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Cruising Post-Pandemic – What’s It Like To Cruise Again?

Cruising post-pandemic

It’s hard to believe it has been two years since the pandemic started in March 2020. In that time, we had eight cruises canceled, including Christmas and New Year itineraries. Recently, we took our first cruise post-pandemic and wanted to share our overall experience.

Since we reside in Vancouver, Canada, we needed to fly internationally to get to an embarkation port. This added another stress level because of the need to test within the allowable time frame and get to our cruise ship on time. Our last international flight was in January 2020, before the pandemic.

While we read about many negative experiences traveling to another country, our experience was mostly positive. How have things changed? Did we have to wear a mask? Were there any cases of Covid onboard? How easy was it to get back to Canada? This article answers all of those questions.

Pre-Cruise Requirements

We sailed with the Majestic Princess on a cruise to the Mexican Riviera, embarking in San Pedro, Los Angeles. Pre-pandemic, we flew into LAX the morning of embarkation day. With numerous flight cancellations due to staff shortages, this time, we chose to fly the day before and stay in a hotel close to the cruise port.

We stayed at the Best Western Plus San Pedro Hotel & Suites. Our stay included complimentary breakfast and a free shuttle to the cruise port. Many other passengers on our cruise stayed there too.

We needed a negative PCR or antigen test to fly to the United States. We also needed a negative test, taken within two days, to board our cruise ship.

So, we completed our test on Thursday, flew Friday, and embarked on Saturday. The one test covered the requirements to fly and cruise. We would have needed to book another test if we wanted to stay in Los Angeles a few days before the cruise. 

Until May 31, 2022, Princess will offer pre-testing at the port for USD 100 per person, and reservations are required ten days in advance. At the Los Angeles cruise ports, DocGo provides this service.

Getting A Pre-Travel Covid Test

Reading Cruise Critics forums, one of the biggest complaints about traveling when living in British Columbia is the cost of testing. When other Canadian provinces offer testing at pharmacies, Walmart, and Costco for under CAD 20, it’s a different story in British Columbia.

While people with COVID symptoms can get free testing, these test results can’t be used for travel. Instead, Canadians must purchase travel testing through an independent company.

We used Bon Voyage Medical, which cost us CAD 90 + tax per person, and we got our results in three hours. Our negative results came by email, and we printed a physical copy of the test.

Fast forward another year and thankfully the procedure of getting tested before a cruise and visiting most countries has been dropped.

Flying Internationally

When I travel, I tend to print all my required documents as a backup for using a smartphone. I kept my passport, boarding pass, negative Covid test result, and proof of vaccinations ready at the airport.

The Majestic Princess and pictures of me wearing a mask in Mexico

We traveled with WestJet because we have their rewards card. At check-in, I tried to show our negative COVID test results and was surprised when the WestJet agent seemed to brush it off. “I see you have a paper” was her response and permitted us to fly.

I carried the test results through the airport, thinking someone in customs or security would want to see them. It wasn’t until we arrived at the cruise port that someone thoroughly read our vaccinations and Covid test results.

Since we were booked on a MedallionClass cruise, we completed the Ocean Medallion app to fast-track boarding. By scanning our passports, adding a photo, giving a credit card, and filling out a health questionnaire, we didn’t have to do those steps at check-in.

[Update] While cruise lines no longer require pre-testing or vaccinations, most still ask if we-re vaccinated. We still carry a record of our vaccinations, although no one wants to see them.

To Mask Or Not To Mask

Cruising post-pandemic, a lot has changed. Before our cruise, Princess had dropped the requirement to wear masks. However, they recommend wearing masks indoors and only removing them when actively eating and drinking.

We each received a complimentary KN95 mask in our stateroom, which they suggested we change every three days. Additional masks were available through our cabin steward.

Brian getting ice cream on a post-pandemic cruise
Brian getting ice cream on a post-pandemic cruise

We attended a “meet and greet” on our first sea day with our Cruise Critic group. Most of the group expressed that they would not participate unless everyone wore masks. While most showed up to the event with masks on, some removed them once they sat down.

We wore our masks during our 7-day cruise 90% of the time. While we knew those who got Covid after vaccinations had mild symptoms, we couldn’t return home if we tested positive. This may be less of a concern for those cruising in your own country.

At the start of the cruise, maybe 50% of the passengers used masks indoors. However, as the days rolled by, very few passengers wore masks indoors, and there was no social distancing.

Wearing my mask in port
Wearing my mask in port

On cruise port days in Mazatlán, Cabo San Lucas, and Puerto Vallarta, we wore our masks 100% of the time. We even wore masks hiking to El Faro Lighthouse, since it was impossible to practice social distancing.

For our cruise of 2475 passengers, 2230 came from the United States, 113 Canadians, 39 from the UK, three from Australia, three from China, and the rest from other countries.

With the headache of traveling internationally, it didn’t surprise me that only 10% of cruise passengers were from outside the United States.

