COVID-19 testing requirements are likely with us through winter 2021. While the actual protocols vary by cruise line, the majority require you to do some kind of COVID-19 test before you board, often in as little as 48 hours before setting sail.
The time constraints around pre-cruise COVID-19 testing can make this a stressful process. What if the test doesn't come back in time? What if I'm arriving in port several days before the cruise and need to find a testing spot? What if the line doesn't accept my test? The list of "what ifs" can be debilitating.
We get it. As people who cruise for a living, we've had more than our share of COVID-19 tests in the past five months. And while the test anxiety never completely goes away -- there's always the chance that you could get a positive result -- we have developed strategies and routines to diminish the stress. Read on.
I set a calendar reminder for five days before sailing so I can look for the available appointments in my time period. Often, appointments don’t open up until three days or so in advance, so this gets me on the path of stalking appointment times.
Also, I check out airport appointment availability in my destination, as a worst-case scenario. If they are open and say they take walk-ins, I still will make an appointment if I can; you can skip the line, which sometimes can be long. -- Colleen McDaniel, Editor in Chief
I keep a stash of at-home antigen tests on hand, so I can keep tabs on my status before I take my official test. I have both kinds -- the ones that you do, just for peace of mind and the ones that are proctored by a doctor. When I had the sniffles before I went to Europe, I took six tests before I left! (A little neurotic, yes, but I didn't want to risk a Malta quarantine.)
My local township Facebook page has an ongoing thread where people report turnaround times for COVID-19 tests. I keep up to date with it, and take note of the places that seem to be doing the best. In my area, CVS drugstore has been reliably under 48 hours, but I know that isn't the case everywhere.
And finally, I start dialing down my social life before a trip and try to keep gatherings small and outdoors if possible. I restrict restaurant visits with my husband and friends to takeout or outdoor dining. I also mask when I go to the drugstore, the grocery store, the nail salon and other indoor environments. I'm not going to risk missing a big story because of a huge gathering. Luckily, my social circle and family is also cautious, so we're all on the same page. – Chris Gray Faust, Managing Editor U.S.
I have a stash of test-at-home kits, so at least I know I’m negative (hopefully) before I do the official one.
I also check the local providers and look for time slots some way out (e.g. before the 72-hour window). I don’t check airport providers because that close gives me more anxiety.
My most calming tip, however, is speak to your friends/colleagues to get tips! I had to put in the following before a recent flight to Greece: proof of double vax; proof of lateral flow; and COVID test result
However -- and this wasn’t entirely clear -- you did not have to show the COVID result if you’re double vaxxed in this circumstance. British Airways rejected my pre-flight info so I called a friend, who had flown in the day before. His seamless experience made me feel more confident. -- Adam Coulter, Managing Editor U.K.
Find a place where you can schedule your tests in advance. Pay for them. It doesn’t matter what the cost is; if you have a few grand tied up in cruise fare and airfare, COVID-19 test costs are just going to be a way of life for a while. The peace of mind is worth the money spent.
I'm an anxious person by nature; I've had to learn (and accept) that things can and will change. Today's far-fetched idea is tomorrow's standard protocol. But remember that all of this hoop-jumping is worth it when you're onboard that ship and it pulls away from the pier. I celebrate each sailaway now with a glass of champagne for having made it through the testing marathon. -- Aaron Saunders, News and Features Editor
I looked at my calendar at least six times trying to figure out when to book a required PCR test that had to be done within 72 hours of a cruise in Greece on Seabourn Ovation; a requirement of the cruise line, not of the country. CVS (where I could get the test for free) was telling me the results would take two to three days to come in. Complicating things was a six-hour time difference in Greece, and the fact that I was spending a precruise hotel night in Athens. My plan was to get the test late on a Wednesday afternoon for a Saturday embarkation. I couldn't do it on Thursday since that was my flying day. I held my breath that the results would come through in time, and they did.
I also gave myself an at-home antigen test before leaving for Greece, even though it was not required. Seabourn retests guests with an antigen test at the pier, and I did not want to take a chance of arriving in Greece ill and being turned away. The test, in which you swab your own nose, reminded me of a pregnancy test, since you base the results on colored lines. It was easy to take.
The CDC recommends you get tested three to five days after you get home from an international trip, as well. My plan was to buy more at-home tests when I got home. It wasn't a great plan as I had to go to four pharmacies before I found one with the tests in stock. Now I have extra kits at home. My plan is to always test pre- and post-trip no matter what the actual rules are by the country and cruise line. The more tests the better! -- Fran Golden, contributor
Updated September 22, 2021