COVID has changed the cruise experience. Here’s how.

The cruise industry suffered its biggest financial hit in decades when the COVID-19 pandemic halted most sailings for months and made nervous cruise fans think twice about booking an ocean voyage.

But cruises are back and all signs point to a turnaround for the industry, with more cruises projected to depart the Port of Los Angeles next year than in 2019.

Carnival Corp., the world’s largest cruise line, reported that bookings for the second half of 2022 have already exceeded bookings for 2019. Royal Caribbean cruises for 2022 are nearly at 2019 levels, the company’s chief financial officer, Jason Liberty, said on a recent earnings call.

Despite the closure, the world’s cruise lines have more than 100 new ships on order to set sail by 2027. The Majestic Princess, a ship designed for the Chinese market, made her maiden call at the Port of LA on October 6. Some 2022 are scheduled to launch 200 cruises there, up from 120 in 2019.

What do cruise ships charge passengers? How have boarding, dining and other onboard activities changed? We have collected some information to answer frequently asked questions.

Do I need to be vaccinated for a cruise?

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all passengers be fully vaccinated before boarding a cruise ship. The world’s largest cruise lines now require passengers departing US ports to be fully vaccinated, with limited exceptions. Vaccinations are required for passengers on Carnival, Princess, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity cruise lines.

As a rule, you must present proof of vaccination before boarding at the terminal. Some cruise lines also require passengers, whether vaccinated or not, to show proof of a COVID-19 test taken within two days of boarding a ship. Check the requirements and protocols of your particular cruise.

A sign with COVID-19 requirements greets passengers boarding the Majestic Princess.

Passengers board the cruise ship Majestic Princess in the Port of Los Angeles in October. Face masks in closed areas where people gather are among many new requirements since cruising resumed.

(Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)

Do I have to wear a mask always on the ship?

Passengers are strongly advised to wear masks in public spaces and are required to do so in indoor areas such as elevators, shops, casinos and dining halls, except when eating or drinking. Typically, you are not required to wear masks in the pool and hot tubs, but lounge chairs are spaced farther apart than in the past to maintain physical distancing.

A sign on the Majestic Princess cruise ship advises that masks are required in elevators.

A sign on the Majestic Princess cruise ship docking in LA port states that masks are required in elevators. Mask wearing is strongly recommended in all public places on cruise ships.

(Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)

What about land visits and excursions?

To go ashore you must comply with the health regulations of the country the ship is visiting. For example, the Bahamas government recently announced that all cruise-goers must be fully vaccinated, except for travelers under the age of 12 and those on medical exemptions.

On some ships, such as B. Carnival Cruises, unvaccinated passengers are not allowed to go ashore, except on a pre-booked “bubble tour” where passengers travel with friends and family in a controlled environment.
Ship-arranged shore excursions are highly recommended on other cruise lines such as Holland America.

Are the ships fully booked?

Most ships operate at less than full capacity, in part to encourage physical distancing. The Majestic Princess departed from the Port of Los Angeles on her maiden voyage at approximately 60% capacity. The cruise lines plan to increase capacity in the coming months.

The cruise ship Majestic Princess docked in the Port of Los Angeles.

The cruise ship Majestic Princess docked in the port of LA in October.

(Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)

Have activities been suspended due to COVID-19?

You won’t have to wait in line to eat at the buffet. Most self-service buffets have been modified so staff serve passengers to avoid unnecessary crowding. Indoor dancing, karaoke and nightclubs are no longer allowed on many ships, including the Majestic Princess, which has converted its karaoke area into an additional room for spa treatments. Some ships do not allow passengers to try on clothing for sale. Physical distancing is advised for all activities.

Do I need to make reservations for restaurants and other onboard activities?

To manage capacity and physical distancing, many onboard restaurants are recommending reservations and limiting dining table groups to eight. Reservations on Princess Cruises can be made through the MedallionClass App. Celebrity Cruises reservations can be made through the Celebrity Cruises App.

What else should I know?

You don’t need to gather at a specific location on the ship to hear the pre-departure safety briefing, also known as the “safety pattern drill.” Instead, passengers can watch portions of the safety drill on their cabin TV or in a cruise ship app.

Spas and gyms remain open, but some cruise lines limit them to vaccinated guests. Hand sanitiser stations are located on all ships.

The pool on the cruise ship Majestic Princess docked in the Port of Los Angeles

The pool on the cruise ship Majestic Princess docked in the port of LA in October. On cruise ships, the pools are usually still open.

(Al Seib/Los Angeles Times) COVID has changed the cruise experience. Here’s how.

Russell Falcon

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