I was recently invited by Royal Caribbean to participate in a simulation test cruise for Allure of the Seas. It was a 2-night cruise out of Port Canaveral with a stop at Royal Caribbean’s private island, Coco Cay. I have always LOVED to cruise; it is one of my favorite types of vacation to take, so I have been quite eager for cruising to resume and jumped at the chance to participate!
Prior to Sailing
The first major change took place prior to even leaving for the port. Once checked in for the cruise, you need to pick your port arrival time, as they want to stagger people arriving. Though that is not new, the cruise line strictly adhering to it was. I witnessed many people who arrived an hour or more prior to their port arrival time have to wait in the parking garage until their window opened.
Once I entered the port, the first stop was the Health and Wellness check. Here I had to present my vaccination card and confirm my answers to the Health questionnaire that is required to be completed in the app no more than 24 hours prior to your cruise. Once this was all verified, I was given a color-coded wristband that designated me as vaccinated. Also, due to the short nature of this cruise, no pre-cruise Covid test was required for vaccinated passengers. Had I been unvaccinated, or refused to provide my vaccination card, I would have been designated as unvaccinated. In that case, I would’ve had to present a pre-cruise Covid test and proof of trip insurance, and then get tested again at the port before being allowed to get on the ship.
Next step was the typical x-ray scanning of bags and walking through metal detectors- much like at the airport. No major changes there!
Last step before being allowed to make my way onto the ship was the official check-in. My vaccination status was re-verified, and I was given a tracking bracelet- similar in appearance to a Magic Band. These were so Royal Caribbean could determine where I had been (and who I had been around) should someone test positive on the cruise. The bracelets are used to identify close contacts. Each person in a stateroom is given a different color so you can tell who it belongs to. You are allowed to remove it while in your stateroom and while swimming and showering.
I was finally allowed to board! The joy and excitement displayed by the crew was electric! You could tell how thrilled they were to once again welcome passengers after one and a half years. I always find the service on cruise ships to be excellent, but it was even more elevated on this cruise.
The next major change, and in my opinion one of the best, was a much different muster drill procedure. I had to watch a video on Royal Caribbean’s app and listen to a sound clip of the emergency signal. Once completed, it was required I check into my Muster Station at my leisure prior to the all aboard deadline. So after eating lunch and dropping my bags in my cabin, I headed to check in. They scanned my card, gave a short safety briefing, a sticker for my card and that was it! Took only a few minutes, and no more being packed like sardines like muster drills in the past!
Another new procedure is reserving shows. Since capacity is limited essentially everywhere, they had us reserve our preferred show times in the app. Dinner reservations were also required- while that’s not new, they required them for the buffet as well. At the buffet, the crew served all the food to you.
I should also mention- hand sanitizing stations were everywhere!! Anytime you went to enter any type of venue (restaurant, bar, theater, spa or shop), there was a crew member there to remind you to use the hand sanitizer and ensure you actually did.
Vaccinated vs Unvaccinated
As I said before, I have been vaccinated and was given the corresponding wristband. This essentially meant I had unrestricted access to all venues on the ship. For those unvaccinated (to include those who are vaccinated but have an unvaccinated passenger in their cabin), there were restrictions on where they were able to go. These included:
- the casino
- the Solarium pool
- the spa
- the My Time dining room
- a few of the specialty restaurants
- and a few of the bars
In addition, times of the shows were designated “everyone” or “vaccinated only.”
Since our only port stop was at Perfect Day on Coco Cay, there were no restrictions on getting off and exploring on our own, regardless of vaccination status. However, most ports require that those designated as unvaccinated may disembark only if they are on an excursion through the cruise line. Those who are vaccinated are allowed to explore those ports at their leisure.
The first night of our cruise (which would likely be the second to last night on any other cruise), there was a QR code in my cabin in the evening which opened up a survey. It asked what my preferred disembarkation time was, with the options listed in 15 minutes increments. I selected 8:30-8:45 as my preference. The last night of the cruise, I returned to my cabin and had numbered luggage tags waiting for me with a list of what disembarkation time your tags corresponded with. My assigned time was 8:30-8:45. I suspect they will try their best to give everyone their preferred time, or as close to it as possible. The instructions for the morning of disembarkation day were to go eat breakfast, then return to your cabin until your group/time was called.
The disembarkation process was perhaps my favorite change! Though I’m not so certain it was related to new procedures due to Covid as much as just evolving technology. Once my group was called to disembark, I grabbed my luggage and headed down. They had a bin to collect our tracking bracelets right before leaving the ship. If you’ve ever cruised before, I’m sure you’re familiar with the potentially LONG lines at Customs and Immigration. Instead, they had several workers across with cameras. They asked you to stand on a spot and take your mask down so the camera could analyze your face. It took all of 1 second and I got the green checkmark and was good to go! Nothing further needed! From the time I left my cabin to getting to my car was less than 10 minutes- and that’s including waiting awhile for the parking garage elevator!
Love the New Procedures
I felt like all these new procedures make cruising as safe as it possibly can be, all things considered. You can tell they have put a lot of thought and effort into every aspect of the cruise experience. I loved every minute and can’t wait to cruise again!
Top 10 things to know if you want to cruise in 2021
- Don’t arrive to the port before your arrival time window!
- Don’t forget to bring your passport and vaccination card!
- Be prepared to have some type of tracker be used to know where you were on the ship and who you were in close contact with
- Expect a MUCH better, easier muster drill process
- Reservations for all your meals and shows/activities may be required
- Expect to use a lot of hand sanitizer. Bring lotion if it dries out your hands
- If you are unvaccinated or traveling with someone who is, expect some restrictions you will have to abide by.
- Expect an assigned disembarkation time, with a quicker disembarkation process than previously.
- Be prepared to be in charge of your baggage the entire trip from start to finish.
- Come with a good attitude and expect things to be different.
Disclaimer: each cruise line has their own set of protocols, so some things I experienced with Royal Caribbean may be different on another cruise line. In addition, I have no doubt the protocols will adjust as needed over time.