Cruising Makes a Comeback
Cruising Makes a Comeback
Will I have my usual cruise experience? What has changed? Will there be a buffet? Do I need to wear a mask? Travelers have many questions about cruising, and AAA Western and Central New York has the answers to help guide you through the planning process.
In July, I was fortunate to travel on one of the first cruises to leave from Florida, the cruise capital of the world, a cherished assignment from AAA Western and Central New York to share my experience and bring our members the most up to date information. With limited guest capacity, but with a full crew on board, now is the perfect time to cruise – you’re guaranteed to receive the royal treatment while having the ship to yourself, if you can find availability.
I sailed on Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas out of Miami on a four-night cruise to the Bahamas. Cruising now offers everything you would expect from a cruise with enhanced health and safety protocols that don’t detract from the overall experience.
Before I even left home, I downloaded the Royal Caribbean app, as instructed by the cruise line, to complete my pre-boarding health check. It asks the typical questions about exposure or symptoms related to COVID-19. Upon arrival at the cruise terminal, I passed a temperature check, a crew member scanned the app on my phone, and I was ready to step on board!
Vaccinations and Masks
I agreed to show my vaccination card and received a bracelet, which allowed me to access all areas of the ship. Travelers who don’t show a vaccination card are considered unvaccinated and are restricted from some areas. Many of the ship’s attractions, including some bars like the Bull & Bear Pub on the Royal Promenade, were reserved for vaccinated guests only. Regardless of vaccination status, masks were required in all interior areas of the ship – shops, the casino, hallways, etc... On outside decks like the pool deck and the jogging track, masks were not required.
When it comes to dining, once seated, guests can remove masks in the dining areas, but before entering restaurants like the Windjammer Café, guests need to thoroughly wash their hands. Crew members won’t allow anyone to enter until hands are washed with soap and water at sinks lined up at the entrance.
Once inside, social distancing is evident as every other table is labeled for either seating or non-use. The massive buffets that cruisers have known to enjoy won’t disappoint! However, gloved crew members are on standby to serve you – there’s no more scooping your own food, and self-serve beverage stations are now full-service with staff pouring coffee or soft drinks. In the main dining room and specialty restaurants, social distancing is apparent while guests are wined and dined by an attentive crew. It’s no surprise that Freedom of the Seas was equipped with hand sanitizing stations throughout the ship as well.
Cabins and Housekeeping
Expect full service from your cabin steward on board. While some hotels are limiting housekeeping, Royal Caribbean’s crew offers full-service cleaning, so every time I returned to my cabin, it was clean, and towels were restocked - it definitely made the four-night stay extremely enjoyable.
I would recommend a balcony stateroom to anyone considering a cruise. You can escape to your own private balcony whenever you choose, and you’ll enjoy brand new scenery every morning when you wake up.
Excursions and Activities
Onboard activities were in full swing on the ship including entertainment, bingo, rock climbing, ice skating, the Perfect Storm waterslides, and much more.
When Freedom of the Seas docked in Nassau, Bahamas, only fully vaccinated guests could exit the ship and roam freely. The only way that unvaccinated guests could exit the ship was through one of the cruise line’s limited excursions. If you’re interested in an excursion, it’s best to plan ahead and book early. I chose to explore Atlantis, Cabbage Beach, and Junkanoo Beach.
Perfect Day at CocoCay, Royal Caribbean’s private island, really is perfect in every way. Freedom of the Seas docked right at the island, and guests were welcomed by dancers and entertainers adding to the excitement.
Once on the island, you can choose from thrills or chills – dive down Daredevil’s Peak, the largest waterslide in North America, or kick back on Chill Beach. Explore the underwater world with snorkel gear, which is available to rent. Swim out to a floating bar for a refreshing cocktail or swim up to the pool bar for a Coco Loco – the signature drink - in the Caribbean’s largest freshwater pool, Oasis Lagoon. Excursions include wave runners, a tethered hot air balloon, and more.
There are many places to dine on CocoCay – I chose the Shack Burger from the Snack Shack and had no regrets! I was surprised by the extensive shopping available on the island, and kids will love the cool waterpark too. Masks were not required on CocoCay.
Embarkation and Disembarkation
Getting on and off the ship was easy with a SeaPass card issued to each guest upon arrival – you’ll need to carry it with you throughout your cruise. After a Perfect Day at CocoCay, guests were welcomed back with live music and activities on the pool deck. For those who couldn’t wait for dinner, the poolside Mexican buffet, El Loco Fresh, was ready and waiting.
Disembarkation was a simple process and suddenly my four-night getaway was over. Would I do it again? Absolutely! I wouldn’t hesitate to return to sea though cruising opportunities are limited right now as many ships remain docked.
Check out cruises to the Caribbean
With reduced capacity on cruise ships, and with so many travelers using cruise credits from trips disrupted by the pandemic, availability may be limited. AAA recommends planning ahead as much as possible. Some travelers are already booking cruises for 2022 and 2023. Travelers can learn more about visiting the Caribbean by visiting AAA's virtual Tourbook!
And if you’d like to learn more about my experience on Freedom of the Seas, follow along in upcoming blogs and find my return to cruising video series on AAA Western and Central New York’s YouTube Channel. Soon, you’ll be ready to say, “Bon Voyage!”
If you’re ready to cruise, feel free to reach out to a AAA Travel Sales Advisor! AAA’s expert travel consultants can help travelers plan their perfect getaway – simply stop by a AAA branch, call (888) 320-3163, or visit: