You may have been able to hear the champagne corks pop and cheers resound on June 5 as the Celebrity Millennium cruise ship weighed anchor for a Caribbean cruise departing from St. Maarten, with North American passengers. It was the first major ship open to them since the pandemic shut things down in March 2020. The first to sail from a U.S. port will be the Celebrity Edge, leaving Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on June 26, 2021.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has given permission for cruises to sail in U.S. waters if they complete “trial” cruises or comply with the agency’s vaccination requirements .
That means, depending on the cruise line and where you are on the ship, you may be required to wear a mask, will be reminded to wash your hands frequently and maintain distancing. Each cruise line’s site has a link to its CDC precautions and practices.
New COVID-19 cruise ship safety protocols
Cruise lines are coming up with their own safety protocols. For instance, Royal Caribbean’s policy is that if “a certain level of COVID-19 is detected onboard the ship during your voyage, the voyage will end immediately, the ship will return to the port of embarkation, and your subsequent travel, including your return home, may be restricted or delayed.”
Some people who enjoy cruising remain leery due to more than 700 Diamond Princess passengers and crew members contracting COVID-19 in February 2020, confined to the ship for more than a month.
Many others, however, are itching to get back onboard.
Diane Wahl Garmany, of Dallas, can’t wait for her upcoming Viking Ocean Cruise around Bermuda. “I’m looking forward to being spoiled for a week!,” she says. “It will be interesting to see how they deal with COVID precautions.”
She says the cruise line notified her: “In consideration of your health and safety, only Viking-offered shore excursions will be allowed during your voyage.”
The anticipation by cruise travelers is heightened because they’ve often had one or more trips called off in the past 18 months due to COVID-19 restrictions.
For instance, Stephen Runyard, of Englewood, Colo., who’s taken about 100 cruises, has had four canceled by the French luxury cruise operator Ponant. He’s hoping to actually sail in December.
Cruise tips from the experts
If you’re ready and figuratively (if not literally) packed, here are a few things to know:
Prices will be rising. That’s because there’s a pent-up demand and the cruise lines will try to capture some of last year’s losses. Bookings for 2022 are exceeding those of 2019, with some ships selling out in a single day.
Tanner Callais of the Cruzely cruise booking agency says, “Looking specifically at the summer prices, there aren’t many deals out there. Carnival’s first sailing from Galveston, Texas in July will cost roughly $1,000 per person for the least expensive interior cabin. ”
And, Callais added, “I even noted that cruises from the U.S. are priced higher than similar trips sailing from Caribbean ports.”
The good news, he noted, “is that if you are flexible and can wait until the fall or winter, then rates drop seasonally. That’s certainly the case right now.”
COVID-19 safety rules will depend on the type of cruise you want to take. While the big-ship cruise lines (carrying 250 or more passengers and crew) have been trying to determine how to deal with coronavirus passenger safety and regulations of individual countries, ships of the American Cruise Lines, USA River Cruises and American Queen Steamboat Company have been cruising American waterways for months.
They ply the Chesapeake Bay, Hudson River, Mississippi River, Great Lakes, Intracoastal Waterway along the East Coast, Columbia and Snake rivers and Alaska. Their small size (100 to 200 passengers) and required-vaccination policies provide a peace of mind to people leery of large ships.
And because they have domestic ports, passengers can drive or take Amtrak between the cruise and home and not worry about dealing with airports or planes.