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The questions everyone is still asking about going on a cruise in 2021

15 Sep 2021

Royal Caribbean has been back in service for more than 3 months and more than half of its ships have returned, but there are still a few very commonly asked questions about what it is like to go on a cruise.

While cruising is back, there are some changes, and many people who have yet to cruise are trying to get a sense of what it is like to be back onboard.

The good news is the overall experience of being back on a cruise is more similar to what it was like in 2019 than different, but the changes made to ensure guests, crew members, and the communities ships visit remain safe are necessary protocols that do require adjustments to the cruise experience.

In an effort to put some folks minds' at ease, here are answers to the top questions people are still asking about what it is like to go on a cruise right now.

How do you get a negative test in time before the cruise begins?

Royal Caribbean requires all guests bring a negative Covid test with them to their sailing, and the test must be completed no more than 2 days before the cruise begins (3 days for kids under the age of 12), so how do you manage to get this done in time?

The key is planning and knowing which test to get.

For adults, I recommend getting the rapid antigen test, which gets results back in about an hour.  In fact, the at-home test approved by Royal Caribbean is really the easiest and most convenient way to get a test done before your cruise from pretty much anywhere.

If you choose to get a test at a pharmacy, just be sure to plan ahead and make a reservation when new appointment times become available to book. CVS opens their appointments up two weeks in advance, while Walgreens does it 48 hours in advance.

Check out my recommendations for your approach to getting a Covid test before your cruise. Follow this guide and you should have no problem getting a test result back in time for your cruise.

Can I still arrive to the cruise terminal before my check-in time?

Simply put, no.

Royal Caribbean is enforcing check-in times, so plan to arrive no more than 15 minutes before your check-in time. All too often I see large groups of people standing around outside the cruise terminal waiting for their check-in time. Not only is this a waste of your time, but it is uncomfortable since there is no seating and it is quite warm and humid in Florida.

There is an exception for suite guests (and Pinnacle Club members), but the concierge will email you 4-7 days before the cruise to inform you if you have some flexibility with your check-in time.

Instead of standing around the cruise terminal waiting to be let in, grab lunch, see a local sight, or ask for a later check-out from your hotel.

Do you have to wear a mask on the cruise?

This might be the most commonly asked question I get about going on a cruise, and usually people want to know if they have to wear a mask everywhere onboard their cruise.

The answer is, yes, you do have to wear masks while indoors in certain situations, but it is not as bad as it may sound.

Wearing of masks applies to all guests, except for guests under the age of 2 years old, who do not need to wear a mask.

Masks are NOT required to be worn:

  • In open-air areas of the ship, unless you are in a crowded setting
  • In the pool or any activity where they may become wet
  • At venues designated for vaccinated guests only, such as select bars, lounges, restaurants and shows
  • In your stateroom with your traveling party

Masks ARE required to be worn:

  • While indoors in public areas of the ship, unless seated and actively eating or drinking
  • While visiting public ports of call, where local regulations may require them

What is means is you have to wear your mask when you are in public areas, primarily when walking around. As soon as you get to a restaurant, bar, lounge, and/or designated vaccinated area, you can remove your mask.

I thought this comment from RoyalCaribbeanBlog reader Dime summed it up well, "Currently onboard the Symphony of the Seas and honestly the protocols aren’t really changing the cruise-feel. The mask mandates aren’t as aggravating as they seem while when you read about them."

What is the capacity right now on cruise ships?

Royal Caribbean is sailing with limited capacity, but has not stated what the capacity is or will be for any of its ships going forward.

The cruise line is not providing any kind of guidance as to how long limited capacity will be in place, nor at what percentage for any of its ships.

The only information we have is when someone onboard a ship reports back the passenger count, and perhaps an estimate from a crew member onboard for the next week.

So assume less than full ships for the time being until further notice.

If my kids are unvaccinated, am I limited to what I can do on the ship?

Freedom of the Seas Live Blog | Royal Caribbean Blog

If you sail with unvaccinated children, your group will be designated as unvaccinated, but that does not mean the vaccinated members of your group will always be treated as such.

When your kids are not with you, you can enjoy vaccinated-only experiences.  So if your kids are in Adventure Ocean, back in the stateroom, or doing things on their own, you could go to vaccinated-only areas of the ships.

