The countdown to Royal Caribbean cruising begins! It's 40 days until I'll be boarding Adventure of the Seas, as the line resumes sailing in North America with cruises out of the Bahamas.
Leaving from an international port, as opposed to one in Florida or Texas or anywhere else in the U.S., does come with a few logistical challenges. Many things, from booking airfare to filling out a health form to figuring out excursions, are different than they were in the Before Times -- and I'm expecting even more changes to occur as the sail date draws closer.
But with cruising in the U.S. not set to resume until mid-July at the earliest, sending a few ships to The Bahamas (and other international locales, such as Bermuda and Cyprus), makes sense for Royal Caribbean. Going international also makes sense for vaccinated cruisers who are ready to get back into that Vitamin Sea lifestyle.
Here's a look at where my preparations stand for my sailing, at 40 days – and what you can do to prepare if you're heading to The Bahamas with Royal Caribbean's Adventure of the Seas this summer.
This is the biggie, as Royal Caribbean is requiring all passengers over 16 to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 before boarding. "Fully vaccinated" means that not only have you had both of your shots (or one, if Johnson & Johnson) but you've allowed the requisite 14 days to elapse. I was able to get my Moderna vaccine series completed in late March, well in time for a short small ship cruise in Alaska, so I'm good to go.
It might seem obvious that a ship leaving from The Bahamas requires a passport. But cruisers who are used to having their driver's license as the sole means of identification for a "closed loop" cruise are in for an unpleasant surprise if they don't have a valid passport. Mine is up to date, and has at least six months validity past the sail date; I also checked with my friend to make sure hers was in good standing too. (Read more passport tips for international summer 2021 cruising).
For international travel in 2021, it's important to not only read the cruise line's health requirements, but those of the country, as they can differ widely from place to place. The Bahamas government gave travelers a break by announcing that it would drop its PCR test requirement before entering the country on May 1, if you're vaccinated (kids on the ship will still have to get one, as they are not able to get shots).
As of this writing, I'll still need to take two COVID-19 tests -- an antigen test before I board the ship and one before I come back into the U.S. Royal Caribbean has said that it will arrange the latter for people onboard. But I won't have to scurry to a testing center before I fly, or worry that the test results won't come back in time, which is a huge relief. My colleague Colleen McDaniel, who is traveling to St. Maarten to board Celebrity Millennium for its first sailing back a week before my trip, still has to get a COVID-19 test before she goes, though, so it's crucial to check the requirements of your embarkation country.
One of the best parts about having a cruise on the books is joining the Cruise Critic Roll Call for the sailing, and chatting with your fellow cruisers. (There are also Facebook groups, and I've joined those as well). When I last checked, our onboard Meet & Mingle party had more than 82 people signed up. Both the Roll Call and Facebook page are full of people sharing tips and tricks, pertinent news articles and the latest announcements from our destinations. It's also a good place to stay grounded. Other cruisers give frequent reminders that Royal Caribbean has said that final policy decisions won't be made until 30 days out -- so some questions will have to go unanswered for at least a few more weeks.
Now we're into territory that I need to get cracking on. Normally, I fly into my embarkation port at least one day before so I'm sure I won't miss the ship. But Royal Caribbean has moved back the embarkation time for our cruise so it doesn't leave Nassau until 9 p.m. That's partly to accommodate cruisers who are taking special Air2Sea charter flights that the line is organizing to have more airlift into Nassau on Saturday. The chair of Bahamasair told a Nassau newspaper it was working with the cruise line to add flights from Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando to coincide with the Adventure of the Seas sailings. I'm also hearing from fellow Roll Call members that the cruise line flights are priced comparably to what I can get on my own.
Even with the extra flights added, I'm still leery of waiting until Saturday to fly in. So until I know for sure what I'm doing, I'm also looking at hotels for a Friday stay. I've been to Nassau numerous times, but I've never actually stayed overnight there, so this will be a new experience.
One hotel I had been eyeing was the British Colonial Hilton in downtown Nassau. Michael Maura, the Nassau Cruise Port’s chief executive, told a Bahamaian newspaper that reception rooms in the hotel would be used as a check-in and staging area for Adventure of the Seas before the cruise. It's also where we'll be taking our antigen COVID-19 test, according to Elisa Shen, Royal Caribbean's vice president of onboard revenue and gaming, in an April 27 news article. Passengers can also drop bags, which will then be taken to the port for screening before going on the ship. So it seemed like the most convenient option. Nassau has plenty of hotel rooms, however, so if the Hilton is sold out, there are others to choose.
I also need to get moving on choosing shore excursions for our ports -- two days at Royal Caribbean's private island Perfect Day at CocoCay, Cozumel and Freeport, on Grand Bahama Island.
It's still unclear whether passengers on the Adventure of the Seas sailings will have to take ship-sponsored excursions to leave port, although Shen seems to be espousing the "bubble concept" in the April 27 article. It's a practice recommended by the Healthy Sail panel, but it was made before vaccines were widespread. Crystal, which is also sailing from The Bahamas, has said that its passengers do not have to take ship excursions since they are vaccinated. While Crystal's ship is much smaller than Adventure of the Seas, it does seem a bit incongruous to require vaccinated passengers to take ship excursions when they will be walking freely around Nassau before they board.
Still, if ship excursions are required, it sounds like there will be lots of choices. In the article, Shen said that Royal Caribbean has added five new tour operators based in Nassau, along with seven tours, to its 2021-22 roster -- bringing the total of operators to 17 and excursions to 53.
"We will absolutely be encouraging guests, by taking their luggage at the airport, to go and see Nassau," Shen is quoted as saying. "There’s a lot of flexibility for all these guests arriving to The Bahamas for this embarkation. We want to make sure there’s as many things for them to do in Nassau as possible."
That's good news for cruise passengers, who might feel like they've done it and seen it all in The Bahamas. I know that I'll be looking for something different.