I’m on a cruise ship. Right this very minute as you are reading this email, I am on a cruise ship. You see, in July Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas became the very first cruise ship to start sailing again out of the United States and they invited me to sail with them on both a 4-night and 3-night sailing from Miami to the Bahamas. I feel very blessed for this opportunity and want to tell you all about it. In a nutshell – cruising is back!

Royal Caribbean began sailing several months ago from Nassau, Bahamas with the Adventure of the Seas, and Celebrity Edge but we have been anxiously awaiting the restart of US cruises. Under CDC guidelines, Freedom of the Seas was the first ship to receive permission to start carrying revenue-paying customers from the United States which they began doing on July 2. As an avid cruiser who has not been on a cruise since May 2019, I cannot begin to describe the exhilaration of walking up the gangway and onto the ship for the first time in two years. It was enough to make me almost cry. I have found that while much has remained the same, much has changed (and it’s ok).

Since I am on the ship for a week, this week I want to give you some basic information about the return to cruising and the cruise ship protocols, while next week, I’ll give you more details about ports, dining, and, entertainment.

THE SHIP

The Freedom of the Seas at one point was the largest ship in the world. And fun fact – this moment because so few ships are in operation – it is still the largest ship sailing. It can carry over 4,200 passengers. However, on this sailing, there are just 1,100 guests and 1,157 crew, making it a 1:1 crew to passenger ratio. Royal Caribbean is slowly easing into carrying passengers and raising its number with each cruise. If you want to take a cruise, now is the time with so few people.

Perfect Storm waterslides and FlowRider.

The ship is an amazing family-friendly ship with something for everyone. Before COVID, Freedom of the Seas underwent a “Royal Re-Amplification”. New venues were added, along with waterslides and fun tropical theming around the pool area. Little ones will love

Splashaway Bay waterpark for the little ones

the Splashaway Bay splash pool and waterpark with little waterslides. There are even kid-sized lounge chairs and tables. Big kids of all ages will love the Perfect Storm waterslides, FlowRider surf simulator, sports court, rock-climbing wall, and mini-golf.

Hungry? There are 11 dining options ranging from the Main Dining Room to several specialty restaurants serving up steaks, sushi or Italian food.  Hungry for Mexican?  Try El Loco Fresh next to the main pool.  My personal favorite is pizza from Sorrentos on the Promenade.  It’s particularly good at midnight.  While the 3 specialty restaurants do carry a surcharge, there are plenty of complimentary restaurants onboard to satisfy all tastes and appetites so no one will ever starve. But that’s not all. The ship features 11 bars and lounges where you can engage in wine tasting, have a beer in an English pub, or catch your favorite team at Playmakers sports bar, plus listen to live music, dance or just relax and people watch.

The main pool area and the Lime and the Coconut at night

My favorite new addition to the ship is around the main pool area –  the Lime and the Coconut, a two-story tropical-themed bar/lounge area. The pool now has a Caribbean feel complete with cabanas and beach beds, comfy sofas, and seating areas, and just an overall laid-back vibe. A steel band played during the day and crew members were ready to serve up plenty of drinks (and there is nothing better than a tropical drink than a tropical drink on a cruise ship). For days at sea, this is the place to relax.

 

VACCINATIONS

Sign outside the ship’s pub, the Bull & Bear.

You are not required to get vaccinated to sail. However, the protocols are different if you are vaccinated vs. if you are not. If you are vaccinated, you will receive a wristband to wear for the duration. As a result, you will have pretty much the run of the ship. If you are not vaccinated or are traveling with unvaccinated people, some places are off-limits to you, such as certain bars and lounges, the casino, and the spa. Unvaccinated passengers must sit in a separate section of the main dining room as well as in the theater.

MASKS

Every ship has their own mask protocols depending from where they are sailing. For this particular ship, masks must be worn indoors, so if you walk down the halls, down the Promenade, in the shops. If you are vaccinated and in a venue set aside solely for vaccinated passengers, like the casino, you don’t have to wear a mask.

CLEANLINESS

Mrs. Washy-Washy at the entrance of the Windjammer Buffet reminding everyone to wash their hands before entering.

Cleanliness and sanitation are the cruise line’s number one priority. Before COVID, there were always hand sanitizing stations around the ships, but now you can’t go anywhere without running into one. You can’t enter any of the venues without sanitizing and there are crew members to make sure you “washy-washy”. There are hand-washing stations outside all the restaurants.

Tables are washed and sanitized after every use, and tables have been blocked off so that spacing is maintained.

DINING

When the cruise lines were developing plans to return to service, the one question everyone asked was “what about the buffets?” Because everyone knows the buffet is a staple of the cruise ship vacation. Well, the buffet still exists. However, guests may not help themselves to the food. Point out what you want and the crew will serve it to you. You may have whatever you want – you just can’t take it. This is the same for the self-serve ice cream and drink stations. The crew is always available and will give you your items. We did notice at the buffet that this does cut down waste because the crew is serving manageable portions rather than guests heaping piles onto their plates, which may then go uneaten. Still hungry afterward? Don’t worry. You can go back for seconds and thirds.

SHORE EXCURSIONS

If you are vaccinated, you are allowed to get off in port at leisure. You can walk around by yourself, go to the beach, or take whatever tour you wish. If you are unvaccinated, you may only leave the ship if you are on an excursion booked through Royal Caribbean.

The cruise I am on only goes to Nassau, Bahamas, and Royal Caribbean’s private island, Perfect Day at CocoCay, so the above only applies in Nassau. Everyone can get off the ship to enjoy what is quite possibly the best private island owned by any cruise line ever (more on that next week).

Atlantis on Nassau’s Paradise Island

Because we have been to Nassau several times before, we decided to get off the ship and just walk around town a bit before getting back on and enjoying time by the pool. The entire port area is undergoing a transformation, so there is a lot of construction right near where the ship is docked, but don’t let that put you off. For those that have never been to the island, there is no lack of things to do. A day pass to Atlantis will be sure to delight your kids who will have hours of fun at the waterpark or swimming with the dolphins. But if that’s not your thing, don’t worry. The beaches are beautiful and the snorkeling and diving are amazing. Tour operators are ready and thrilled to have your business.

We still have several nights on the ship, but so far, we have been very impressed with what we have experienced and truly feel that cruising is back and will be better than ever.

Stay tuned for next week’s updates which will include details about the ports, back-to-back cruising, and cruise specific information. In the meantime, if you want to talk about planning your next cruise vacation (or any vacation at all), shoot me an email at ilisa@oneworldfamilytravel.com. I would be delighted to help you.

Safe travels, and happy sailing!

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