Michelle Vincent loves to cruise.  But, because of COVID-19, it's been a minute.  Actually, it's been a year and a half.  Since the start of the pandemic, Michelle has has four different cruises cancelled.  This week though, finally, Michelle has hit the high seas on Carnival's brand new ship, the Mardi Gras.

Obviously, the cruise industry has had to make some necessary changes to its normal protocols because of the ongoing COVID-19 situation.  As you'll recall, very early in the pandemic, passengers were stranded on a couple of different cruise ships due to outbreaks on board.  It didn't take long for cruise lines to dock their fleets indefinitely.  Personally speaking, I have had two cruises to the French Riviera canceled in the last year.  I was supposed to go last July.  That cruise was canceled.  I rescheduled for this past July.  That cruise was canceled too.

But, in some parts of the world and right here at home ships are setting sailing again and Michelle finally got to pack her bags and say "Bon voyage!"  She and her husband Danny left Port Canaveral for some fun ports-of-call including San Juan (Puerto Rico), Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic and Nassau, Bahamas.  The initial itinerary called for a stop in Grand Turk as well, but Turks and Caicos, in the interest of public health, are not currently allowing cruise ships to port there.

I have been in contact with Michelle about how different things are on board from the cruise norm.  As you know, the CDC made a variety of recommendations to the cruise lines and they have dedicated themselves to instituting protocols that maximize the safety of all cruise guests and crew.  But, at first glance, Michelle says things are relatively normal.  In fact, she says she can't think of "anything they're not doing (that they usually do) because of COVID.

That said, according to Michelle, there are some notable differences in the experience.  And, you'll be pleasantly surprised to learn that the changes, in most cases, have actually made the experience even better.

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1)  VACCINES REQUIRED:  If you want to cruise, you will need to be vaccinated.  In fact, Carnival is adding another level of protection.  Not only do guests have to be COVID vaccinated, they also have to show proof of a negative COVID test before boarding.

2)  BOARDING: Michelle says the boarding process was more organized than normal and "went fairly quick."

3) MUSTER DRILL: Because of COVID, Carnival no longer requires large groups to gather on the decks for the mandatory muster drill.  The drill is still mandatory, but it's executed through the Carnival Hub app.  You still have to report to your muster station.  Once there, you check in and watch a crew member demonstrate the proper way to put on a life vest.

4) MASKING REQUIRED: The most significant change in the onboard experience involves masks.  They are required in every indoor space.  However, you are not required to mask in the pool areas or on the open decks. **Some ports-of-call are requiring cruisers to mask as well.**  As Michelle says, this is a "just a small price to pay to cruise during a pandemic."

5) THE BUFFET:  Many cruisers will love this news.  The buffets are basically "normal." Though Michelle did notice there's been a considerable increase in hand washing and hand sanitizer stations throughout the ship.

6) THE CARNIVAL FUN TIMES: One of the highlights on any Carnival ship is the daily copy of Fun Times, the official schedule of events each day you're traveling.  There are no longer paper copies distributed to guests.  The Fun Times schedule is now housed on the Carnival Hub app. And, since we're on that subject . . .

7) CARNIVAL HUB APP:  While it was gaining popularity before the pandemic, the Carnival Hub app has now gained even more functionality.  Guests can use the app to make contact-free dinner reservations, purchase shore excursions, look through your Carnival cruise photos and check your account balance.  As Michelle says, "I know the Hub app has been around for a few years, but now it just makes things easier."

As for the overall cruise experience and the sense of safety traveling, Michelle adds, "I feel safer on a cruise ship than I do at work or in a grocery store at home."  From her perspective, her fellow passengers seem willing and happy to do their part.  As for the staff, Michelle says, "They're so happy to be back to cruising. They have missed it and they tell everyone they're so happy to see everyone and they've missed us."

I'll be honest!  I, like a lot of folks, have missed it too.  In December, Kevin and I are climbing on our first cruise ship since the summer of 2019.  And, pardon the pun, but we've been rowing the same boat (or ship) as Michelle.  We have trip after trip cancelled, but we're ready to pack our bags, climb on board and say, "Bon Voyage!"


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