We recently took a Christmas cruise on Enchantment of the Seas out of Baltimore. This was the first sailing of Enchantment out of Baltimore after their preliminary test cruise. We had been hoping that a Covid vaccine would be approved for 5-11 years old age group as it would greatly simplify our trip.
The CDC did approve a COVID vaccine for the age group in early November, making mid-December the earliest a child could be fully vaccinated with the 14 day post vaccination period. This made our trip one of the first sailings where there be COVID vaccinated children ages 5-11 on board.
As this age group was just approved for the vaccine, there was not the option to upload their vaccine card into the Royal Caribbean App prior to boarding. We took a photo and had physical copies of everyone’s vaccine cards with us. This was our first cruise since January 2020, so this was our first experience with the new COVID protocols as well.
Vaccinated people need to have a COVID test 1-2 days prior to boarding. Unvaccinated children need a PCR test no more than 3 days prior to departure and an antigen test at the port. Having everyone in the group vaccinated did simplify which test was needed and when it had to be done. We had plans to arrive in Baltimore a few days prior to the cruise, so we brought our pre-purchased approved home tests to do in the hotel.
We also made appointments at a CVS near our hotel for testing the day prior to our cruise leaving as a back-up plan, ensuring we wouldn’t have to scramble if there were any issues with the home test. On various Facebook groups, people have reported that their test kit was missing the dropper bottle or it was empty. Other people had reported that they couldn’t get a proctor when they needed to for the home test. Another variable out of our control was the reliability and speed of the hotel Wi-Fi.
As the home tests come in packs of three or six and we are a family of 4, we ordered the six pack, giving us two back up kits if needed for an indeterminate or defective test kit. Thankfully the all test kits worked well for us and the hotel Wi-Fi was adequate. We were able to do two tests at a time using two phones. This cut down the time away from our vacation fun by half the time. Major and I did our tests first and then we helped the kids with their tests when ours were done.
As soon as we had confirmed negative test results in the Navica App, we cancelled the CVS appointments so they would be available for other people. It was nice to have that backup, and not need to worry about getting a “Plan B” if there were any issues with the home test. We have also heard about people having their CVS and Walgreen’s appointments cancelled last minute as well, so I’m glad that we didn’t need to find a “Plan C”.
Once we arrived at port there was a mild bit of confusion with staff to find the correct line for us. Staff immediately wanted to place us in the unvaccinated children line to be tested prior to boarding. We had to explain that our children were fully vaccinated; this seemed to confuse them at first. After several staff determined that we could be in the vaccinated line, we then had to find the correct vaccinated line as there was one for general boarding and the other for suite guests.
Once through security, the check in person needed to take pictures of the kid’s vaccine cards and upload them to the Royal Caribbean system, since there was not an option to do this at home. As they were using a new computer system, this took a bit longer than usual for check in. However, with a bit of patience and help from one of the computer system trainers, we were on board in no time.
When we arrived at our room there were two white Royal Caribbean logoed adult masks and two kids cloth masks with rainbow fish. I thought that the kids’ masks were super cute. There was also a small bottle of hand sanitizer in the room for us. The kids muster station bracelets were already in the room as well, rather than us having to go to a check in station for them.
All vaccinated guests receive fabric bands that indicate their status as vaccinated. This is a “one size fits all” band and cinches up like a zip tie, so once it is on it can’t be loosened. This leaves some annoying tails. One strategy to deal with them is to place the band on the same side as your watch and tuck the tails under your watch band. For the kids, we trimmed the tails, but learned you need to seal the raw ends as the bracelet will soon begin to unravel.
After replacing a couple unraveled bands we tried fingernail polish which did the trick. If you do need a new one because it broke or it is too tight, a quick stop at guest services (or the concierge if you are in a suite or Diamond and above) will fix that. My daughter went through 3 bands during the course of the cruise.
Vaccination status did not appear to affect the use of Adventure Ocean, however since we did not sign our kids up, I cannot comment on this. As my son turned 11 on this cruise and my daughter is 9, they are starting to lose interest in Adventure Ocean and are enjoying the evening shows with us more. We did not want to take a spot from someone else who would need it or want it more than we did.
As the kids were vaccinated, they were free to roam the ship with us, we could sit in the main level of the theater and they could enjoy trivia in the Schooner bar with us. Unvaccinated families had to sit in the balcony of the theater and had different dining room floor as well.
The Park Café is in the Solarium, which was vaccinated only, so our children were able to go there. That was their favorite place to grab a slice of pizza when they needed a midday snack after swimming.
Speaking of food, we were also able to have our regular early dining time at the main dining room reserved for vaccinated guests. We were able to be seated with our friends who also had vaccinated children the same ages as ours.
Despite being a Christmas cruise, there were not as many children as I anticipated seeing. Finding a table in the Windjammer could still be a challenge as several tables were not in use due to social distancing. You would need to look for the card on the table to see if it was able to be used. Sometimes that could take a bit of searching even with the smaller number of guests on board.
Having everyone vaccinated allowed us to leave the ship at Nassau without a Royal Caribbean excursion scheduled. We all needed to wear masks off the ship, per Bahamian rules. We took our vaccine cards with us at Grand Island and Nassau.
One thing that changed with COVID and was a nice addition was the ability to scan a QR code and order pool towels to be delivered to the room the morning of port rather than standing in a line to check in or check out towels when getting on or off the ship.
As my kids spent a great majority of time either in our room (the Royal Suite) or at the pool, there was not much time where they really needed to wear masks.
The lifeguards enforced a limit of 10 people in the pool at one time. They were also very good at not letting anyone hog the pool the entire time it was open. At regular intervals the lifeguards asked guests who had been in the pool the longest to allow others who were waiting to have a turn swimming.
Our lanyards served double duty holding our sea pass cards as well as our masks when we were at the pool or eating. With the breeze on the pool deck, it was important to keep the masks secured to something.
When we left our room, we would do a quick “mask check” with everyone. More than once we had to turn around to get a mask that someone forgot. By the end of the cruise it was second nature for all of us.
All in all, this cruising experience was very similar to previous cruises. Very little has changed as wearing masks is part of our daily routine.
There was better mask compliance and vaccination rate here than at my local grocery store. With the staff quarantined prior to our sailing, we had a full crew available to serve. We did not have any issues going to any of our ports and the weather was beautiful.
Everything that I could have asked for in a cruise vacation happened. We had a perfect, almost COVID-free vacation.