Just because the Australian government hasn’t yet produced a plan for the relaunch of cruise, doesn’t mean we can’t start planning.
Here’s what Ceylan Yeginsu wrote for The New York Times about her first time stepping back onto a cruise when she boarded onto Celebrity Millennium earlier this month: “One woman threw her bag on the floor and started shimmying to the Caribbean calypso beat playing in the welcome hall. Another triumphantly bumped fists with a crew member before giving him a hug, while an older man stood still and gazed at the elated guests, his eyes welling up as he processed the reality of being back on a cruise, one of more than 400 he has taken in his lifetime.”
It’s been a difficult road for cruise lovers, but hopefully soon you’ll get to have your moment just like Ms Yeginsu did.
Here’s what the experts say you should look out for:
What to know when booking
Cruise specialist and travel agent Kathy Pavlidis has one particularly crucial insight for those hoping to be on a cruise when they finally return.
“My only advice is don’t leave it too late. A lot of the availability for 2022 is already drying up, so people are trying to make up for lost time. People are even setting their sights for 2023.”
As far as what people are booking, they’re looking to return to cruise in style with longer and more luxurious voyages.
“People do want to cruise, they have a lot of future cruise credits around but they’re looking for longer Mediterranean-type itineraries, repositioning cruising, expedition type cruising.”
Another interesting insight is that you probably won’t be meeting too many first time cruisers on your return to cruise.
“The mass market has tended to drop off a little bit. People who are new to cruise have mostly stopped.”
The first thing you should expect is to have to fill in some extra paperwork before you’ve even left home. Exact protocols will obviously vary line by line, but you can expect to fill out a health questionnaire and, depending on requirements, attach a proof of vaccination or negative COVID test. There may also be extra health screening.
You may also want to expect boarding to take a little longer than you’re used to. A writer for The Points Guy was onboard Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas when it restarted operations in the US earlier this month and calculated that boarding took him about an hour.
This is a bit longer than Royal Caribbean’s previous “15 minutes or less” standard, but not the hugest sacrifice given the circumstances.
Instead of meeting at the water, cruise passengers were first instructed to go to a nearby hotel, where they had their temperature checked and underwent a COVID test.
While it seems unlikely that this will become the new standard, you can expect boarding to be a little different to how you remember it.
A few more changes may be present as you get on board and get comfortable in your cabin. Ms Yeginsu reported that the usual safety drills and exercises were given via smartphones.
She also reported that rooms were stocked with hand sanitiser and face masks on arrival, as well as being disinfected each day.
To put your mind at ease, despite some scares, the buffet isn’t going anywhere. However, it’ll just be slightly different.
Royal Caribbean Global Vice President Culinary, Dining & Beverage Linken D’Souza assured future guests.
“Rest assured, the buffet will exist. There may be some small modifications that allow us to ensure that we have a really great, healthy return to service. But your favourites and what you’re used to at the Windjammer will still be there.”
A writer for the Mirror who was on the first UK cruise since 2020 on MSC Virtuosa talked through his experience with the buffet.
“I was guided to the basins to wash my hands and the food was served by staff, you can’t help yourself. All this might sound far from the normal, relaxed vibe on a cruise but became second nature.”
Another thing to be ready for dining-wise is that specialty dining seems to be more popular than ever. Royal Caribbean have reported than demand for speciality dining increased on Adventure of the Seas.
The reasons for this isn’t totally known, but it makes sense that cruisers will want to splurge on extras to make up for lost time, so if you’re planning on some extra fine dining on your return to cruise, make sure you book nice and early.
While it’s understandably difficult to commit in times of such uncertainty, if you’re yet to have anything booked, booking your first cruise back sooner rather than later might be the right move.
With cruise lines potentially unable to operate at full capacity and cruisers keener than ever to get back onto the seas, simple economics is playing its cruel hand. As supply goes down and demand rises, prices are going to rise with it.
Not to mention that cruise lines need to attempt to recover nearly two years worth of profits. Especially as most lines plan on resuming with just a few ships, rather than their full fleet, lowering availability even more.
In a positive, if you happen to find yourself sailing on a ship that is being forced to sail below its capacity, passengers have reported all sorts of benefits for themselves.
Besides obviously feeling less worried about COVID, you’ll also feel like you have the ship almost to yourself. You’ll also feel like you have more room if you stop off for excursions in areas that are designed to handle thousands more guests than are actually on board.
There’ll be quicker wait times, less lines and crowds and a more relaxing experience with more open areas and free places to relax on board.
Get ready to use your smartphone
Expect to be getting safety instructions, ordering food and beverages, making reservations and getting your cruise compass via a smartphone app.
For example, Royal Caribbean spent their time in lockdown heavily investing in and developing their app. Even at full capacity this should help reduce wait time at restaurants and kiosks, ease the reservation process and help keep you more updated in terms of happenings on the ships.
As well as of course get you any safety information you might need as soon as possible.