- Halee Whiting, 32, a frequent cruise-goer, described her experience on her first vaccinated trip.
- She says the ship did a great job with safety protocols and the crew was grateful for passengers.
- The ports showed effects of the pandemic. Here’s her story, as told to Jamie Killin.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
I went on a seven-day cruise embarking from the Nassau cruise port in the Bahamas and visited Royal Caribbean’s private island, Perfect Day at Coco Cay, as well as Grand Bahama Island and Cozumel, Mexico.
This was my first time taking a solo trip in almost two years.
I started my own hospitality company during the pandemic and am a travel blogger, so it’s been a very taxing year – maybe not as taxing as it’s been for a medical professional, but still, working in the tourism industry and watching people’s livelihoods go up in flames has been hard.
Overall, the cruise was a wonderful experience, and they did a great job making us feel safe.
Because of the Bahamas’ regulations, you had to be vaccinated for the cruise unless you were a child. You also had to apply for a Bahamian health certificate through the Bahamian government two weeks prior to embarking with all of your passport and vaccine information ready. I had mine accepted within a day and it cost $40.
Then, we found out three or four days before our cruise that they were going to provide us with antigen rapid tests as well.
The whole check-in process was really smooth.
You got there and brought the barcode you used to register for the test with, you took your test, then you had results within 20 to 40 minutes and were able to board. We were also tested again a couple days before the end of the cruise.
We were all kind of waiting to see if anyone got sick because Royal Caribbean said they’d inform us if anyone tested positive for COVID-19, but it seems that no one had an issue. I know there’s been positive cases on other cruises, but it’s going to happen anywhere – a hotel or a ship.
Masks were required for the crew but not for the guests. I kept one on me in case I got in a tighter situation like an elevator and used it occasionally. I also had to have one to obey the masks laws for whichever port we were in. So for example in Cozumel, until we were seated at a restaurant, we had to be in a mask.
I thought they did a great job with the safety protocols, but there was definitely a bit of security theater.
I think they’re still figuring out what procedures really work.
For example, you could sit at the swim-up bar in the pool, but you couldn’t sit at a bar on the ship.
One of the nights they held a dance party, and instead of hosting it in one of the lounges, they had it at the ice-skating arena where there was more space, and they had these lights shining on the floor so you could see where your area was.
There were also some activities that were missing – Royal Caribbean does a fun adults-only scavenger hunt that they weren’t able to do distanced. For karaoke, they were cleaning the microphone between people. For the classes, they had spaced-out seating. Things were just done differently.
Also, unless your reservation was linked to another guest’s, you couldn’t dine together. So I saw one of my friends at the restaurant and our reservations were about 40 minutes apart, but he couldn’t come to my table and eat with me. However, he could order a drink and sit at the opposite side of my table, which was funny.
I went with a friend and had about 25 friends on board, but if I was sailing by myself and didn’t know a soul it would have been a little more difficult to socialize because of the protocols.
The cruise was less than one-third capacity, so we felt very pampered.
I’m almost sad to see when things go back to normal because you never had to wait for an elevator or look for a pool seat.
The staff was really great and eager to have everyone back on board. Every single person no matter what hall or promenade you were walking through said, “Hello, thank you for sailing with us again.”
You could see they were very cautious because their jobs depend on it. At one point, a server tripped and spilled some wine in the restaurant and started crying. You can tell they’re on edge and want to make sure things go great, but they’re always going above and beyond anyway.
At our stops, you could see the effects of the pandemic.
Being in the Bahamas and then Cozumel, which are two of the biggest cruise ports, it’s still a struggle for the people there. A lot of the businesses still aren’t open, and my favorite car rental in Cozumel had to end their lease right at the port because they couldn’t support it anymore and moved down the street.
One day, I got back on the ship, sat on my balcony, and just started crying. I was so beside myself texting my husband and my friend saying, “I just feel so bad” because there are people just begging you to come shop.
I wish I could have spent even more money than I did, and thankfully everyone in my group felt the same way. Tourism can’t come back fast enough.
I’ve personally felt the effect of COVID-19 on my job in the tourism industry, but nowhere on the scale that these people are.
I was all in my feels. It broke my heart.
I’m also glad I’m scheduled for another cruise in August out of Florida because I’m interested in seeing how that sailing is because in Florida it’s now illegal to ask to see someone’s vaccination record, so instead the cruise line will have additional testing and a different onboard experience.
My husband and I might even book a last-minute sailing in July.