After a year of hiatus, cruise ships are finally welcoming back vaccinated travelers—and I'm one of them.
I am not the “hairy chest contest type” and, while I am undoubtedly a big fella, I’ve never once bellied up to a buffet. And yet, I’ve been known to enjoy a cruise or two. But that wasn’t always the case.
For the first 40 years of my life, I never stepped foot onboard a cruise ship. I was carrying the same negative stereotypes many avid travelers assign to cruising: sub-par food, cheesy entertainment, populist crowds, and cattle herding on and off the ship. Then I experienced a cruise with my kids. I immediately loved how much they loved it—from the camps and 24-hour soft-serve ice cream to the poolside movies screened beneath a starry sky—and along the way, I discovered that the food could be terrific, the experience could be individualistic, and the potential for unique vacations is more tremendous than I ever believed possible.
My two kids and I have subsequently enjoyed top-notch theatrical productions and excellent meals. We’ve frolicked on private islands and learned how to leverage cruises as a means to explore places like Bonaire and sophisticated Italian villages on our own, away from the crowds. My teenage daughters and I were on a Disney cruise in the Caribbean when COVID-19 struck the United States with full force in March 2020.
We watched as the crew deftly handled the rapidly changing situation and how it impacted everything from food service to programming to safety protocols. We feared not being able to disembark and return home. It was a scary time, long before the United States would come to understand the full impact of the Coronavirus, but it hasn’t scared me away from cruise ships. If anything, that anxious experience at sea reaffirmed my belief that both the crews on land and at sea work tirelessly to ensure passengers’ safety, even in the midst of a frightening unknown.
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After nearly a year and a half of quarantine, planes are once again stuffing passengers in like sardines, arenas are filling up with spectators, restaurants are buzzing with diners, and people are considering . Now, cruise ships, like the brand-new Carnival Mardi Gras, are . As crazy as it may seem, I’m eager to be one of them.
There’s a precedent for this confident return to travel following a tragedy. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, many of my co-workers said they were finished with flying, or at least, it would be a long time before they boarded a plane again. Me? I was immediately ready to cruise at 36,000 feet once the skies reopened. I believed it would never be safer to fly than in the weeks and months following the terrorist attacks, thanks to heightened security and new protocols to keep the cockpit secure and everyone safe. Twenty years later, I feel the same way about cruising at sea after the COVID pandemic. The industry cannot afford bad press or give government authorities a reason to clamp down on their ability to function. The result, I believe, will be fleets of ships that will never be cleaner, surfaces never more sanitized, and cabin air that has never been easier to breathe. The people on these ships will be allowed to be unmasked, and that’s a good thing.
Starting this month, eight will be pushing away from five different ports across the country. These sailings are advertised as being exclusive to guests who are fully vaccinated and who can provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccine. I would be comfortable vacationing on any of these ships, including lining up with others to ride BOLT, that sits high atop the glittering new Mardi Gras leaving Port Canaveral, Florida, for its inaugural cruise on July 31.
“All guests will be asked to confirm their status as fully vaccinated for COVID-19, and provide proof of vaccination in advance of boarding,” reads a statement from Carnival. I especially love that the passengers arriving at the terminal without proper proof of their complete vaccination, will simply not be permitted to board the cruise ship or be eligible for a refund. This strong take speaks to the seriousness of the pandemic that is still raging on in many countries, and the serious approach the cruise industry is taking to keep its passengers healthy and safe.
It is important to note that there will be unvaccinated guests on ships, but Carnival is handling this scenario in a way that also gives me comfort. All cruisers who have been pre-approved for a vaccine exemption must show negative results of a PCR COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours before their embarkation, in order to get on the ship. Additionally, these unvaccinated passengers will also receive an antigen test at embarkation.
Some of the early news from the first few cruises to resume sailing may seem scary. There have been positive cases reported (most recently, a pair of kids who were not yet vaccinated per CDC guidelines), and yet I am still prepared to cruise again. I’m willing to bet that if you tested the people deplaning sold-out flights, filing out of concert halls, or leaving movie theaters across the country—you would see a handful of positive COVID-19 test results emerge. But of course, much of America is no longer being as diligent about the pandemic as the cruise industry is, so we will never know who among us is carrying COVID. What I do know is that I’m ready to order my daughters a couple of virgin mango madness slushies as we cruise with thousands of other vaccinated people to fun islands and exciting ports around the world. I’m ready, and I’m not scared.