Mariner of the Seas

I just returned from a spontaneous simulation cruise with Royal Caribbean. The simulation was to ensure that Royal Caribbean could successfully implement and maintain CDC protocols to minimize the spread of COVID-19 while cruising and eliminate super-spreader events. Cruise lines are tasked with proving that they can contain any spread of COVID with a massive amount of people in a small space.

Royal Caribbean did an excellent job implementing the safety protocols. At this time masks are required when you are indoors on both the cruise ship and their private island. However, when outdoors, no mask is required as long as you follow social-distancing measures. I wanted to share nine of the most pertinent safety procedures that I recognized on the ship. Other cruise lines have implemented similar safety measures. Here is what to expect when cruising in the age of COVID-19.

1. Scheduled arrival times

When planning your cruise, you will now pick a specific time to board the ship. Before COVID, you had to be on the ship by a certain time. The timeframe near the beginning of embarkation was always lined with excited passengers. Now, there are usually set times with 30-minute increments to minimize crowding and lower the chances of spreading COVID.

Coco Cay Cruise During COVID-19

2. Hand sanitizing stations, even on private islands

I am going to be very honest and give you some advice. First, if you are not ok with hand sanitizer, I recommend you wait to cruise until after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides. All shops, restaurants, soda machines, arcades, club rooms, casinos, guest relations, and any other specialized place on the ship have an employee who requires you to apply hand sanitizer while they watch.

Although I am not a fan of hand sanitizer, I can tolerate it. I would much rather wash with soap than slather alcohol on my hands to kill germs. Some people do not like how dry your hands get with hand sanitizer, but my issue is more about the alcohol absorbing into my skin. If you have strong beliefs on hand sanitizer, you will have to change your mindset or not cruise. At one point, I was at the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine, and I had to use hand sanitizer before anyone served me a Diet Coke. After that, I walked 10 feet max to the pizza joint on the ship, and I had to apply it again.

Thrill Waterpark

3. Sinks at restaurants

In the main dining areas, you must wash your hands while an employee is watching. New sinks have been installed at large eating facilities both on the ship and on private islands. I welcomed the soap. Not only was I using a gentler method of cleaning my hands, but hopefully, I was washing away some of the buildup from the hand sanitizer too.

4. Cafeteria-style dining rather than buffets

Cruise ships are known for their all-you-can-eat buffets. We love the buffets because there is something for everyone. However, now when cruising during COVID-19, the buffet choices are still available, but a server is standing on the other side of the glass to place the food on your plate, cafeteria-style. I love this. I still have the choice, but it takes away the opportunity of germ sharing that buffets have always presented. And speaking of that Freestyle machine that had amazing Diet Cokes, you now tell the server what type of drink you prefer, and they will freestyle it for you.

5. Scannable menus at main dining restaurants

Keeping with the dining trend, menus are now presented in a scannable fashion in the main dining room. The choices are still amazing, but you will use your phone to see what is being served. The menu is also located outside of the restaurant for viewing and on the cruise lines app.

My friend Nancy, who was cruising with me, forgot her phone one night while at dinner. The waiter had no paper menu. Nancy had studied the menu before walking in and knew what she wanted. However, she would have had to share a cell with someone to physically look at the menu or walk outside to make her choices. I was happy to share my cell, but she didn’t need it. However, sharing phones with strangers (which I am not) is taboo due to the ability to germ-share. Note to those like me who believe that having the cell phone at the table is rude- on cruise ships during COVID-19, it is essential and acceptable.

Broiled Lobster

6. Fantastic cruise line apps

The cruise industry has definitely stepped up its game when it comes to its onboard apps. Passengers can use the apps by logging onto the ship’s WiFi network.

To minimize trips to guest relations for information, there are now detailed maps, safety protocols, dining/excursion/show reservations (yes, you have to make reservations for shows now, too), account balance information, and even boarding passes included on the app. I embarked with the ship with no cruise paperwork in hand; thus, I had to exchange nothing with the employees.