Testing During The Cruise

Princess did not do any random tests of cruise passengers throughout the cruise. However, staff require tests every seven days.

Princess did not allow passengers to book a stateroom on the Dolphin deck or deck 9. Instead, they used this deck to quarantine new staff who joined the ship.

I thought this was a great decision since COVID cases on post-pandemic cruises were mostly amongst staff members. Also, staff could only access areas within their bubble.

Post Pandemic Cruising: How Things Have Changed

While at the San Pedro cruise port, the waiting area allowed for social distancing. Seating was marked in groups of two or more and had a “seat not in use” sign on chairs in between.

Grab and go salads
Grab and go salads

Onboard, I expected to see many hand sanitizer stands around the ships, and it wasn’t so. There were the usual ones outside the restaurants and buffet, but none by the elevators or high traffic areas.

At the buffet, staff served us except for pre-portioned plates and juices, which were grab and go.

While the Majestic Princess has three dining rooms, the Concerto, Allegro, and Symphony Restaurants, the Symphony was closed and used for staff.

Our vessel sailed at 68% capacity, but the buffet had about 40% of the area open. We found the buffet selection very limited, especially for me since I’m allergic to certain foods. With a small operating area, it was impossible to practice social distancing.

Events like the “Behind the scenes tour” and kitchen “Galley tour” were no longer available. The Captain’s Party, which traditionally included the champagne waterfall, was canceled. In fact, we found that the Princess Patter had fewer events on our post-pandemic cruise.

Grab and go juices
Grab and go juices

We attended most production shows in the theater. We’d arrive early to get seating and allow an empty seat between us and the next guest in an attempt to social distance. However, the shows were busy, and guests filled rows after rows, rarely leaving a seat in between.

Stateroom stewards only made up your room in the morning. Turndown was only available if requested. Since we didn’t ask for “turndown,” we missed out on the chocolate on the pillow. During our 7-day, we only saw our steward once, which was on embarkation day.

Elevators weren’t restricted to a lower number of passengers. However, when they stopped and seemed pretty full, we waited for another one or took the stairs.

Port Excursions Post Pandemic

While cruising has changed, it seemed like business as usual in Mexico. We were required to wear masks on shore excursions. We complied and even wore masks while walking the streets and hiking to El Faro Lighthouse in Mazatlán. All Pulmonia taxi drivers wore masks, but locals rarely wore masks elsewhere.

In Puerto Vallarta, we took a 7-hour tour outside the city with our Cruise Critic group. Our driver, Raul, showed us his vaccination records, which was a first.

Preparing For Debarkation

A few days before debarkation, we received the form to request a debarkation time slot. However, it lacked vital information for international travelers. Princess Cruises provides complimentary testing for international guests, as required by their counties.

Getting my post cruise test
Getting my post-cruise test

One week before our cruise, the Canadian government changed its policy on returning Canadians. We now only needed a negative antigen test instead of a PCR test to return to Canada.

Since I didn’t know where to get the test or if I needed an appointment, I visited guest services to get that information. Once we received our disembarkation tags for our luggage, we received the details about getting testing in port.

Since our flight was at 1:05 pm, we requested to disembark at 8 am. Once we collected our luggage and went through security, we made our way back to the area where guests board the ship. We provided passports for ID, and DocGo did our antigen tests.

Receiving my negative antigen test results
Getting the green light to fly home

The staff suggested we wait for the results instead of giving an email. So, we waited approximately 20 minutes to receive a paper copy of our negative results before heading to the airport.

Before checking in, we had to complete the ArriveCan on our phones, a requirement by the Canadian government. Then, we showed our negative test results to a WestJet representative, and we were on our way home.

At home, it was recommended that for 14 days, we maintain a list of names of people we were in contact with, wear a mask in public, and report any symptoms of COVID.

As I write this, the good news is that as of April 1, 2022, vaccinated Canadians no longer need the negative test to return home. This positive news is a significant step to encourage international travel for those feeling nervous about leaving Canada.

Final Thoughts

The pre-testing to travel and get home was relatively easy. We paid an extra CAD 200 for testing for our post-pandemic cruise, and another CAD 320 for a hotel stay pre-cruise.

Pre-pandemic, we would not have had to pay these expenses. Luckily, Princess Cruises provided our after-cruise test, saving us USD 200. Thank you, Princess!

After April 1, 2022, we no longer need a test to get home, so we may be looking to travel more. It’s important to realize that things are constantly changing during these unprecedented times.

COVID has altered how we cruise and changed some people’s perspectives of cruise travel. While we cruised to Mexico without any issues, we took our first cruise to Alaska after Vancouver reopened its cruise port.

On that cruise, we didn’t get off so easy and learned what it was like to get COVID on a cruise ship.

Sometime in the future, I hope the cruise lines will drop the need for pre-tests since all passengers are fully vaccinated. Having completed our first cruise in three years, we are eager to sail again.

Happy travel ~ Karen

Me, carrying an Iguana in Mexico and a cruise ship docked in Mexico