After 15 months of not walking up a gangway, it finally happened. I was about to board the Celebrity Millennium, which set sail in June 2021 – round-trip out of St. Martin. It did help that St. Martin (or St. Maarten, depending upon which side of the island you are on) is one of my favorite Islands in the Caribbean. I love the contrast between the Dutch and French sides of the Island.
Before the cruise, there were many protocols to take care of. Firstly, this was a fully vaccinated cruise (which I was very happy about). It was mandatory for all guests and crew to be vaccinated. Proof of vaccination needed to be shown at embarkation as well as the usual identification requirements. Celebrity has a great app that you download before the cruise and register on-line with all your information, which makes the whole process much easier.
Make sure you have your paperwork in order before boarding!
We were required to fill out a health questionnaire, show proof of vaccination and a negative PCR test. In addition, St. Maarten requires visitors to present a printed copy of its own health screening document, which must be authorized ahead of time.
The check-in process starts at home, through Celebrity’s app or website, which allow passengers to scan their passports, fill out paperwork and book a time slot for boarding. Once all the steps are completed, the system generates an express pass designed to minimize contact and speed up boarding procedures. Upon arrival at the embarkation area, passes are scanned, vaccination and test certificates are reviewed by staff, and finally passengers are allowed to enter the ship.
Upon entering the embarkation area and until entering the ship, masks were required. As soon as we walked on the gangway, we were advised that we could remove our masks….and the cruise began! We were so happy to be back on board a cruise ship and not have to wear a mask. We could hear other passengers rejoicing! We were greeted by “Welcome Back Sir” and even under the crewmember’s mask we could see their smiling face.
Masks were not mandatory for guests although the crew were required to wear them.
There were only 500 passengers on this cruise ship that can hold 2,200 passengers. There were 650 crewmembers on board, who were so thankful to be back on board working and able to provide for their families back home. It felt like our own private yacht at times. During this cruise we visited Aruba, Curacao, and Barbados.
Positive enhancements from covid protocols.
If you cruise often, you will be very familiar with the safety (muster) drill. This usually requires passengers to gather in a small muster station and watch a safety demonstration that takes 30 minutes or more. This can be the worst part of the cruise for many people. Celebrity now has a tutorial on your electronic device, which shows you how to wear life vests and familiarizes you with the sound of emergency signals. Once on board, you simply walk to your designated muster area and are given a sticker to put on your room card to show that you have completed the process.
Upon embarkation, guests are allowed to go straight to their rooms (before the pandemic, passengers had to wait until 1 p.m.). All the rooms were stocked with masks and hand sanitizer and were disinfected daily.
All the ship’s amenities, including the casino, gym, spa and theater were fully open. To cut down on contact, staterooms can be unlocked using Celebrity’s app on your phone and all restaurants, activities and shore excursions can be booked through the app.
Face masks were not required for cruise guests because of the vaccination requirement, but the crew was expected to wear them until the second day when they were told they could remove them! They were so happy and it was great to see their smiling faces for the rest of the cruise.
Yes, there is still a Buffet……
Upon entering the buffet area, guests had to wash their hands at the hand-wash stations, which was already a requirement even before the pandemic. In fact, the sanitizing gel stations around the ship and at the entrances to each restaurant were always in place aboard all cruise ships. Now they are seen at all hotels on land.
You can then walk around from station to station pointing at what you want, and the staff will serve you. This worked well with the ship at a much lower capacity. Servers kept up with demand and there was no overcrowding at the stations but were the vessel to sail with its full complement of 2,210 guests, the experience would have some challenges for sure.
Shore excursions differ from port to port.
Usually when a cruise ship makes a port stop, guests can participate in excursions organized by the cruise company or are free to explore the destination independently for an allotted time. Coronavirus restrictions in Barbados, the first port of call, meant that passengers were only allowed to participate in “bubble excursions” designed to limit interactions with the local population.
There were several options, including tours of the island and its white sand beaches, but the most popular excursion was a catamaran voyage that involved swimming with sea turtles. Masks were required when passengers disembarked from the ship to take a bus to the catamaran. The catamaran moored not far from shore to allow passengers to swim, but they were repeatedly told not to swim to the beach.
In the second port of call, Aruba, guests were free to travel by themselves and many leapt at the opportunity. In Curacao we were also free to walk off the ship and explore ourselves, which we did.
We really enjoyed this cruise. It was so nice to be back on the high seas! I’m off to Alaska next to sail on the test cruise on the Norwegian Encore.
– Adam Martindale is a luxury cruise travel agent and specializes in Wine, Food & LGBTQ group cruises & tours. Adam has over 30 years of experience, working for 4 major cruise lines, luxury hotels and resorts as Food and Beverage Director. Adam is a board member with San Diego ASTA (American Society of Travel Advisors). Adam specializes in Oceania and Regent Seven Seas Cruises and has been recognized as a “Cruise Connoisseur” Agent for his volume of business with Oceania Cruises. Contact him at 206-399-2138 and firstname.lastname@example.org