Boarding a Cruise Ship in a Covid World

Symphoy of the Seas in Miami

Boarding a cruise ship in a Covid world is nothing like the boarding process once was. First it starts with all the hoops you have to jump through before even arriving at the dock. Then there’s no more priority boarding or first come first served, or getting on early if you get there early and the previous passengers have all disembarked. Now there’s assigned arrival times and no waiting inside if you get there earlier. Vaccine cards and negative covid test results were added to the usual documents required for boarding such as passports (or other approved ID) and boarding passes. Most of the check-in information has been available to fill in online for quite sometime, and can now also be done in the app so there’s not a lot left to do once you get to the port. Even a lot of the documents can be digital if you choose that route rather than printing them out.

We flew to Miami a day ahead, which almost wasn’t soon enough. Barbara had no trouble on her flights and arrived in the afternoon. Our hotel was supposed to be downtown, not far from the cruise ship dock, and have a cruise ship shuttle. That’s what their online info said. The address didn’t match up to the blurb though as the one we ended up in was not near anything, looked nothing like the picture, and had never even heard of a cruise ship shuttle. It appeared that there were two hotels by the same company and though the address of the one we booked matched, nothing else did so apparently the booking site put the address of one hotel with the info for their other hotel. It was pouring rain all afternoon so Barbara didn’t really want to go anywhere anyway and probably would have stayed in for the afternoon even if she had been in the hotel we thought we’d booked.

long lines outside the port building

Meanwhile, Linda and I had what was supposed to be a 2-hour layover in Dallas. They had a very useful info finder that would show whatever you want to find at the airport, including restaurant locations and their menus so we had a great lunch at a Qdoba we wouldn’t have even known existed otherwise. Everything seemed fine up until boarding time. They even started making the initial boarding announcements and those who board first were all lined up and ready to go, but they didn’t let anyone on the plane. People waited and waited and finally they announced some mechanics were fixing the plane and boarding would start as soon as they were done. More time passed and they kept saying they would know in 15 minutes, but no info ever came. Then it changed to hopefully there would be a new plane provided if this one didn’t fly. People began to panic and look for other flights, but it was already late in the evening and there weren’t many. Just a few spots for over $350 per person that would take 10 hours to get to Miami with long layovers somewhere else. Nothing at all to Fort Lauderdale or even Orlando. So it was looking like if that plane didn’t fly Barbara might have been taking that cruise by herself unless we could find something leaving the next morning that would get us to the ship on time as the few available spots leaving that night would be snapped up by whoever had the fastest connection the second they announced the plane wasn’t leaving. Finally 2 hours after we were supposed to take off the plane boarded. It made up some time in the air and we arrived about an hour late, at that point not caring that the hotel was not where we expected it to be and looked like it had probably been quite a nice hotel in the 60’s or 70’s, but had nothing done to upgrade it since. We were just relieved to be in Miami at all.

after you get through the first line you go to the line to get in the door

Check out time was 11:00 am, and our boarding time wasn’t until 2pm. That was the earliest time available when I did our online check-in. Perhaps there may have been something earlier if it hadn’t opened a week before I was able to do the check-in, but it had never been open anytime I’d tried previously, then we were out of town for awhile. When I finally got the chance to register a lot of other people had already done theirs first. The very earliest times are probably only offered to the people with suites or high loyalty status who would normally have gotten priority boarding though.

Since we had lots of time and no shuttle, we took an uber to a Denny’s that was nearer to the dock than our hotel and hung out there a bit while some time passed. I wasn’t hungry so just had a glass of water, but the sisters got some food. There seemed to be a staff shortage like everywhere these days so it took awhile, which was actually good when you’re just trying to kill some time. A guy at the table next to us choked on his coffee and sprayed it all over his table companion, even dousing the poor guy’s phone. They moved them to a different table and wiped that table down, but did not remove or replace the caddy holding condiments and things. A bit later they seated a poor unsuspecting older couple totally unaware of the coffee shower there. Hopefully they did not need any condiments.

sisters on the gangway from the port building to the ship

We took another uber to the dock, which probably worked out better than a shuttle that would have gotten us there many hours too early. As it was it was still nearly an hour before our time. There were signs marking lines for 1:00-1:30. 1:30-2:00, and 2:00-2:30, with short lines at the first two and a very long one at the third, which we found the end of curving around back toward the other lines. As that line grew and the others shrank they started letting a few people at the front of that line into the other two so little by little we worked our way up to the front of the line, and eventually got put into one of the others before our actual boarding time. If anyone showed up with the earlier times they were ushered into a shorter line where people were sent to from those lines, the others of us they let through were sent to a longer one, but both ended up at the glass door entering the port building. Once we finally got through that door we just had to show our documents and were then sent upstairs.

stopping to photo the ship from the last bit of gangway

Instead of having the line maze that puts everyone through so the first person goes to the next available desk, this one was set up in separate lines. Some led to one desk, others to two. Unfortunately people were ushered into a line not of their choosing and we were sent to the end of a one-desk line. Which would not have been bad if people from that line actually got to go to that desk and get helped, but someone on the other end kept sending people from other lines there – even lines that had two desks of their own. All the other lines cleared several times while ours didn’t move at all. The people at the front of it loudly complained for a very long time before they finally got sent to the desk, but the next ones in line were not helped afterword. The only way anyone from that line ever got helped was to run to an available desk when the person directing people wasn’t looking so all the other lines cleared again a few times before we finally made it to be next. We were all poised to run to the desk in front of us as soon as the people there left, but just as we were about to go the person directing people showed up and sent people from the next line over who had just gotten there instead. There was a post to the right of our line and one line with two desks on the other side of it so as soon as the closer one cleared we made a break for it and got there first. The people who had been behind us in the never moving line were still there waiting their turn when we finished and were finally on our way to the ship. The person at the desk neither asked for us to show the credit cards we signed up our onboard accounts with like they used to always do nor gave us room cards, just checked the paperwork and said the key cards would be in the mailbox by the door to our cabin. I guess they just assume everyone goes straight to the ship since there’s no card to scan you in with to let them know when you board.

