The Ugly Truth About Cruising Early in 2022.
Updated: Apr 21, 2022
As people yearn for a winter family vacation they see conflicting information on the news and in print. Print media sells their content with headlines and article titles, like this one! Titles and headlines usually contain negative drama called “Clickbait” intending to compel you to click. Did it work? Sometimes the article is more truthful than the title but sadly many only read the title, even those who don’t click read the titles and begin to gossip! That means the burden is on you to apply logic and really look for the truth.
This is my view today, while I write using my phone. We are on Royal Carribean’s Allure of the Seas, docked at Coco Cay their private island. Unfortunately it is so windy that we have not yet been allowed off the ship. Waves are crashing over the pier where we would have to walk. Yep this is January in the Bahamas.
At embarkation we received a letter in our stateroom saying that on the sailing prior to ours 4.95% of the total onboard community was positive for Covid19. The letter also said that it would be announced if during our cruise, the percentage exceeded 1%. As promised, on Day 3 of our cruise the captain came on and announced that 1.4% of the ship population had tested positive for Covid19. We assume the majority of cases, especially on day 3 were crew as all guests had to test negative to board the ship. In either case the percentage was far lower than on land in our home town, which was somewhere between 18 & 25% of the population on any given day.
Want to check the positivity rate or your county? CLICK HERE
We are here learning how Royal Caribbean is handling the pandemic on board the ship. We are talking with people, asking questions, following comments on a Facebook group that is specific to our sailing, and above all paying attention to every detail. We know the truth. Here it is.
MASKS: Masking is required in all indoor areas of the ship. You may remove your mask when seated at a table to eat or drink. But, you should put your mask back on when your server approaches the table, because YOU are protecting the server. You may also remove your mask in outdoor areas, Marked as such.
Here are a few comments from guests who answered my question in the Facebook Group. “How do you feel about masking on the ship?”
- Not a bother at all, so used to wearing them by now.
- I understand why they have one but it just seems pointless to me. Everyone just gets a drink or food so they don't have to wear it, so what's the point?
- It doesn't bother us at all. We knew what it was befor we boarded and by boarding we agreed to their terms.
- I have noticed most people respecting the mask rules. The only time I don't notice it is in the Promenade where people are sitting down at tables.
- It's all good. You don't wear them when you're eating or drinking so guess who's been eating and drinking alot.
It's worth a mention that I was blocked from the Facebook group after the Royal Caribbean admin discovered my question, but thankfully I had already screenshot these responses. I just really wanted some authentic input to share anonomously in my post here! I don't understand what their problem is.
SEATING: Seat spacing (physical distancing) for shows and entertainment, Is not being monitored for vaccinated guests. Vaccinated guests are being allowed to gather almost per a normal standard, except with masks on indoors. Mandatory distance between groups is being enforced for parties with non-vaccinated guests in designated areas.
POLICY: Royal Caribbean brand reserves 5 - 10% of their guest capacity for children 12 and under who are unvaccinated. This allows a few families to cruise. These unvaccinated guests are not allowed to attend certain shows and events that are classified as vaccinated people only events. All vaccinated guests are given a green wristband and required to wear it throughout the cruise. If I had known I would’ve packed more green Clothing!
Royal Caribbean is offering events classified as "V" for vaccinated only guests and events classified as "E" for everyone. We attended an ”E” ice show last evening where more than half of the auditorium was reserved for unvaccinated guests.
A close up of the Chair Cover..
In the un-vaccinated areas you are required to leave two seats between groups or parties and ONLY use every other row of seating. The unused rows begin with the first row to give the performers a buffer. The vaccinated guest seating was packed full to a normal standard. No distancing required. But some chose to leave space between themselves and other guests. You can see in the image below that the bar is open and seating is much more densly populated.
We chose to sit on the unvaccinated guest side and they let us. Everyone keeps their mask on during the show. Since the bar on the vaccinated guest side of the auditorium was open and serving drinks. People over there would be removing their masks to drink. When I saw that I knew we had made the right choice by sitting in the unvaccinated seating area! I had been reading that unvaccinated guests on the ship would be treated like second class citizens, but in retrospect I disagree. These people are nicely protected! They aren't allowed to go into the crowded spaces full of vaccinated patrons.
Just because you are allowed to do something doesn't mean you should.
DINING: At the beginning of the cruise it didn't seem like there was much space between parties in the main dining room. But toward the end of the cruise they were seating people no closer than one empty table between. It must have to do with the presence of Covid among the guest population. As it grew, policy changed.
These tables were marked with a sign that said "Table Reserved for Physical Distance".
At the entrance to the main dining room there are large circles on the floor spaced 6'-0" apart, indicating that parties should stand on them, leaving space between while in line.