Boarding Pass Cruising COVID-19
Photo Credit: Royal Caribbean

My favorite part was the account balance information. Your purchases appeared on the app in real-time. If you made reservations, they loaded onto your daily calendar. I LOVE the new and improve cruise line app.

Account Balance while cruising COVID-19
Photo Credit: Royal Caribbean

7. Reserved areas for the vaccinated and unvaccinated

I will be straight with you here; I don’t care if you are vaccinated or not. That is your absolute personal preference. Currently, the cruise industry does not mandate that you have received your COVID-19 vax, but if not, you may be asked to sit in a particular area of the theaters, dining rooms, etc. There are some places within the ship that you can remove your mask if you have been vaccinated, but I feel that this will not be the case for unvaccinated people. So again, the choice is yours as it should be, but I want you to know this before you are on the ship and your anticipated cruise turns sideways because you were asked to sit in a specific section of the boat.

Mariner of the Seas Ice Skating

8. Contactless service throughout the ship and private island

The ship is completely contactless. Your sea passes are located outside your room, and you must hold your card while it is scanned. No employees will ever touch your pass or any other documents that you have. Likewise, your cabin steward will not enter your room while you are in it. As far as tables and chairs across the ship, they must all be sanitized before you can sit at them. If passengers leave, the tabletop will be sanitized, and a waiter will place a sign that shows the status of the sanitizing process before another occupant can sit at the table.

Contactless Dining

One of the most recognizable changes in cruising during COVID-19 is the contactless safety drill. Usually, on a cruise, you gather in a large room and review the safety procedures. Then you visit the muster station to know where to go in case of an emergency. Now, the app houses the safety drill and has an automatic check-off when it is completed virtually. Then, you travel to the muster station and pick up a sticker that you place on your card after your presence has been verified by an employee.

Safety when cruising during COVID-19
Photo Credit: Royal Caribbean

9. Hallways are restricted in cabin areas 

I got really disoriented on the cruise ship, and, for a minute, I thought I was going nuts! On prior cruises, I could take an elevator (which nowadays can only hold four people or just your family) to the deck that my cabin was on, find the side of the ship that my cabin was on, and travel down that hallway until I came to my cabin. These hallways flow the entire length of the ship, but eventually, I would come to my stateroom.

On this trip, I took an elevator up to deck eight to get to my cabin. I followed the sign that said my cabin number was “this way.” However, along the way, there was a door that said “restricted.” I had to turn all the way around and go back to where I started. I took the next passageway and, again, had to turn around because the hall was restricted. By this time, I doubted where my room was located, if I could count or follow directions, and if I was ever going to find my room. I went to the opposite side of the ship to see if I was mixed up directionally. I finally found an employee and asked them how I could get to my room.

The employee told me that I had to take the elevator back to the promenade (the ship’s main deck) and take the elevator up to deck eight from there. That was the only way that I was going to get to my cabin. The passageways had their emergency doors closed to minimize traffic and, if needed, quarantine a group of passengers while cruising during COVID-19. The hall detours took me for a spin, literally!

Little Stirrup Cay

Cruising is one of my very favorite ways to travel. The cruise line industry has done a phenomenal job meeting CDC protocols for those cruising during COVID-19. I am proud to have participated in the simulation cruise because I wish for nothing more than the hardworking people on the ship, the shuttles, the booking agencies, and everyone involved in travel to get back to work, supporting their families again. If you are thinking of cruising soon, my advice is to be patient, leave a little extra for gratuities if possible, and accept the hand sanitizer. The hand sanitizer is the only major adjustment where I think that if some people can’t tolerate it, think hard before you choose to cruise.

I can’t wait to see you on the sea!

Interested in learning more about cruising? Check out Cruising on a Budget and The Chef’s Table!

For CDC guidelines regarding taking a cruise during COVID-19, click HERE!

  1. Very informative. Thank you so much for sharing all this. It will definitely help when planning our next cruise.

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