The same holds true for shore excursions. If someone in your group is unvaccinated, you will only be able to book tours through Royal Caribbean. However, if they remain on the ship, then the vaccinated group could do a tour on their own.

How much different is disembarkation?

Royal Caribbean Blog - Unofficial blog about Royal Caribbean cruises

The process for leaving the ship on the last morning of the cruise is very similar to what it was like before the cruise industry shutdown, with one key exception.

Guests are now asked to wait in their stateroom, rather than in a public area, while waiting for their luggage number to be called. This is actually a more convenient change, in my opinion.

If you want to walk off the ship with your own luggage, that is still available and you just have to wait for the ship to be cleared.  You will wait in your cabin for that announcement.

Otherwise, the disembarkation process is nearly identical to what it was like before.

This should be your approach to getting a Covid test before your cruise

04 Sep 2021

Royal Caribbean changed the time window guests have to get a Covid test from 3 days to 2 days before embarkation, and that has a lot of guests concerned when they should get their test taken.

Cruise lines did not have much choice in changing the policy after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revised their guidelines for cruise lines.

The good news is getting the test done and results back in time is quite doable, but a good plan is critical.

Here is my recommendation for when and how to get your Covid tests complete before your cruise to ensure you can board the ship.

What are the new rules?

It is important to have a good idea of the timeframe Royal Caribbean (and other cruise lines) requires for your test, assuming your ship sails September 13 or beyond.

Vaccinated guests must present a negative PCR or antigen test result taken no more than 2 days prior to sailing in order to board. (Previously, it was 3 days.) 

Beginning December 17, 2021, unvaccinated guests age 2 - 11 will need to get a negative PCR test taken no more than 3 days prior to sailing — but not on boarding day. Antigen tests are not accepted for unvaccinated guests.  

There continues to be no testing required for guests under age 2.

Vaccinated adults

For anyone age 12 or older, your best bet is get an antigen test.  Antigen test results come back in usually an hour or so, and quite often less time.

While PCR tests are great, nearly no venue can (or will) guarantee when results will come back so your best bet is to plan on an antigen test.

For simplicity, I would recommend purchasing an at-home test that Royal Caribbean accepts, which is the  Abbott BinaxNOW™ COVID-19 Ag Card Home Test because it is supervised and administered remotely via a video session. 

This at-home test is very easy to use, and you can likely complete the whole process of test and getting results in less than an hour. Not to mention there is no need to seek an appointment at a lab or pharmacy. 

Plus, the at-home tests are great if you live somewhere not close to many testing sites.

Read moreI tried the at-home Covid-19 test that Royal Caribbean accepts

Just complete the test one or two days before embarkation day, and you will have a test result you can print out and bring to the terminal.

Royal Caribbean also sells the exact same at-home test kit, and can be purchased at

If you prefer to go somewhere to get a test, CVS is the easiest option. More on CVS with the next group.

Unvaccinated kids

Unvaccinated kids ages 2 to 11 will need to get a negative PCR test result before the cruise. Antigen tests will not be acceptable any longer for this age group.

Read moreWhen do you have to take a Covid test before your Royal Caribbean cruise?

Unvaccinated people cannot take the at home test, so I recommend scheduling your test at a place like CVS. CVS offers free testing (they will either bill your insurance or the federal government), and they offer advanced reservations.

The critical step with planning a test with CVS is to book a reservation exactly two weeks before you want the test done.

For kids 2-11 years old, if your cruise departs on a Sunday, then you should plan to get the test on the Thursday before your cruise.  Precisely two weeks before that Thursday, you should make a reservation on the CVS website.

Once again, adults have 2 days to get their test result, but kids have 3 days in case they need an extra day for the PCR test results to come back in time.

When do you have to take a Covid test before your Royal Caribbean cruise? | Royal Caribbean Blog

In my experience, if you book your test with CVS exactly two weeks in advance, I have not had issues getting an appointment.

As a back up, Walgreens offer tests in advance too, but they only allow reservations to be made 2 days early, so plan to book an appointment 48 hours before you need it.

Walgreens releases their appointments at midnight, a day at a time.

10 Tips to save you time on a Royal Caribbean cruise

31 Aug 2021

The saying "time is money" applies to business, as well as your Royal Caribbean cruise vacation. Every minute you save now, is an extra minute of vacation time you get to enjoy unencumbered.