The host or hostess who assigns your table is wearing a double mask and clear face sheild. After all they are in close contact with EVERY SINGLE GUEST that enters the dining room. Interestingly the face sheilds appeared later in the week. They were not wearing them at first. Again they must have been protecting themselves from the guests.
SERVERS: Every single head waiter, and assistant waiter on the ship is double masked. They are wearing a tight fitting N95 masks covered with their branded Royal Caribbean cloth mask.
Some of them are really fancy about how they combine the two masks for wearing comfort and I NEVER heard any complaining.
The head waiter dining staff are all wearing a single N95 masks. I believe the difference is that the waiters and assistant waiters share rooms with somoeone else, and perhaps the head waiters have a private room.
ELEVATORS: The normal capacity of an onboard elevator is posted as 24 people. Each elevator is only a little bigger than 24 s.f.. So in other words, as many guests as will fit are normally allowed! The Covid policy signs says "6 people" or "your group".
The elevator is only 6'-0" x 7'-0". Tell me how you get 6'-0" away from anyone in there, which is the CDC distance requirement. There is a suggestive graphic that shows 6 people, standing 3 and 3 in single file on the left and right on the sign, because the 7'-0" dimension is the width. Yeah sure… like that happens.
To me the language used on the sign means: if "your group" exceeds 6 people, only 6 can get on the elevator together. And because of the "OR" it also means that "my group" of whatever size can ride the elevator without an obligation to share it with another group. But there was NO clarification on that. It was up to guests to interpret the sign as they saw fit.
Interestingly, at the beginning of the cruise (and on our Virgin Cruise in October) the elevators seemed to go directly to the floor destination you requested without stopping at intermediate floors to pick up others. Good practice I thought, and just an elevator setting. It didn't seem to effect wait time because the population is low anyway!
We only ride the elevator if going up more than 5 decks. Otherwise we take the stairs.
By the 4th night of the cruise, the elevator setting seemed to have been turned off. The elevators suddenly started stopping at intemediate floors to pick up random other guests. Most people were very nice about it though... asking if you minded them joining and if you refused, they were very willing to wait for the next elevator. But there is ALWAYS that one guy.... A very arrogant man pushed his way on to our elevator even though we asked him not to, while announcing that there was a six person capacity. There was a dispute and we ended up in a meeting with ship security about it. Much to our dismay we were detained in a small back office space for questioning, where the head security officer couldn't keep her mask on. I had to ask her three times "please wear your mask properly". She was not able to clarify the intent of the language on the sign. Let me know what you think the sign means, in the comments below.
ELEVATOR TRICK: I did some online research because we really didn't want to ride elevators with anyone, and learned a trick that is supposed to keep the elevator from opening on intermediate floors. Try it, next time you are in an elevator.
step on to the elevator.
push the "close door button" and hold it
push the "floor that you want to go to" and also hold it - until the elevator begins to move, then you can let go of both..
I TRIED IT AND I THINK IT WORKS. LET ME KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!
BARS: Bars around the ship, that don't have fixed seating at them, are marked with signs indicating that you should not belly up to the bar for a period of time. The seating at the bar has been removed. Sure you can stand there and order a drink, but you can't sit there, at the bar.
Tables and chairs have been provided appropriatly spaced away from the bartender and each other.
In all honesty we only patronized one bar. This is what we noticed at the Trellis Bar in Central Park, on Deck 8. Many bars, like on the pool deck have fixed seating. I didn't notice what the policy there was.
LINES: Anywhere a line is likely to form there are circles on the floor indicating that groups of people should leave distance between them and adjancent groups.
SHIP CARDS: Our ship cards are bar coded, so no one has to touch them for any reason. When getting on or off the ship they just shoot the bar code with a scanner to check you in or out. I suspect this used to be a big germ spreading culprit. Because they used to handle everyone's card during embarkation and debarkation or even for a purchase made at a store or bar. I mean I have been paying attention to germ spreading on cruise ships for a long time! See an old post about avoiding Norovirus here! Much of the content is relevant to Covid.
ROOM SERVICE: At the beginning our our cruise, the first scheduled port of call, we ordered room service breakfast as a wake up method, because we had an early scuba dive scheduled. The server who delivered our room service food did not enter our room. He knocked on our door, and allowed us to take the food items from his cart in the hall, into our room. Near the end of our cruise, at the second to last port of call we repeated this; again we had a scheduled dive. This time the server readily entered our room to deliver the food. In the Royal Caribbean Health Protocols, The Royal Promise, it states that you will get "contactless room service delivery". I don't call "guy coming in my room" contactless, any more than I do meeting him in the hall. This policy is perplexing.
ROOM STEWARDS: Are all double masked with KN95 masks and their cloth Royal Caribben Mask. I assume they are required to wear them when servicing my room. Since they do their work while I am away - there is really no way to know if they do or don't. So we always open the balcony door to exchange the air when we return.
