First Florida cruise since pandemic shutdown sails with new safety protocols

The Fourth of July celebration onboard Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas also marked a victory for the cruise industry. 

Cruise Critic Colleen McDaniel was on the first cruise ship out of Florida since March 2020, when the pandemic brought cruising to a halt.

Now they’re back in business 15 months later with some new health and safety protocols in place.

"I was concerned honestly when I saw the rules ahead of sailing," said McDaniel. "But on board, it didn’t feel restricted at all."

She said only a small percentage of passengers were not vaccinated and the majority of them were children who have not yet been able to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

"We had more than 100 children on board," she said. "So it was great to see families out doing their summer vacation and we still had a lot of the great entertainment and the food – oh the food was really great."

The cruise experience can depend on your vaccination status, some places were off-limits to unvaccinated passengers.

"Royal Caribbean was very clear in its daily planner what spaces you could visit and what spaces you couldn’t visit and also they had an app where you could also check that," McDaniel said. "Now not coincidentally, a lot of those spaces were catered to adults because many of the unvaccinated passengers on board were children who weren’t eligible for that vaccination. So the casino was a spot, the spa, a number of bars and lounges, that kind of thing."

Those same rules applied onshore.

"If you were vaccinated you were free to explore on your own in Nassau," she said. "If you were unvaccinated, you were required to take a cruise ship excursion."

McDaniel said masks were required onboard in all indoor spaces, except when working out, eating, or drinking. As for the buffet, passengers can no longer serve themselves to lower the spread of germs on serving utensils.

McDaniel said by far the most noticeable change was the reduced capacity.

"We had just over 1,000 passengers on a ship that can hold over 4500 at full capacity," she said. "You could feel the difference, which was sort of nice having your run of the spaces. This is not going to be the norm forever, so if you’re looking for a time when you have the run of the ship, it’s a great opportunity to do that."

McDaniel said overall the cruise line was very proactive with keeping everyone informed but added that folks should be mindful of any additional documents or requirements when traveling internationally.

"I think the biggest thing that people need to know if they’re considering cruising is that the rules that are in place when you book might not be the rules that are actually in place when you’re on board," McDaniel said.

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