Hoping to shake off your cabin fever by cruising the Caribbean this winter?
Well, the cruise industry is hyping its fall and winter itinerary with special zeal, but don’t expect your next cruise to be a carbon copy of your last. Virtually all major cruise lines sailing out of US ports are booking primarily fully vaccinated sailings—and according to the CDC, “fully vaccinated” means that both vaccines must be of the same brand. (Actually the major cruise lines are allowing up to five per cent unvaccinated bookings just to get around government regulations in Florida that prohibit businesses, including cruise companies, from demanding customers show proof of vaccination. Norwegian Cruise Line is the exception in promoting only 100 per cent fully vaccinated sailings.)
This is especially relevant to the many Canadians who have been inoculated with two different vaccines.
For example, Carnival Cruise Line emphasizes in its boarding regulations brochure that “Canadian or other international guests who received a combination of AstraZeneca and Pfizer are considered unvaccinated.”
Cruise companies are clearly warning their non-vaccinated customers not to expect the cruise experience they would like to be offering them. COVID tests for non-vaccinated persons are mandatory and frequent—before embarkation, during the voyage, and even in some cases on disembarkation. Masking and social distancing are required, and choice venues such as indoor restaurants, shows, gaming rooms, saunas, spas, and pools are mostly off limits to unvaccinated passengers. Carnival even specifies that unvaccinated “guests” use stairs and not elevators to move about the interior confines of their vessel. In addition, cruise companies, which have specified that they plan to sail with 95 per cent fully vaccinated occupancy well into the future, are requiring proof of travel insurance covering COVID-related emergencies and medical evacuation costs.
For single-brand vaccinated Canadians, there should be no problem securing a cruise berth. But you must make sure your insurance is accepted by the cruise line as the supplementary travel insurance sold in the US by cruise lines is grossly inadequate for Canadians. Most US travel insurance plans sold to cruise passengers provide only $10,000 to $20,000 medical coverage and $25,000 to $50,000 for medical evacuation. That does not compare well to the multi-million-dollar plans sold in Canada.
Don’t by any means give up your dream of a warm-water cruise. But do your homework and ask a lot of questions about boarding requirements, vaccine status documentation, on-board access to services and facilities, and especially cancellation benefits should all plans be upended at the last moment.
Also, keep a grip on your budget. It’s going to cost more to sail away.
Here are some points to keep you focused.
- Give preference to “Cancel for Any Reason” policies which, though more expensive, allow you to cancel for more than the limited list of reasons in conventional plans. When budgeting for a trip six months hence, you need flexibility. And remember that all cancellation policies offer diminishing returns the longer you wait to cancel. Also make sure you have a “cash back” plan that guarantees you get your money back if, and when, you cancel rather than a voucher for future travel—if concern about keeping cash in hand is more practical for you than keeping your elusive cruise dream alive.
- Don’t take travel to and from your embarkation point for granted. Understand the border crossing rules to your chosen port as well as those allowing you back home. You don’t want to end your week in the sun by sitting in a dank airport terminal waiting for the results of a COVID test.
- And before you lay out a deposit on your dream cruise, make sure you know what the “new normal” in cruising offers: don’t expect the same social intermingling of the pre-COVID days, at least not in the near future. There will still be roller derbies, water slides, rock climbing, and games for adults and kids—but gentler, more sedate, less crowded versions.
A cruise right now sounds like just the right thing. Do it the right way.
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