“I miss going on vacation, but with the Covid, I’m not sure if I’m ready yet.”
My wife and I fit into the same category. We have taken two cruises recently, one in November 2021 and another a couple of weeks ago in late March 2022. Based on our experiences, here’s what you might expect.
We have flown and sailed twice. On both occasions, we had an excellent experience and felt Covid protocols were strictly followed.
- November 2021. Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Bimini, Bahamas, on Holland America Line’s new flagship, The Rotterdam. In the interest of full disclosure, this was press trip.
- March 2022. Southampton, England, to New York City for a Transatlantic crossing on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2. We were paying passengers.
Getting to the Airport
You might think this approach is too much information (TMI) but if you or your clients are planning to travel, you want the full picture, so you know what to expect.
- SEPTA Regional Rail. Since we were flying to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, from Philadelphia International Airport, we took the SEPTA commuter train from a nearby town to the airport. Masks were required onboard the train.
- Lyft. For our transatlantic crossing, we drove to the Brooklyn Passenger Ship Terminal, parked the car, called Lyft and headed to the airport. We wore our masks in the Lyft car. I assume this is standard procedure.
At the Airport
Upon arrival, we checked in. On both occasions, we flew on American Airlines.
- Philadelphia Airport. You are required to wear your mask at all times on airport property. There is a fine if you don’t. The train station is on airport property. When we checked in with the ticket agent I don’t recall if we were asked to show proof of vaccination. However, as of press time the CDC recommends that travelers be up-to-date on Covid-19 vaccines and, if not, take a Covid test no more than three days before their anticipated travel. We needed to wear our masks in the airline club lounge and the Amex Centurion Club. We also wore them waiting to board the plane.
- JFK Airport. You are required to wear your mask on airport property. There’s a fine here, too, for noncompliance. Before we approached the ticket agent, we were asked if we had our U.K. passenger locator form, which you complete online. We were flying out Thursday, March 17. The U.K. announced they were dropping the requirement effective Friday, March 18, at 4 a.m. American Airlines still required it. The airlines adopt the Covid testing requirements of the destination country. Since the U.K. doesn’t require a negative Covid test to enter the U.K., neither did American Airlines as a precondition of boarding the plane. They did ask to see our Covid vaccination cards. We wore masks in the airline club lounge, except when we were eating or drinking.
On the Plane
On both our domestic flight and our international flight, we were required to wear our masks for the entire flight. The only exceptions were — you guessed it — when eating and drinking.
Arriving at our Destination Airport
By now you have figured out that you wear your mask if you are at an airport.
- Fort Lauderdale. There are no customs or immigration procedures on domestic flights. Properly masked, we grabbed our bags, got a taxi and headed to the hotel.
- Heathrow. That morning, the U.K. dropped the last of the Covid requirements. We went through immigration and customs. Not a word was asked about Covid tests or vaccinations. It was like life was B.C. (Before Covid.) You needed your masks in the terminal and on the National Express bus we took to Southampton. As I recall, the U.K. still requires mask wearing in healthcare facilities, schools and on public transit.
We played it safe. You will know why shortly.
- Fort Lauderdale. We stayed at a Marriott. They might have asked about vaccination status, but I don’t think so. I think masks were optional.
- Southhampton. We stayed at a Marriott. We might have been some of the only people wearing masks. No questions were asked about Covid tests or vaccinations.
Boarding the Ship
Now it gets interesting.
- Holland America. When boarding, we needed to have proof of a negative Covid PCR test. That’s the type of test that takes a couple of days to get the results and must be done within two days before boarding. You can’t get it done early. This credential is checked before you board the ship. All passengers were required to be vaccinated and have a negative PCR test.
- Cunard. The U.K. might not require a Covid test to enter, but the U.S. has different rules. Over a seven-day period, we were administered the antigen test (fast results) three times. The first was before boarding on Sunday, March 20. The second was on Wednesday, March 23, and the third was on Saturday, March 26. The testing procedure ran smoothly and was complimentary. Proof of vaccination was required before boarding.
Life Onboard the Ship
It’s a bit inconvenient, but the procedures are for the greater good.
- Holland America. Masks with the company logo were provided in your stateroom. They were required 100% of the time with three exceptions: when on deck in the open air, inside your stateroom, and when eating or drinking. Hand sanitizer stations were prevalent. When approaching the Lido Buffet, you were guided to a sink area to wash your hands with soap and water, and you dried them. If you ever forgot your mask, it was pointed out and you could visit any bar or restaurant and be handed another mask.
- Cunard. We already talked about the three Covid tests. Masks were provided in your stateroom. Passengers were also required to wear masks everywhere, including the theater. The dining room and Kings Court (Lido) buffet was setup with tables for two, with a few fours. In the Britannia dining room, you could only get a larger table if you were part of a family or a group traveling together. You wore your masks constantly, similar to Holland America. Here’s how they explained the exception: “If you are seated, you can remove your mask. If you are standing or moving, wear a mask.” As mentioned above, this did not include the theater, where you stayed masked and kept certain seats open. When you entered the Britannia dining room for open seating breakfast or lunch, you told them how many were in your party. Now they ask the cabin numbers. I assume this is for contact tracing.
In both cases, the cruise line has a strategy for using isolation cabins and quarantine cabins. Isolation is primarily for new crew joining the ship before mixing with the general population. Quarantine cabins are for those infected. On Cunard, once testing was done during the voyage, you did not want to be the “(Passenger name) on Deck 11, please return to your cabin and call the Purser’s Office immediately.”
As you can see, lots of testing is done beforehand. I assume the results are shared with authorities onshore ahead of time.
- Holland America. We walked off, put our bags onto the shuttle bus from the pier to the airport and waited for our plane.
- Cunard. We left the ship when our group was called. We found our bags and a porter who wheeled them around. We were face to face (masked) with a live customs officer. No questions about Covid or vaccinations. We went to our parked car and headed home.
On both occasions we felt very safe. Cunard had us sign a document that said we understood no set of precautions is absolutely 100% safe and there are always risks. We think both lines did everything possible to keep passengers safe.
Although passengers could take off their masks under certain (narrow) circumstances, we never saw an officer or crew member without a mask.
The cruise lines follow the Covid protocols of the ports they visit.
At the moment you will find several things missing. You can’t sit at the bar on a barstool on Cunard. Table service only. There is no big captain’s welcome cocktail party. On both lines, the lifeboat drill has been replaced by a video combined with a visit to your muster station where your cabin keycard is scanned.
At the risk of repeating myself, we felt safe and are ready to take our next cruise.
Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. He provides HNW client acquisition training for the financial services industry. His book, “Captivating the Wealthy Investor,” is available on Amazon.