One of my top pet peeves is wasting time that could have been saved with a little work upfront, especially if it's time spent at home so that things move smoothly onboard.

Whether it saves you two minutes or ten minutes, it all adds up and time saved also reduces stress.  I love the feeling of knowing I bypassed what would have otherwise caused me to wait longer. It's like driving in the expressway on the highway when traffic is backed up, but without the extra cost!

Here are 10 easy ways you can save time on your Royal Caribbean cruise with some quick tips.

Download the Royal Caribbean app now

The Royal Caribbean app is super important these days, and if you wait to download it on the ship, you will waste much more time.

Royal Caribbean allows you to download the app for free while using their wifi, but the speeds are super slow.  Download it now while you are at home and have a fast internet connection.

Moreover, having the app installed and signed in will make nearly every aspect of the vacation (especially embarkation) much smoother and faster. 

While some cruisers might prefer to not have to use a phone on their cruise, there is a difference between using the Royal Caribbean app and checking work email.  Put on your out of office message in your email, but keep the Royal Caribbean app primed and ready.

Read moreThe Royal Caribbean App: Everything you should know

Do everything in the online check-in before the cruise

Speaking of the Royal Caribbean app, there is no excuse for not completing the online check-in before your cruise.

I recommend using the Royal Caribbean app to complete the check-in (in lieu of the Royal Caribbean website) because the app can scan your passport to save time, as well as make the photo upload much easier since your phone has a camera.

If you enter all your information, take the selfie, and add a credit card to your account, you will fly through the cruise terminal during check-in.

Read moreWant to get on your cruise ship as fast as possible? Here's what you should do

Book My Time Dining reservations

If you have My Time dining, be sure to book a reservation so you don't wait later.

My Time Dining allows you a flexible dining schedule, and you can simply go to the dining room and get a table.

The reality is having a reservation means you will wait less, so whenever possible, book a time in advance so that you wait less. People with a reservation get priority for a table first.

Read moreRoyal Caribbean My Time Dining versus Traditional Dining

Pre-book beverage packages, dining packages, internet packages and more

An intangible benefit to pre-purchasing anything is it saves you time onboard from doing the exact same thing, which means more vacation time back to you.

Taking the time to purchase anything onboard does not take very much time, but every little bit helps, and some purchases on the first day of the cruise can require waiting in a line, such as drink packages.

As an added benefit, there is usually a pre-cruise discount if you book these online.  Save time and money by pre-booking.

Read more12 must have Royal Caribbean tips & tricks for families

Research shore excursions before you cruise

All too often you will see families standing on the pier while visiting a port of call and trying to decide on the spot what they should do.

You have a limited amount of time in any port of call you visit, and time wasted deliberating where to go means even less time to enjoy your tour.

Your best bet is to look into what each port your cruise ship visits offers, and either book something in advance or have a plan of what you will do there.

Just like the previous tip about pre-purchasing packages, researching in advance shore excursions will save time and maybe even some money.

Read moreA complete guide to picking the perfect shore excursions

Read the Cruise Compass the night before

Every night, your stateroom attendant will drop off a copy of the next day's Cruise Compass and this is your best time to check out what is coming up.

Royal Caribbean offers a lot to do onboard their ships, and it is a good idea to at least browse the next day's activities and check out what sounds interesting.

Not only will perusing the Cruise Compass save you time in deciding what to do, you may discover an activity you really want to see and reduce the chance of missing out on something.

Read moreFirst time cruiser's guide to Royal Caribbean's Cruise Compass

Visit Guest Services at less-busy times

When you have a problem, Guest Services is almost always the go-to place to get it resolved, but if at all possible, try to go when there are less guests doing the same thing.

Guest Services is open 24 hours, and they can assist with so many issues. The best times to visit Guest Services is early in the morning, during dinner, while the ship is docked in port, and late at night.

If your question or concern can wait a little bit, try to visit when the lines are much shorter or even non-existent.

Read moreThe top crew members to find if you have a problem onboard your cruise

Get to the beach faster on CocoCay and Labdee

If your ship is visiting Labadee, there is a complimentary ferry that visits Columbus Cove.

About halfway down the pier will be an area you can board a ferry boat to take you to the opposite end of Labadee, and enjoy one of the quietest beaches available.

