national and local. As such, regardless of what the CDC says, some officials (educated or not) may have a more open or conservative view towards activities. It will, of course, be very interesting to compare and contrast how two different cruise lines in two different areas of the world address their concerns, the CDC’s concerns and the guests’ concerns.
A Little About the Star Breeze and Seabourn Ovation Journeys
Oh, yeah! Where the heck are the ships going and how am I getting there.
Windstar Star Breeze –
It is amazing how difficult and expensive it is to get to St. Maarten from Reno…yet how easy it is to get there from most major airports. It is actually costing me almost as much to fly there as it is to Greece! Fortunately, I found one (and only one) flight combination that will give me one-stop flights without huge connecting times and get me to the ship on time.
No longer having status with American Airlines I had to pay for extra legroom seats at the front of economy (believe or not I have a bit of claustrophobia) and baggage – things I automatically get with my United Million Miler status – but using my American Express Platinum Card I do receive a $200 credit against those as well as access to any Centurion, Escape and Priority Pass Lounges…if they have reopened. This will give me an opportunity to see how American is delivering its product post-Covid.
For me, it is flying in on the same day as the cruise (not recommended!) and departing upon disembarkation. Having been to St. Maarten a number of times and it being a casual cruise, I’m not too worried about luggage and if I miss the ship I can find a way to the next port fairly easily.
The Windstar itinerary is a good one, visiting a number of islands I haven’t been to: Anguilla; Jost Van Dyke, BVI; Tortola, overnighting in Virgin Gorda, BVI, St. Barts, and returning to St. Maarten. As not a huge fan of the Caribbean, I am looking forward to these kinda less touristic islands…and, of course, the special events including Windstar’s signature beach barbeque.
Seabourn Ovation –
Before entering Greece you need to complete a Passenger Locator Form. As of now, if you are fully vaccinated 14 days prior to arrival with an approved vaccine, you do not need a negative PCR test. (Seabourn may still require one!) A random antigen test may be given. If you are not vaccinated you will need a negative 72 hour PCR test.
As far as getting there, my days of East Coast non-stop service to Athens are gone. It now is a two-stop, twice as long, flying experience. I am checking out United’s Premium Economy for the international portions of my flights. I have enjoyed the larger seats and footrests on a few flights before the full service was installed and, frankly, for only a couple of hundred dollars difference, why not? Having flown on United recently, other than seriously cleaner planes and limited drink and food options, the not-really-an-issue mandatory wearing of masks (will that still be required by the time this cruise happens?) I don’t expect to learn much.
I will stay one night pre-cruise at the St. George Lycabettus Hotel. I love the location of the hotel, as it is in the more upscale residential Kolanaki District and has a number of local restaurants within walking distance. Did I mention they have many rooms with balconies overlooking the Acropolis? It doesn’t have the glitz, glamour, or prestige of the Grande Bretagne or King George, but it also is literally less than half the price. As I haven’t stayed there in a few years and the hotel now claims it is 5 Star, I am going to check it out.
The cruise itself will be a 14-day “butterfly” with a return to Piraeus on the seventh day. The first seven days highlights Rhodes, Mykonos, Nafplion, Crete, and Cyprus with a sea day, while the second seven days features Patmos, Rhodes, Santorini, and a second location in Cyprus.
Is This Normal?
To my mind, the answer is an unqualified YES! These sorts of journeys are my normal. What wasn’t (past tense) normal were the past 1.5 years waiting for “normal” to return…and wondering if it ever would.
I do not worry about contracting polio, smallpox, diphtheria, etc. because I have been vaccinated. To my mind, while the pandemic has been an emotional rollercoaster, I am now vaccinated and science says it is no different. (I am not talking about media hype about variants…none of which have to date panned out to be anything of concern.)
I also appreciate that I will travel almost anywhere, eat almost anything (not uncooked frogs sitting in the hot sun at a bus stop in rural Cambodia, which I gave a miss!), not worry about food poisoning, walking through local markets or sitting on a dirt road enjoying a meal. I understand the risks and am comfortable with them.
So as I said at the beginning of this article, what I hope to do over these two journeys is to show you that things can be pretty darn normal, that some adjustments aren’t worth elevating to “It will ruin my experience” and that it is safe.
While some folks will effectively say “The water is too cold” and others only want to “dip their toes”, I am quite happy to “dive in” knowing that we are all good swimmers…’er um, I mean TRAVELERS.