OUTDOOR AREAS: All Royal Caribbean Service Crew wear their masks EVERYWHERE. They are not permitted to remove them in outdoor areas. Lifeguards, Maintenance People, Bartenders, Activity Guides. The ONLY crew we ever saw without masks were performers. These performers were either on a stage or the ice rink. A crew member told us that they are only allowed to remove masks to eat with their cabin mate, and not allowed to remove them below deck in the crew only area.
ROYAL CARIBBEAN is doing their best to keep COVID out of the crew. Crew lives on lower decks in tight quarters. Crew is not allowed to leave the ship when in port at this time. They do receive days off but must spend them on the ship. They are required to mask all of the time. But still Covid is getting to them. Guests must be bringing it. Another guest on our sailing is doing Youtube videos of the "Crew Exchange" that happens at Coco Cay. Royal Caribbean has a medical ship that they are transferring infected crew to and from as they test positive, recover and test negative again. The ship is anchored at Coco Cay, Royal Caribbean's private island.
I commend Royal Caribbean for taking care of business in this way! These are desparate times. The crew needs their jobs, and the company is taking care of them. Some have called it a "loophole" but I think its brilliant. They are first quarantining infected people and then getting the infected crew off the ship, which is what they should do. They stop there to do the transfer every time they are near. Once the crew members recover they are shuttled back to the ship where they resume their duties. It's not always a perfect situation but all are making it work.
PROTOCOL CHANGES: About 5 days in to our Cruise we noticed several health and safety protocols seemed to change. 1. There was a server dispensing soft serve ice cream on the pool deck. At first the server was wearing gloves and carefully wrapping each cone with a napkin. Later in the cruise the napkin part wasn't happening. I'm not sure what the napkin was accomplishing anyway.. but I thought it was interesting that it changed. 2. The dining room table seating gained space later in the cruise. In the beginning most tables were being used, but under used. You know like two were seated at a four top. Perhaps it changed as the positive covid rate grew. On the last day every other table was being used. 3. The Elevator settings that allowed separation of groups was removed. 4. The hosts and hostess' in the main dining room entrance began wearing face shields. 5. Room service did not enter our room on day 2 but readily entered our room on day 8.
What really disturbs me about the Protocol Changes is that it makes the whole operation seem fake. Like Royal Caribbean cares about the health of the guests just long enough to get them to the end without becoming infected. In watching the comments in the Facebook group for the cruise date prior to ours, I saw many people reporting that they were sick once they got home. In Royal Caribbean's defeanse, you can set good protocols, but forcing people to comply is a whole other thing. I really wish that more information was readily available. Why aren't they more transparent? Why don't they annouce their COVID statistics daily? Why don't they make HONESTY a policy? Why is the crew discouraged from talking about it? With these policies they make their own selves seem guilty of something - when I truly believe that they are doing their best.
It is likely all about the money. If they told the guests that COVID cases on the ship were climbing, guests would likely gather less and SPEND LESS!
OUR PRACTICES: Who likes to get sick during your vacation? Not me! We always, even before the pandemic payed attention to when our room steward came and went. Since he/she moves from room to room there is the logical potential that they could spread germs. During Covid, I don't know FOR SURE if the room steward wears a mask when inside my room. They come into our room twice a day when we are out of the way to tidy up and either make or turn down our bed and replace towels. When ever we return to find our room "made up" I clean. I bring along disinfecting solution and a sprayer. I clean all the frequently touched surfaces like door handles, light switches, drawer pulls and flat surfaces that we use like night stands, tables and chair arms. Don't forget the toilet flushing button, seat cover and the faucett lever, and the balcony rail that we all tend to lean on. I want to always be comfortable and without germ worry when in MY ROOM! Now we also open our balcony door to completely exchange the air in the room as well. It only takes a couple minutes!
The most important take away from this article, is that it truly is safe to cruise if you actively protect yourself.
Wear the proper kind of correctly fitting mask indoors.
Keep your personal environment and hands clean.
Keep your distance from other people, deliberately.
Don't gather with others just because you can or because it is allowed.
If you don't like the seat you are assigned, ask for a different one.
Be wise. Be your own best advocate!
And you will return home without COVID, just like we did. FYI - throughout this whole pandemic we have avoided contracting the virus. We have been on two Pandemic cruises to date. It is possible. We felt safe, mostly because we were doing everything we could do to avoid Covid19.
The truth really isn't UGLY, like the title suggested. In summary Royal Caribbean has done their part - the rest is up to you!
Ready to book? Reach out to us, so we can help you decide on a cruise that is right for you.
YES, we will do it again! Stay tuned our next voyage is in February 2022 - 14 Nights - From Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale - through the new Panama Canal! We will be sailing with Princess so will report on their shipboard protocols.
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