You remember joy, right? That feeling of total elation, when a smile simply won't leave your face.
Cruising is returning in earnest, with multiple cruise lines starting up in the Caribbean, Greece and Iceland, as well as at a few homeports in the United States. The pandemic shut down most cruising worldwide in March 2020, so for many travelers, this marks the first opportunity to get onboard a ship for more than a year.
Cruise Critic was onboard Celebrity Millennium sailing the Caribbean from St. Maarten starting June 5, 2021, as the ship became the first to bring back cruising for mostly North American passengers. Being the first to return to sailing -- on a Caribbean cruise ship where every adult and crewmember was vaccinated -- was indeed special. For many guests and crewmembers we spoke with, this first cruise was long overdue.
There were goosebumps. There were tears. For days, everyone we talked to seemed to use the word "surreal" in describing how it felt to finally be cruising after such a long layoff. Smiles were big, and gratitude was plentiful.
So, what does the return of cruising mean to travelers and crew? We asked just that.
Trapper Martin and Shane Smartt, who are travel advisors for Dream Vacations who have been on so many cruises they stopped counting after about 80, said they both shed a few tears.
"Getting back on this ship has been unbelievable," Martin said.
Cruising is a way of life for the Florida-based couple, who have a routine that includes decorating their cabin door with magnetic photos of them visiting various destinations around the world.
While they did some traveling during the pandemic, being aboard Celebrity Millennium reminded them of everything they love about cruising.
"I've missed everything about it," Smartt said.
Among the highlights on this cruise? The shared exuberance and relief onboard.
"The guests as well as the crew are just so excited," Martin said. "You can just feel it."
Added Smartt: "The first day, they were bouncing with joy, happy to see people."
Perhaps actually being around people has led to a more social cruise experience, as guests seemed friendlier with one another, and conversations lingered longer than usual.
The confidence that comes with being on a ship where every adult passenger and crew member is vaccinated and PCR tested might have helped foster a social environment.
"The testing requirements and the facilities available onboard are certainly amazing," Martin said. "We felt safe before, and we certainly feel safer now with the protocols onboard. There can be some hoops to jump through as far as testing goes, but at the same time, it should just make you feel even safer."
Lou Ciacciarelli, who lives in New York with his partner, is a lifelong Celebrity Cruises fan. He took his first cruise when he was 8 years old on Celebrity Meridian. The couple had two booked cruises canceled last year, but he says they often will book last-minute sailings, so they probably missed even more time at sea.
For him, returning to cruising was an emotional experience.
"Seeing the ship, tears, crying coming onboard," Ciacciarelli said, adding, "It's so much joy, and I think it's the first time I've really healed from this pandemic."
He also praised the cruise line for being the first to return, calling the move "gutsy."
"They've done a really great job of making it feel normal again," he said.
Ciacciarelli noted some subtle changes onboard, pointing out the line feels like it's moving more toward a real luxury experience, with touches like flowers and in-room chocolates. The ship underwent a massive refurbishment in 2019 that still feels fresh and modern, bringing the oldest ship in the fleet in line with its sister ships.
Davor Sarcevic, who is working onboard Celebrity Millennium in Effy, one of the ship's shops, said he had mixed emotions about returning to sea.
Sarcevic, who started working on cruise ships in 2014 for Celebrity, said he was excited to see guests and be back working, but it also meant he was leaving his home in Serbia after 11 months. But when he got onboard, he described it as "just fantastic."
"I missed cruising so much; I missed my job a lot," he said.
But the thing that has had the biggest impact on Sarcevic, he says, are the guests.
"Oh my god, they are amazing," he said. "Everybody is super happy. Everybody's very excited. Even today, they feel very sad because they have to go home."
Updated June 14, 2021