We just completed a 2 night “Simulation Sailing” onboard Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas from Port Canaveral stopping at Perfect Day at CocoCay. This was a requirement by the CDC as part of their Conditional Sailing Order that must be successfully completed prior to allowing paid passenger sailings to resume. Here’s what has changed from pre-pandemic cruising and what you can expect once onboard:
When you complete your onboard check-in prior to departure, you will be assigned a designated half hour check in window at the port. Pre-pandemic, you could just show up at your convenience and boarding would usually begin around 11:30 or Noon. Expect later check in times and they are strictly enforcing the time, so if you show up early you will be directed to an outdoor waiting area outside of the terminal. This is to allow for social distancing inside, but it also makes the check in process quick and painless once you do get inside.
The first step is at a wellness station, where you are asked a few health questions and if you would like to present your covid vaccination card. If you do, you will be presented with a rubber bracelet that says #TheROYALComeback that you must wear throughout the cruise. This will allow you access to every area of the ship. You will not need to show your Covid vaccine cards again throughout your cruise.
If you opt not to show your Covid Vaccine card (in Florida) or have not been vaccinated, you will be escorted to a separate area for testing (at your expense). More on Royal Caribbean’s policy can be found here: https://www.royalcaribbean.com/faq/questions/do-i-need-a-covid-vaccine-to-cruise-what-counts-as-proof
Next is a quick pass through security and a scan of your luggage.
The next stop is at the actual cruise check in area, where they will scan your passports and take your embarkation picture. Royal was using both the traditional check in stations (if you did not complete the pre sailing steps in the Royal Caribbean app and have your set sail pass) and the mobile Ipad stations (if you did complete pre cruise check in and have a set sail pass) at Port Canaveral. There you will be presented with your second piece of cruise bling, your covid tracking bracelet. They have a variety of colors and it must be worn at all times both on the ship and in port. We were advised that they are water resistant but not completely waterproof, which seems strange for a cruise vacation.
That’s it! On our sailing our stateroom keys were sealed in a cardboard envelope on our stateroom door. We were told that unvaccinated guests would have a hole punched in their keycard, but I am unclear as to how that process will work if your keycard is on your door.
The last step to complete before you can really get the cruise party started is to view the safety briefing on the Royal Caribbean app and then stop by your muster station (ours was in the Champagne Bar! 😊) to get a sticker placed on your Seapass card. You can also view the video on the tv in your cabin. No need to stand around in the heat for half an hour wearing an uncomfortable orange lifejacket! This is one of the best perks of the new safety procedures.
The #1 question people ask is “Will we have to wear a mask onboard?” and the answer is Yes, for now. Royal Caribbean requires that all passengers wear a mask when walking around indoors. Masks for vaccinated guests are not required outside on deck, in Central Park or on the Boardwalk, or in your stateroom. Unvaccinated guests are required to wear a mask indoors at all times unless actively eating or drinking.
Many areas of the ship are designated for vaccinated guests only. In those venues, your will be asked to sanitize your hands and show your bracelet prior to entering and can then remove your mask and move freely throughout the area.
Vaccinated Only areas on the Allure include (subject to change):
Fitness: Vitality Spa and Vitality Fitness Center
Bars and Clubs: Live Comedy Club, Studio B for any ice shows or other events, Bow and Stern Pub, Schooner Bar, Jazz on 4, Blaze, Rising Tides
Specialty Dining: Hibachi Teppanyaki and Chefs Table
Other Areas: The Solarium and Casino
Dining is one of the areas where we felt the most changes to the cruise experience, but not in a bad way. Many of the dining options onboard either require or prefer reservations to ensure social distancing. All the bars and restaurants use QR codes to view their menus. If you have any issues with the technology the waitstaff will assist you.
In the main dining room, one level or area is designated for vaccinated only guests, so guests without a vaccinated bracelet will dine in one area of another deck away from other passengers. Tables are spaced out and only every other table is in use at a time.
Reservations are required at most of the restaurants on board, including all of the alternate dining restaurants and the My Time dining room. Reservations are preferred in the Windjammer. All dining reservations can be made once onboard via the app. No reservations are required for the Wipeout Café, Solarium buffet, Park Café Boardwalk Dog House, Café Promenade and Sorrento’s.
The Windjammer is still a traditional buffet experience, just not self-serve. You simply point out what you would like and a crew member serves it to you. Tables were marked as unavailable to ensure social distancing and had place cards to indicate if they had been sanitized.
Shows and Entertainment
One major change to the evening shows was that reservations made through your Royal Caribbean app are required to ensure social distancing. You must present your seapass card to be scanned for admission. Some rows were blocked off completely and they requested that you keep 2 seats open between your party and other guests. At the end of the shows, they dismiss the audience by section to reduce crowding. In the main showroom, one section of the balcony is reserved for unvaccinated guests.
Other Random Facts and Observations
Cruise Transfers in Orlando – Royal Caribbean did not offer transfer services to Port Canaveral for this two night “simulation” cruise. I contacted quite a few local transfer companies and most of them are not currently operating shuttles or have gone out of business in the last 16 months. My research also indicated that Ubers and Lyfts are in short supply in the Orlando area, particularly returning from Port Canaveral.
Just when I was starting to panic, we lucked out and found Corey who owns Cruise Control Transportation. He was wonderful and professional to work with, offered us a private van transfer at our requested times for $80 each way and even accommodated our request to switch our pickup time on the return by an hour without hesitation. These companies have been devastated by the cruise industry shutdown and I would not hesitate to book with and support Cruise Control Transportation in Port Canaveral.
Orlando Airport – The Orlando Airport was a complete zoo. It was packed inside with no where to sit and long lines to get anything to eat. It was impossible to social distance. The entrance to the airport was backed up for about half a mile with cars waiting to get in for pick ups and drop offs. I have no idea how they are going to handle the crowds once cruising resumes and travel is back to 100%.
Marriott Orlando Airport Lakeside – We spent one night before the cruise at the Marriott Orlando Lakeside. It was super close to the airport, offered a free shuttle and had a nice pool area. When we claimed our bag and went to the shuttle area, we tried calling the hotel repeatedly to let them know we were ready to be picked up. We must have called 10 times and got no answer. When they finally did pick up, they said the shuttle would be there in 10 minutes. It was actually a half an hour before it came. When we checked in and went up to our room, they gave us a room with people in it already. Like I opened the door and there were people there. Super awkward. Once we finally got settled in a room it was very nice and would be a good location for one-night pre or post cruise stays. There are lots of other options in the area and this probably would not be our first choice when we return.
Honestly, it felt amazing to be back out at sea. The ship was spotlessly clean and the crew was fantastic. They cheered as we entered each venue on the first day and everyone was just so happy and helpful. There are definitely a lot of crew that are new to this ship or to Royal Caribbean, so they were making drinks from recipes or shadowing more experienced staff. I felt perfectly safe onboard, and it was a wonderful relaxing experience. If you are fully vaccinated, there has never been a better time to sail. With reduced capacity, there are no long lines or fights for a chair by the pool. If you are an adult and are not vaccinated, I would suggest waiting to cruise. The current CDC guidelines and safety protocols would restrict your ability to fully enjoy the cruise experience.
It’s been a long 16 months, but it is wonderful to see the cruise lines rising to the challenge and adapting to provide a safe and fantastic cruising experience for their guests. Bon Voyage!