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What’s it like to go on a cruise now? Here’s how COVID changed the onboard experience

VIDEO | 01:43
How the pandemic has changed your next cruise

Cruise passengers will see a lot of changes on the ship due to the pandemic.

The cruise industry suffered its biggest financial blow in decades when the COVID-19 pandemic halted most sailings for months and made nervous cruise fans think twice about booking an ocean voyage.

But cruising is back and all signs point to a turn of the tide for the industry: More cruises are scheduled to depart the Port of Los Angeles next year than in 2019.

Carnival Corp., the world’s largest cruise company, reported that bookings for the second half of 2022 already surpassed bookings for 2019. Royal Caribbean cruises for 2022 are nearly at 2019 levels, the company’s chief financial officer, Jason Liberty, said on a recent earnings call.

Despite the shutdown, the world’s cruise lines have more than 100 new ships on order to set sail by 2027. The Majestic Princess, a ship designed to serve the Chinese market, made its maiden call from the Port of L.A. on Oct. 6. Some 200 cruises are scheduled to depart from there in 2022, up from 120 in 2019.

What are cruise lines requiring of passengers? How have boarding, dining and other activities on board changed? We gathered some information to answer common questions.

Cruise giants Carnival, Princess, and Royal Caribbean — which face dozens of COVID-19 related lawsuits — have the legal upper-hand, experts say.

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Do I have to be vaccinated to go on a cruise?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all passengers be fully vaccinated before boarding a cruise ship. The world’s largest cruise companies now require passengers leaving U.S. ports to be fully vaccinated, with limited exceptions. Vaccines are required for passengers on Carnival, Princess, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity cruise lines.

You will usually be required to show proof of vaccination at the terminal before boarding. Some cruise lines will also require passengers — whether vaccinated or not — to show proof of a COVID-19 test taken within two days of boarding a vessel. Check the requirements and protocols of your particular cruise.

A sign listing COVID-19 requirements greets passengers boarding the Majestic Princess.
Passengers board the Majestic Princess cruise ship at the Port of Los Angeles in October. Face masks in enclosed areas where people gather are among many new requirements since cruising has resumed.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Do I have to wear a mask at all times on the ship?

Passengers are strongly encouraged to wear masks in public spaces and are required to do so in such indoor areas as elevators, stores, casinos and dining halls, except when eating or drinking. You typically won’t be required to wear masks around the pool and hot tubs, but deck chairs are spaced farther apart than in the past to maintain physical distance.

A sign on the Majestic Princess cruise ship says masks are required in elevators.
A sign on the Majestic Princess cruise ship docked at the Port of L.A. says masks are required in elevators. Masks are strongly recommended in all public places on cruise ships.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

What about shore visits and excursions?

To go onshore, you must meet the health protocols of the country the ship visits. The government of the Bahamas, for example, recently announced that all cruise visitors must be fully vaccinated, with the exception of travelers under age 12 and those with medical exemptions.

On some ships, such as Carnival Cruises, unvaccinated passengers are not allowed to go onshore except with a pre-booked “bubble tour,” in which passengers travel with friends and family in a controlled environment.
On other cruise lines, such as Holland America, shore excursions managed by the ship are strongly encouraged.

Are ships sailing at full capacity?

Most ships are sailing at less than full capacity, partly to encourage physical distancing. The Majestic Princess left on its maiden voyage from the Port of Los Angeles at about 60% capacity. The cruise lines plan to increase capacity over the next few months.

The Majestic Princess cruise ship docked at the Port of Los Angeles.
The Majestic Princess cruise ship docked at the Port of L.A. in October.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Have any activities been eliminated because of COVID-19?

You won’t be lining up at the buffet for meals. Most self-serve buffets have been modified so that employees serve passengers to avoid unnecessary crowding. Indoor dancing, karaoke and nightclubs are no longer allowed on many ships, including the Majestic Princess, which converted its karaoke area into extra room for spa treatments. On some ships, passengers won’t be allowed to try on clothing for sale. Physical distancing is encouraged for all activities.

Will I need to make reservations for dining and other onboard activities?

To manage capacity and physical distancing, many onboard restaurants recommend reservations and will limit groups at dining tables to eight. On Princess Cruises, reservations can be made through the MedallionClass app. On Celebrity Cruises, reservations can be made on the Celebrity Cruises App.

What else do I need to know?

You won’t be required to assemble at a designated spot on the ship to hear the pre-departure safety instruction, also known as the “safety muster drill.” Instead, passengers can watch parts of the safety drill on their stateroom televisions or on a cruise ship app.

Spas and gyms remain open, but some cruise lines limit them to vaccinated guests. Hand sanitizer stations can be found throughout the ships.

The pool on the Majestic Princess cruise ship docked at the Port of Los Angeles
The pool on the Majestic Princess cruise ship docked at the Port of L.A. in October. Pools are typically still open on cruise ships.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)


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