Since the beginning of the Covid pandemic the cruise industry has been called unsafe by government agencies, media outlets, and at least one of your neighbors. There was plenty of speculation that the industry would never re-start or recover, even when resorts and hotels began to open and allow guests. Very early in the pandemic I advised my clients that the best time to plan and book a cruise was then — and it’s still true. I’ve been on three cruises since fall 2021 and felt safer onboard than in my local grocery store. Here’s what you should expect on a Royal Caribbean cruise in 2022.
Having been on three cruises since fall 2021, two on Virgin Voyages and one Royal Caribbean cruise (so far… I’ve got two more planned for 2022!) and if you want to enjoy a cruise in 2022, you need to know that a great cruise vacation requires two simple mind shifts — the ship is a great vacation on its own and cruising is different in 2022 than it was in 2019.
Some obvious differences include vaccination and testing requirements, masks, and being served at the buffet. Some less obvious differences include extra space between guests, capacity-controlled reservations for dining and entertainment, and announcements that include health guidelines. Still, with all these changes the cruise experience is great.
For the foreseeable future, being vaccinated is going to be mandatory for guests 12 and up. If you’re not interested in being vaccinated, and you’re already booked on a Royal Caribbean cruise, take advantage of the cruise with confidence program. If you’re unvaccinated, consider an all-inclusive resort instead of a cruise. Adults planning to sail with children who aren’t required (age 11 and under) or eligible for the vaccine are still required to be vaccinated and will not be able to be in certain areas of the ship. They’ll also have to purchase shore excursions directly from Royal Caribbean to go ashore in ports.
Testing requirements vary, but in general, all guests must be tested, and negative, within 2 days (3 days for unvaccinated kids) of embarkation. Unvaccinated kids are tested at the pier right before getting on the ship and may need additional tests depending on the length of the cruise. For complete up-to-date details visit the healthy sail center.
Once on the ship, as of today (January 27, 2022), masks are required when inside and not actively eating or drinking. This requirement is the one that most impacts the cruise experience. Masks make it more difficult to understand and communicate with the crew members and other guests onboard, and truthfully, pulling a mask up and down between sips when sitting at the bar or enjoying a show is annoying.
On the topic of food, drinks, and entertainment on your Royal Caribbean cruise, in the main dining room you’ll be seated with the guests in your traveling party only. Personally, I enjoy sitting with random people and getting to know them throughout the cruise, but for right now, you’ll be seated only with the people you’re traveling with, and there will be plenty of space between the tables. We did eat with new friends twice during our weeklong cruise by entering the main dining room separate from them. The crew could not seat us with them but did say we could go looking for them and be served together.
Social distancing was also practiced in other restaurants, the bars, and entertainment venues as well. In the bars and Windjammer Marketplace along with the clubs, to keep people safely separated tables were marked “unavailable” and in the theater and ice-rink there were sections for unvaccinated guests and vaccinated guests, each with space between traveling parties.
Finally, I mentioned above that I felt safer on my Royal Caribbean cruise than my local grocery store. Not just for the reasons listed above, but also for the cleaning procedures I noted throughout the week. Every table was cleaned immediately and thoroughly before anyone else could sit down and great care was taken to clean public places and surfaces.
Cruising is safe. Where else can you go and know with certainty that everyone is negative when they board and the vast majority of guests — including all adults — are vaccinated? Is the experience the same as it was before Covid? No. But the changes do very little to ruin the overall experience. That being considered, I advise my clients who are nervous about the safety of cruising to choose another type of vacation for this year and plan a cruise for 2023 and beyond.