How long has it been since you’ve travelled internationally and why were you interested in taking part in this trip?
My last trip (to New York) was in February 2020, and my last cruise was Holland America sailing the Norwegian Fjords in July 2019. Since then, I’ve had four cruises and one land trip postponed.
I’ve recently been named President of Cruise CEO, a Cruise Centric Host Agency, and I felt that it was essential for me to experience cruising today to see how things are operating. Also, as an avid cruiser and traveller, after 16 months of being grounded, I was yearning to travel again! We can read all about the new onboard protocols, but to have first-hand knowledge is priceless.
Ready to fly!
What was it like travelling again? What was different?
Travelling today is not for everyone, however for those that wish to explore the world again, it is possible to do so. Once Canada lifted the 14-day quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated passengers, I decided to make a booking to set sail on the Celebrity Edge.
While there are more steps to take, such as triple checking all the changing requirements, getting pre-travel COVID testing done (depending on the destination), making sure you have the right out-of-country travel insurance, gathering necessary paperwork for travel and downloading new travel apps, stepping back on board the aircraft still comes with that level of excitement from the past. It was amazing to be back in the air, we travelled with Air Canada on direct YYZ – FLL flights, a personal care package including hand sanitizer, cleaning cloths and facemasks were placed on our seat.
In Nassau with Freedom
Can you give us some details on your itinerary, where you went, and did they require proof of vaccinations to embark?
We set sail from Ft. Lauderdale on July 17 for a one-week Eastern Caribbean itinerary visiting Nassau, St Thomas and St Maarten. Before disembarkation to the port, we were reminded that masks were mandatory, and many people were sent back to get their mast as they tried to get off the ship with no face covering, so the ship’s crew very strictly managed it. In the destination, most locals were wearing their masks, but there was not much compliance from visitors ashore. There were a wide variety of Celebrity curated shore excursions to choose from in each port, or you could explore on your own. We were not required to partake in any onboard testing during our time onboard and were not asked to show our vaccine certificates to visit any of the ports included on our itinerary. This was the first voyage that crew were not mandated to wear masks; however, some of the Celebrity Edge crew did choose to do so. The crew are not permitted to disembark the vessel in any ports and are subject to frequent Covid testing.
One noticeable difference was how empty the port cities were, we’re very accustomed to arriving into port with multiple ships and thousands of travellers, however, with reduced capacity of the ships and in most cases the Edge was the only operational ship in port, except in Nassau where we were joined by the Freedom of the Seas. The islands are ready to welcome back visitors and while it was surreal to see empty ports, it allowed us to enjoy time in port with a lot of space and no line ups.
Meeting Captain Kate
Can you share some insights into safety protocols on board and were there any noticeable changes?
The Celebrity Edge can hold approx. 29,00 guests on board, and during our voyage, she set sail with around 50% capacity. Due to sailing out of a Florida port, Celebrity is permitted to sail with some unvaccinated passengers; however, the cruise line has stringent protocols for those who choose to cruise without being vaccinated. There were less than 15 unvaccinated passengers (I am unsure how many passengers were unvaccinated kids). We did see a few passengers wearing masks onboard (for all protocols for passengers, check out https://www.celebritycruises.com/ca/health-and-safety).
The dining areas were all operational with no significant changes to report, except for the buffet area. Knowing that cruise ships are renowned for their ample choices at the buffet restaurants, many wondered if they would be eliminated. The options were endless and plentiful, and the buffet area runs smoothly, and these changes have not impacted the buffet one bit!
The Celebrity Edge Oceanview Café is still a bustling spot onboard; however, each of the food stations is staffed, and you ask for what you want, and a food attendant gives you your selection.
Cruise lines have always followed strict cleaning regimes and onboard health protocols, and today that is no different – on Celebrity Edge there were hundreds of easily accessible Purell stations to the constant cleaning of high-touch areas.
A sunny day at sea
During our voyage, there were approx. 90 kids on board, and 60 of them were teens. The kids club rooms are capacity controlled. As a result of the higher number of teens on board, most of the teen activities were held outside of “The Basement,” and it was so fun watching them have so much fun with their peers. The lower capacity requirements in the kids’ rooms did not impede on their enjoyment whatsoever! When sailing at a lower capacity, one would think that there would be venues or events that would not be operational, and that was not the case; everything from the spa to the silent disco to the theatre shows was open and well attended.
For travel back to Canada, a negative PCR test is required, and this was conducted onboard for us by Celebrity (with no extra charge). The day before disembarkation, we made our way to the Medical Clinic to take our test, and within two hours, our results were delivered to our stateroom, and we were all set for our flight home on Saturday.
The Oceanview Café is still a bustling spot, however, each of the food stations is staffed, and you ask for what you want, and a food attendant gives you your selection.
What are some of the key takeaways you’ve learned from this experience?
Travelling can be complicated and filled with anxious moments, and everyone has a different comfort/risk level, but it is possible to travel today and have a wonderful time away. It took me a few days to acclimate myself to not wearing a mask, but my comfort level increased as the week went on. We were always aware of our surroundings and tried to do all we could to minimize our time around large gatherings, I requested dinner tables away from others, we didn’t use the elevators if they were busy, we cleaned our hands a lot and practiced social distancing at all times.
After a very hectic and super stressful 16 months in our industry, it was fantastic to get back to travel. I could feel the stress melt away. We are in this industry because we are passionate travellers, and like our clients, we’ve all been missing the chance to explore new lands. You may not yet be ready to travel, but I’m happy to report that travel is ready for you. Clients are looking to us as the experts, and I genuinely believe we are the ambassadors of travel, so getting back out there allows us to truly understand that there are ways to travel safely and enjoy our well-earned vacation time.
Now that I’ve had a few days to process our vacation on The Edge, I can honestly say our cruise felt like “normal” times, it indeed was a memorable journey, and I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to get back on board and share with the travel community that cruising is back.
Is there anything that you want to share that would be good for agents to know who have clients going on upcoming trips as the travel process is constantly evolving these days?
During our voyage, the vaccine protocols were changing, and most major cruise lines banned those with mixed dosing. By the end of the week, the vaccine requirements changed again, with most lines permitting mixed vaccines on sailings from outside of the U.S. This is an evolving policy, and I suspect we will see more changes in the coming weeks and months. My suggestion would be to educate clients on the policies today and keep your clients updated on the final payment or travel dates approach. For clients interested in taking a cruise, you can be assured that the policies and protocols on board are indeed working, and should they be ready for a cruise, it is a viable vacation option for them. Communication is vital, and keeping our knowledge up to date on the evolving policies is now an added part of our jobs, each of the cruise companies has extensive information listed on their websites which makes it easy to stay in the loop.