Dianne Newcomer | Monroe News-Star
It only took about 700 days, a lot of trial and error, and a ton of hardworking people behind the scenes to make it happen, but cruising is not only back–but even better. From what I hear, it seems “normal” again.
Cruising has always been one of the most popular vacation choices we sell at Monroe Travel Service, which is why I was delighted to see the results of a new consumer survey from AAA that found over 40% of Americans say they are now ready to get back onboard a cruise ship in the very near future. Additionally, another 5% said they are more likely to cruise now than before the pandemic because they now have a better understanding of the risks and responses the cruise industry has made to the Covid 19 pandemic.
Re-building this public confidence did not come easy. Cruise ships became the face of the pandemic, the poster child for what not to do in a pandemic. Not only were they refunding or issuing future credits like crazy, the lines were burning through their cash reserves while ships were doing nothing but sitting dock side. During the crisis, I read where it cost about $3-$8 million dollars, depending on the ship’s size to put a ship in “cold lay up.” Just finding a place with nice weather and availability also proved to be a challenge, since hull fowling occurs when the weather is too warm and operating systems become stressed if the water is too cold.
Then, there are the maritime rules and regulations to consider. The cruise ships were required to keep sufficient personnel onboard for safety watch-keeping, to respond to emergency situations and to maintain watertight integrity relevant to fire protection and buoyancy. The article mentioned a ship in cold lay-up has from 80 to as many as 200 staff members onboard 24/7, and, depending on the ship’s size, when you combine the crew staffing, payroll, provisions, and constant maintenance, a ship was costing $1 to $3 million dollars monthly–and for 700 days they went nowhere! Imagine this: Royal Caribbean has 24 ships in their fleet; their larger ships came in at $20 million per ship.
This news was mind boggling to me. No wonder Carnival Cruise Line removed 13 cruise ships from their fleet. Unlike the airlines, the cruise industry was just like you and me. There was no big government bail out. Luckily, the financial world shared our optimism for the future of the cruise industry and kept them afloat by lending billions to the various cruise lines. In short, this is why we are able to get out on the high seas, uplug, relax with family and friends, and visit new and exciting places today.
We have definitely come a long way since March, 2020, but we must be realistic. Change has happened. For example, the mask mandate has been lifted for most Caribbean sailings–on and off the ship. Puerto Rico, the final mask hold out island, rolled back its mask mandates for a port of call this month. While this is a welcomed change, please note, guests aged 12 and older are still required to be fully vaccinated to get onboard. Also, a negative covid test result, taken no more than 72 hours prior to boarding, is required. Children 2 years and younger are also required to be tested prior to sailing.
For the cruise line, the plan is simple: if guests are vaccinated and the crew is fully vaccinated (and wearing masks I might add), the CDC is happy. A happy CDC means load factors and profitability can be increased. It is also why each cruise line has made significant changes and enhancements designed to get you cruising again!
Perhaps one of the most welcomed changes you will see immediately when onboard is how well the muster drill is managed. Now, instead of gathering on deck or in a crowded public room, guests will watch a short safety demo on the cabin TV or in the app. Once completed, travelers will check- in on the app to ascertain you watched it! FYI: most cruise lines very cleverly refuse to allow a drink purchase until “making safety muster” is acknowledged.
Another really nice enhancement is the virtual queue. Used for disembarkation at various ports, this process involves simply clicking on the app and the time whenever you are ready to join the line and get off the ship. I hope this idea stays around forever as it prevents crowding at exit points and having to wait around. What an efficient way to get to the fun faster at each port of call.
Avid cruising fans do not need to be concerned: those delicious, constantly there with a wide variety of food buffets did not go away. However, there have been a few changes. Instead of selecting our own food, servers are now available to add it to our plates. No worries, it is still possible to visit and eat as much as you want, but touching the serving utensils along with with hundreds of our fellow cruisers has become a thing of the past. Additionally, I noted the drink machines and, my favorite, the all-you-can-eat-soft-serve-ice-cream stations, are usually manned by the cruising staff.
Overall, most of our cruising fans at Monroe Travel Service have reported smooth sailing in terms of visiting the islands of the Caribbean. Internationally, we have seen some cruise ships skip ports of calls due to a country’s tighter Covid requirements, but, most recently, this has only happened when stops included porting in India and Hong Kong.
As the industry returns to normal and more and more travelers are venturing out into the world, may I offer a couple of travel agent 101 recommendations? First of all, always buy travel insurance and make sure you understand the inclusions of the policy. It is also a good idea to take a laptop along on the journey. If you happen to be quarantined, you can still work from your cabin. A very wise client suggested always carrying enough medication with you in case of an extended quarantine and that certainly makes sense.
Also, for my international cruisers, especially those who like to linger longer in a destination after a sailing, I advocate packing an at-home-instant Covid 19 test. The free home tests received from our government are for personal use; they are not approved for international travel because they do not offer the telehealth real-time supervision. The airlines must be shown the home test results takenunder the watchful eye of a telemedicine administrator who prompts your every move, reviews the results with you, and gives a negative written result that must be submitted to the airlines within 24 hours of your return flight.
Of course, clinics are also available to provide this service, but, with a good wi-fi connection, you could purchase one of the following CDC tests before you leave home and complete the tesing–with the help of an administrator–from the boat or your hotel room. Rob and I ordered the BinaxNOWCovid-19 AG Card Home Test Kit–not to be confused with the Binax NOW Covid 19 Antigen Self Test you get from Walgreens or CVS–at https://www.emed.com . According to the website, insurance companies will reimburse the $150 for the pack of six tests we purchased. Qured and Optum also sell the airline approved home test kits that will allow you to come home.
As the world of travel returns to normal, many things have certainly improved, but some new wrinkles still remain. It pays to know before you go and that is why you need a travel agent in your corner to show you the way. Monroe Travel Service is here if you need us!
Dianne Newcomer is a leisure travel advisor at Monroe Travel Service, where our staff is only a phone call away to help with your cruise, tour or vacation plans. Please call 318 323 3465 or email us at [email protected].