Finally on board!

Overall the boarding process went pretty smoothly, though it would have been a lot quicker had we not got stuck in the one line where they didn’t want to let anyone go up to the desk. That part would have gone a lot smoother if they had just let people go to the closest desk on their own rather than directing them out of other lines, or better yet made a one-line maze and directed the front people to the next available desk so everyone got helped in the order they arrived.

balcony cabin on Symphony of the Seas

We found our luggage in the hallway on the way to our cabin, so we brought that with us and had it right when we went inside rather than having to wait for an evening delivery as has happened on some cruises. One in particular out of Puerto Rico where we boarded fairly early in the morning never even got our luggage in time to change for dinner.

our muster station was by the exit of the 10-deck slides

The muster drill was quite different than pre-covid. Rather than gathering everyone up together, people individually watched videos either on the app or on the cabin TV (which knew if you watched it so no cheating) then went to their assigned muster station on their own where crew members waited to scan your card proving you had found it. Social distance muster drill. Actually a lot quicker and easier than the old way, other than for the crew people at the muster stations who probably had to stand there for several hours waiting to scan people’s cards. Especially the stragglers whom they kept announcing that the ship wouldn’t sail until they checked in at their muster stations. Calling them out by name didn’t even get them all until they finally made the announcement in Spanish so there must have been someone who didn’t speak enough English to understand what they were supposed to do.

Cruising during the pandemic was similar to prior cruises, yet different. Itineraries are far more likely to change between when you book the cruise and when it starts now. Entire cruises are also more likely to get cancelled, though far less likely now than a year or even a few months ago. That could change pretty easily with all the new variants that keep popping up. On a ship that holds over 6ooo passengers, our sailing had less than 3000. Not sailing with a full ship means more space per person and less lines and crowds, though there were entire sections of the ship closed off like one level of the dining room and some entire hallways of passenger cabins. All of the adults and older children were given a blue ribbon to wear around their wrist indicating they were vaccinated, and even though it was required for this cruise so there wouldn’t be anyone eligible onboard who wasn’t, showing the ribbon for proof was required to enter some venues like the ice show.

In the dining room people were seated just with their own party rather than at a larger table with other guests. All the venues kept vaccinated passengers separate from families with unvaccinated children, and some events and areas of the ship were for vaccinated guests only.

the three mask-ateers boarding the ship

The most noticeable difference was masks required in inside spaces. Since people are frequently going from inside to outside or outside to inside it gets pretty easy to forget to put the mask on or take it off. In case you showed up somewhere without one, there were pre-packaged individual masks available for the asking, and not just at guest services. Even the towel huts had a supply. Crew members were pretty quick to remind anyone they saw who forgot to put one on as they stepped inside.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2021


About LBcruiseshipblogger

MyCruiseStories blog tells stories about adventures in cruising on ships big and small. Things to do onboard and in port. Anything connected to cruising. Also food, travel, recipes, towel animals, and the occasional random blog.
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5 Responses to Boarding a Cruise Ship in a Covid World

  1. cindy knoke says:

    The unmasked folks would make me nervous, especially on a cruise ship.

    • Everyone over 2 was only allowed to be unmasked in outdoor spaces, except when eating. It’s the under 2’s that are the biggest potential threat. Besides not wearing masks, they are neither vaccinated nor tested. All the other kids are tested before boarding as well as before being allowed to disembark at ports (where they can only go on approved cruise ship excursions.)

  2. Anna says:

    How often do they do Covid tests onboard? And what happens to people who get tested positive? I cruised with Royal one time as well and they closed sections of the ship eg. eating venues and bars by the pool saying the ships wasn’t full, but it felt really busy to me as I struggled finding seating in the buffet restaurant etc. I don’t like when they do that.

    • Passengers are tested before they board. Once onboard unvaccinated children are tested before they can get off the ship at every port. Everyone 12 and up is required to be vaccinated, but can request a test if they feel like they might have symptoms. Crew are all vaccinated. They are tested on a regular basis, at least once a week. There are areas of the ship closed off to everyone else where anyone testing positive goes to a cabin there for isolation. The last 2 cruises I took were at less than half passenger capacity and did not feel crowded at all with more empty than full tables in the buffet or dining room and deck chairs always available. The media like to make a big deal about covid on cruise ships, but a lot of the cases are asymptomatic crew who only know they have it because of the frequent testing and are put into isolation even though they don’t feel sick. Airplanes on the other hand vaccines aren’t required and neither are tests so way more likely to get exposed there, or really anywhere on land. You just won’t still be wherever you were exposed once symptoms develop like you would on a ship so they get all the grief even though they are probably often safer than most other places these days.

      • Anna says:

        Thanks for the run through and I totally agree with you on the point with the airplanes etc. Makes absolutely no sense. You can even get a test that is negative 48 hours before but then can catch Covid the next day… I hate how they bad mouthed the cruise ships over the past two years.

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