Have you ever felt that you are in the middle of a real-life quiz game, where the prize is a cruise holiday that you have already paid for, but have to pass so many elimination tests before you can gain your ultimate prize – admission to the ship. Pass each test and there you are in your cabin. Fail any, and sorry, but back home you go and try again in a few weeks.
There are lots of internet sites where you can catch up on the latest cruise news, but there’s nothing like personal first-hand advice and experience. In the past few months or so I have had the pleasure to being on three cruises, so can give you some insights into what to expect should you decide to return to cruising, or have a cruise already booked and are not too sure what to expect. Kindly bear in mind that I am based in the UK, so inevitably my knowledge is more slanted in this direction, but I am pretty sure that the advice is appropriate for a lot of areas.
Before you travel to the port, make sure that you have the NHS app on your phone. This means that you have proof that you have been given both Covid injections, also your booster. For those who choose not to for any reason, then don’t even bother trying to board a cruise ship, as it’s pretty pointless, even reading any more of this article, because it’s not appropriate for your travel plans. No jabs means no cruise ship travel. All the cruise lines are obsessed with passenger safety, they take all reasonable precautions and, in some cases, illogical decisions to ensure that there is no repeat publicity from two years ago when the headline was ‘floating petri dish’. It was the biggest public relations disaster possible, so when on board if you find yourself subject to weird restrictions then this is the reason.
Drive to the port, or be driven in your taxi, and be prepared for various procedures. These have been in place for a while now, and are pretty simple. Stay in your car as your mouth and nose are swabbed. The result only takes a few minutes, then proceed to the next stage of the game. Pass the swab test, then it’s free to leave your luggage with the porter. Before entering the terminal, wear your face mask – shields are not allowed, and there are no exemptions for any medical reasons. No mask, and you are eliminated from the contest. Inside the terminal, show your ticket and passport, you have passed another obstacle, then show your NHS app. Now not having this is not a reason for your travel plans to be terminated, you just get placed on the sidelines while they examine your NHS printed documents, or try and find you while they use their company gadget to check your vaccination status. Then it is to the ticket desk, where they issue you with your cruise cabin card. The game is almost over.
Still wearing mask over mouth and nose, you have to answer personal questions from an agent wearing mask over face and nose. Don’t worry, they are very patient, as you have your photo taken without mask for your onboard i.d. You are then directed inside the walkway, which eventually leads you to the door, just like on an aircraft. Through the door, and a face smiling with words of welcome. What part of the face you can see. ‘What is your cabin number?’. A steward escorts you along the myriad passageways to your cabin, hopefully your cases are waiting for you, and the game is over. You have won the prize of a holiday.
You must wear your mask at all times when on board in public areas, except for eating and drinking. That means if you are dancing, or in the theatre, or walking around, then on goes the mask. Some ships require masks outside by the pool, I have heard of a recent case where the passenger had finished lunch, went to the rail to take a photo, and a zealous waitress asked her to put her mask on. That was over the top, as established by the passenger later when she asked a senior ship’s officer. And don’t think you can get away with masks in the public toilets, with some odours maybe it’s a better idea to wear one. One lady on a very recent cruise finished her coffee, and was then reminded by the waiter that she had to put on her mask. Four glasses of wine later, as she staggered away she then put it on, not particularly caring if it was on her face or not.
There is onboard testing, expect three during a 14 day cruise. This is also required by port authorities, some will only allow fully escorted tours off the ship, but this is becoming less common, with more independent movement allowed ashore. Spain and Portugal as I write require masks in public places, but check online for latest. You can wear masks in your cabin if you feel so inclined, but there’s not much point really.
And now to the dreaded passenger locator form. You can only complete online, and it is one of the most exasperating forms I have ever had to complete. My wife kindly let me fill in hers as well, this was done a couple of days before our cruise, and it took me two hours. Check online if you have to have a Government approval lab Covid test, very expensive, don’t if you can possibly avoid. It is delivered by courier the day after you arrive back, has to be returned via post office, and as far as I can gather is not now a legal requirement to return to the UK.
Now for the most frustrating part. On two recent cruises, returning to Southampton, we have walked through Customs without seeing any officials anywhere. That’s right, filling in that PLF form, spending two swearing hours at my computer, and didn’t even need, as no-one was there to examine. But supposing I hadn’t completed the dreaded form, and there was a yellow-jacketed person with blue letters ‘Customs’ on the back as I slowly pushed the heavy luggage trolley, finger asking me to place cases on the table, what then?