Two years ago, we went on a wonderful Carnival Cruise at the end of February 2020. We knew on that cruise that the cruise industry and the world were beginning to close because of COVID Ships and crews were being quarantined as we watched the news from the ship. It was such a great trip that we “re-upped” on the next cruise for February 2021 while still on the ship. Needless to say, that cruise was canceled. Since it was a charter and theme cruise, we could not get a refund, however, the travel administrator allowed us to use the credit for this year’s scheduled cruise, departing from Tampa during February 2022 for 2 weeks in the Caribbean.
As the Delta virus started to wane, the Omicron variable was just beginning to become a major threat for everyone, whether vaccinated or non-vaccinated. We started to think twice again about this year’s cruise. We were offered the option to cancel and apply for credit on the 2023 cruise, not cabin for cabin, but with a rate increase. We had a two-week deadline to make this decision and ebbed and flowed in both directions. We made the decision on the morning of the cancellation day. It was at this time that the real anxiety began about Omicron and the new Omicron protocols, especially on cruise ships. In fact, we renamed our cruise, the SS Petri Dish.
Within the two-week period, we began to receive daily questionnaires concerning our health. We were hoping to receive a fourth jab, two weeks before the trip, but that was talked about and never happened.
Carnival was extremely confusing on how to test for Omicron two days in advance. Taking no chances, we ordered from Carnival a special Zoom COVID Testing Kit, if necessary. Carnival actually sent to everyone on the cruise, a new testing registration that was the wrong testing company for Carnival and we had to re-register for another testing company. Lucky for us, the testing site at JFK, Terminal 8 changed over to the incorrect testing company for Carnival, but it was much more efficient for us at JFK.
At JFK, 48 hours before the cruise, not only was the testing free (as usual), but this site tested us for both the antigen and regular PCR test, and it reported the results to us extremely efficiently. We thought we were all set for the cruise, only to be told that we would be tested again at the Port of Tampa upon entering the ship. At this point we were getting so tired of the testing, we thought we would never board the ship. We were then told that if you had COVID within 90 days and tested positive entering the ship, that on a case-by-case basis you could still be allowed on the ship. This seemed to be so very opposite to what Carnival was trying to do.
Checking in for the cruise took an amazing 2-1/2 hours with long lines and nervous cruisers and included waiting 25 minutes for the results of individual COVID tests. We all felt safe for the first two sea days of the trip, but we all knew that once we reached our first port, a COVID-free ship could be just a memory. It was a good feeling that almost all passengers kept masks on in all indoor settings. The capacity of the ship was 2,100 passengers and it was 60% full. There were general protocol notifications at each port, cautioning us to wear KN95(which were given out by Carnival) masks onshore and remain outside as much as possible. COVID did not affect the many activities on the ship itself. Each day we were provided with a full schedule of events, shows, games, parties, comedy clubs, and information for upcoming ports, and more.
There was a casino, disco, piano bar, endless buffets, and sit-down dinners. We felt that the disco parties were affected badly, in that only in this area of the ship, passengers did not wear masks, and this was a very small, confined area.
The first stop on the cruise was Colon, Panama, an 8-hour stay. Whereas very few onshore options were available on this cruise, we managed to take a chance and negotiated a day rate with a taxicab that took us to the first lock of the Panama Canal. We were lucky to watch how the canal operated with a large freighter ship. The taxi driver then took us over the Atlantic Bridge and to downtown Colon, a devastated city. This stop never checked either our passports or vaccination status, as we were told they would by Carnival.
The second port was Cartagena, Colombia. My husband and I had traveled to Cartagena 40 years ago and never forgot how beautiful the city was. The Old City is a walled city and continues to be very quaint. The street vendors here were out of control trying to sell their wares. There are so many buildings on the ocean that this city has now become the “Miami Beach” of Colombia. Neither passport nor vaccination status was checked.
Our third stop was the most beautiful island of Bonaire, known for its beaches, snorkeling, and scuba diving. As we disembarked, we had to show proof of vaccination. When we arrived on this particular day, the island was experiencing an island-wide power outage and most stores were closed.
Our fourth port was Curacao and there was no passport or vaccination check, as we had read would be required for most ports. Curacao is a very Dutch island with a touch of European flavor near the port.
Many outdoor cafes and bars line the main area along the main canal.
Our fifth port was San Juan, Puerto Rico. We have been in Puerto Rico many times in the past, staying at beach resorts all over the island, but we had never toured the island. The cruise port is right next to Old San Juan. Old San Juan is similar to being in an area of Spain with Spanish architecture and cobblestone streets. It is surrounded by two forts and a walkway along the waterfront. This was something new and special for us in Puerto Rico. For this port only, we had to show, not only our passport and vaccination status, but everyone had to get off of the ship for immigration, whether they were actually going to enter San Juan, or not. Those not entering San Juan were allowed back onto the ship once the entire ship was cleared.
Our sixth port was Amber Cove, Dominican Republic. This picturesque piece of paradise is located on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic near Puerto Plata and is reserved for cruise ships only. Neither passport nor vaccination status was checked. There was a courtyard of various shops and stores, along with an extremely large pool area. Dominican protocol required that masks be worn indoors at all times.
Our last port was Nassau, Bahamas. This was the only port that we booked an excursion for. We were taken by boat to a secluded island named Balmoral Beach where we swam in beautiful turquoise water along with powdery white sand beaches. There was no vaccination or passport check.
Something we found profoundly strange was that both our passport and vaccination status were checked for the entire ship in Puerto Rico. The following day we re-entered an international destination (Nassau) and a couple of days later upon re-entering the United States, we neither had to show vaccination status nor COVID test status. We can only assume that cruise ships, similar to air travel, are exempt from the 24-hour COVID testing rule upon re-entering the United States.
Now that the COVID threat seems to be finally winding down, this is a great time to take a cruise.
We must mention that having only a 60% capacity on this cruise meant easy entering and exiting at ports, no lines for buffet meals, plenty of chaise lounges available at all times, and plenty of room at major shows.