You may be forgiven for thinking that going aboard cruise ships amid COVID-19 and the omicron surge is just too complicated (all those COVID-19 tests!) or too risky (outbreaks!) right now, but a quick scan of the Cruise Critic boards reveals quite the opposite.
The Caribbean cruise season is in full swing, and Cruise Critic members are still sailing. While cruise quarantines and changed or closed ports are definite risks of cruises during the COVID-10 omicron surge, most people are having a great time being back onboard.
But don't just take our word for it. Take a look at these live reports from some of our million-plus members worldwide sailing in the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, Europe's Mediterranean and Hawaii.
First time Carnival cruiser BennyBrun gave a detailed review of his Christmas cruise on Mardi Gras from Florida, which he estimated was sailing at around 90 percent full:
"It does feel very crowded and bunched together in the common areas," he notes.
He also writes that mask wearing has become mandatory (rather than politely suggested):
"They have switched the wording on masks and I have heard multiple staff asking people to put mask up around the ship," he writes.
"All INSIDE bars are under sip and cover ... I have not been to outside bars because they are PACKED and I can’t even get close ... no one is wearing mask at the outside from what I can see ... that does NOT mean it is allowed it is just from what I can see."
The mask mandate even extends to the gym, which is certainly a first: "If you are doing cardio you don’t need a mask but everything else mask up."
The buffet, however, is back to self serve; though all menus in the main restaurants are digital (no paper) via a QR code.
"Just wanted to give a shout out because I have been reading so much negative stuff about NCL and cruising these last few weeks," writes NCLGIrl2013 onboard Norwegian Breakaway, sailing from New Orleans.
"We boarded in New Orleans today and it has been nothing short of FANTASTIC! COVID testing took us 17 minutes start to getting our results. 9:22 AM to text at 9:39AM. The staff has been SO attentive and wonderful. I have zero complaints about anything for this entire day."
It's a similar story from sghetrick, who has just returned from a cruise aboard Norwegian Gem, departing NYC.
She writes: "We just got back from a very relaxing trip. We felt very safe the whole time and had no issue wearing masks (We only encountered a couple people who weren't wearing masks) Here's a few thoughts about our trip."
She goes onto say "testing was fast" and was realistic about one of the big sources of anxiety with cruising in the age of COVID-19 -- missed ports:
"...we made it to Charleston and Port Canaveral but got denied from visiting Great Stirrup Cay (after waiting 1.5 hours for the decision to be made). The shore excursions booked were refunded but to the onboard account not original payment method."
She adds, philosophically: "It was a bummer to not go to the beach but with COVID we were expecting a hiccup so it didn't affect us greatly."
Travelin.sisters decided to give an update on Hawaii cruising, as no one else was. She writes: "So far, the most stressful part of the cruise has been the preparation & wondering what might happen. Once we left home everything has been lovely."
And just like sghetrick, she refused to get stressed about any pre-boarding issues:
"We decided it was worth the cost to not have to stress if our tests would get canceled or if the results would be done in time, particularly since we were going to need to test during New Year's weekend. "
"Boarding was easy," she writes; her cabin steward checked their Hawaii Safe Travels QR code, they stopped by the muster station -- and they were Hawaii-bound.
One of the challenges that has arisen during this period is the essential use of the smart phone -- without it, many passengers would be hard-pressed to board -- a topic Travelin.sisters addresses:
"There were people boarding without smart phones & the crew was able to assist them but sometimes it is challenging to find the right person to help." (For more on why you'd need your smart phone, check out our article on Using QR Codes On a Cruise).
She concludes: "Most people on the cruise seem just glad to be out sailing again, despite some inconveniences."
He admitted: "I'm more nervous of this cruise than she is, but, I hate most people to begin with, so I've been training for COVID and social distancing my whole life. Lol."
He adds (the night before boarding): "Operation 'COVID stay away from me' commences soon!"
Upon boarding, he was given a letter that revealed 4.95 percent of crew had tested positive and were self-isolating and that: "There may be some adjustments made to our program, like the schedule of shows or activities."
The main theme throughout the post is how empty the Oasis Class ship -- with a capacity of more than 5,000 passengers -- feels sailing with around 2,000 passengers:
"So far it feels empty. We sat outside in Central Park for Giovanni's. Going to try and do that for Chops as well."
Which, for some passengers, may well be a huge plus.
Cruise Critic members have also been reporting on the latest omicron outbreaks -- and how the cruise lines dealt with issues.
Here's a thread by soloadventurer who runs through MSC's protocols following an outbreak onboard MSC Grandiosa:
"There is a COVID outbreak on the ship -- exact numbers are unknown (as many as 100 plus) -- apparently many are asymptomatic. The ship took a number of hours to clear health authorities in Genoa yesterday and walking tours were canceled.
"All passengers are being given FFP2 facemasks, and they are the only acceptable facemasks to wear."
She adds that a large number of private limousines (pictured above) are waiting on the quayside in Civitavecchia this morning to transfer affected passengers to their homes or facilities.
She then goes on to say Italian passengers are being transferred back to their home towns, while foreign passengers will be held in Genoa and southern Piedmont.
And as 8420pr comments in the thread:
"I think most people put it into perspective -- when 15% of people in London would test positive for COVID-19 last week, to be on a cruise with just 0.1% (47 out of 4500 passengers and crew), testing positive is not such a bad result.
"I'm impressed to see MSC distributing the FFP2 masks -- one credit I give them is that for the last 16 months since they restarted cruises they are constantly learning, improving and not afraid to take measures to keep everyone safe.
He adds: "I've taken 6 cruises since May 2021 and wouldn't hesitate to take another tomorrow (in the full knowledge that I might end up in quarantine)."
Updated January 11, 2022