We've been lucky enough to get back on ships as soon as cruising restarted around the world.
And between our team of four, we have traveled to or from the U.K., Greece, The Bahamas, St. Maarten, Malta, Seattle (for Alaska) and Florida, including Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Port Canaveral.
And during this time, we have realized that the days of flying in on the day of with just a driving license and nothing printed out are long gone.
There's a whole list of things that you need to prepare ahead of a cruise in the COVID-era, whether its sailing from your nearest homeport and staying domestic -- or whether it involves a flight and multiple destinations.
Here are our top tips for preparing for a cruise in the COVID-era.
And we mean everything. Ahead of our Greek cruises, we printed out: Passenger Locator Form, Negative COVID test result, cruise ticket, flight tickets, itinerary, proof of COVID insurance and anything else we could find that we felt we needed to. Even though most lines are moving towards a paperless world, certainly for the COVID era many are demanding paper copies of everything.
Historically, we have tended to do things last minute, but no longer. Book hotels, car parking, flights, PCR tests etc. well ahead of your sailing. Even though fewer people are travelling, there is also less supply -- fewer flights, fewer parking spaces and in some cases, hotels have entire floors closed off.
-- or check whether your line includes insurance. This is essential and is now being demanded by some cruise lines. You may be turned away or forced to buy it at the terminal. And if you already have travel insurance, ensure you understand it as not every policy covers illness due to COVID-19, as some providers will not cover coronvirus or travel aboard cruise ships. If you're going overseas, make sure your coverage also includes your hotel and related costs in case you run into a quarantine situation.
This is slightly different from booking everything early, as it is specific to testing requirements. Many countries and cruise lines require a certain window when your test can be taken to be valid, which is usually within 72 hours. Make sure you count backward accurately, and also make sure you are taking the right kind of test, as different cruise lines have different requirement.
Same story with online check in, which usually closes 24 hours before sailing.
We can't emphasize this enough as we speak from personal experience. With all of the airline issues this summer, we've had delays, cancellations and missed connections that would have caused us to miss the cruise, had we flown in the day of. While the Caribbean might seem just a quick flight away, you'll have peace of mind if you get there early.
That way, you'll have an advocate working for your (rather than waiting for hours on the phone for American Airlines to maybe answer your call). Booking through an agent who can go to bat for you is your absolute best bet for removing stress if things change -- which, as our experiences show this summer, is often the case.
For example, HAL and Princess added the requirement for pierside testing overnight. One day it wasn't there, the next it was. Same thing with mixed vaccinations -- they went from being not allowed to maybe allowed to not allowed again. AstraZeneca was also banned, then quietly unbanned, as long as the doses weren't mixed. Things like that have been happening all the time, so keep an eye on the news -- or speak to your cruise line or travel agent.
Even if masks aren’t required on your ship, they could be needed on land and will almost certainly be required on tours, airplanes and the like.
Tip: Check mask requirements -- we found that certain mask types are mandated in different countries and on different airline. Lufthansa, for example, requires a N95 or KN95 mask. Don't be caught out having to buy masks at airports at inflated prices.
If you're traveling overseas, read up on the quarantine policies for where you're going. Hopefully, you won't test positive on your trip, but it's at least good to know what could happen if you do. You might want to bring extra medication, reading material and -- if you're still working -- your laptop, in the unfortunate case you test positive. We also recommend getting a COVID-19 test before your trip, even if the country or cruise line doesn't require it, just to make sure. If you are sick, it's better to go through it at home, rather than in a cramped hotel room in a foreign country.