The ferry is free.

Over at Perfect Day at CocoCay, there is complimentary shuttle services all around the island.

You will find golf carts waiting to take guests off the ship as you disembark.  These carts will take you down the length of the pier and drop you off at the entrance to the island.

There are also larger trams that go all around the island. These trams are great for not only getting from point A to point B, but they are a good way to see the island.

Whether by cart, tram, or ferry, these free services will save you steps on what is likely a very warm and sunny day in paradise.

Read more40 Perfect Day at CocoCay tips, tricks and secrets

Use a travel agent

Travel agents are an amazing resource that costs you absolutely nothing extra to use.

The best reason to use an agent is to save you time, because they are the ones sitting on hold when calling Royal Caribbean.  Tasks such as repricing, making special requests, dealing with weather events and more are why I use a travel agent every single I book a cruise.

While they are saving you time, they can also net you big savings.

Read moreTop things you didn't know travel agents can do for your cruise vacation

Register your kids for Adventure Ocean on embarkation day

While you can sign your kids up for Adventure Ocean at any time, the best time to do it is on the afternoon of the first day of your cruise.

In the early afternoon (usually around 1pm), Adventure Ocean opens up their open house so families can stop in to meet the staff and register.

The registration process is quick, and doing it now means the crew members have everything you need to sign right then and there, as opposed to later when they have to grab the sheets and of course that means more time spent while also trying to drop your kids off.

Read moreTop tips for taking a Royal Caribbean family cruise vacation

More tips and secrets

Want more helpful tips to save you time and money? Check out these articles:

6 ways to tame the worst cruise ship problems

26 Aug 2021

Issues can pop up in any aspect of travel, and the difference between a temporary blip and a major problem can sometimes be measured on how prepared you are to handle it.

Overall, the cruise experience goes quite smoothly for most guests, but knowing what to do if you run into one of these issues can really mitigate the fallout.

Here are the smart answers to some real-life scenarios and what to do if they happen to you.

Being unaware of required protocols and tests

Did you read about some cruise ship passengers who were surprised by a requirement or protocol and were denied boarding? It is really easy to avoid being those people with just a little bit of effort.

First, it is always a good idea to book a cruise with a good travel agent.  Travel agents do much more than simply take your credit card information. They are given regular updates by Royal Caribbean about important changes and can convey to you the most critical information you need to know, especially when policies change.

In addition, you can always review Royal Caribbean's health policies in one easy to find spot online.  Bookmark that page and check it in the weeks and days leading up to your cruise.

If you run into a question or concern, I recommend reaching out to Royal Caribbean via their Twitter or Facebook pages. They respond quite quickly and without the hassle of waiting on hold if you were to call.

If the protocols or rules don't suit you, you can cancel up to 48 hours before your cruise sails under Royal Caribbean's Cruise with Confidence policy.

This allows anyone to cancel their cruise for any reason and get a 100% credit towards a cruise down the line.

In order to get a cash refund, you will need to cancel your cruise before your final payment date.

Your luggage gets lost

When you arrive to the cruise terminal, you can drop off your bags to have porters put them on the ship to be delivered to your stateroom.

The first thing you should do is take a walk down your hallway on your deck. The most common scenario is your bags got placed in the wrong staging area to be delivered, so take a walk down the hallway and even on the other side of the deck to see if you can spot them.

Another common issue is your bags were not delivered because there was something inside flagged by security. Clothing irons, alcohol, scissors, and a host of other prohibited items can get your bag withheld.  

Usually security leaves a message on your stateroom phone to collect the bags, but you can always head down to the security desk on deck 2 to see which bags are there and claim your bag.

Another possibility is the luggage tag accidently got ripped off in transit, and Guest Services will hold it until someone comes to claim it.

My advice is don't jump to the conclusion your bag is indeed lost too quickly.  Sometimes it just takes a while for bags to get delivered, but speak to Guest Services once the ship departs and you are not seeing bags being delivered in your hallway.

What to do if you get sick or hurt during the cruise

Royal Caribbean has an onboard medical center on all of its ships that guests can and should visit if they feel ill or injure themselves.

The medical facility can handle a host of common issues, and triage anything major before getting you to a full medical facility.

A lot of guests feel a sense of embarrassment or worry about getting in trouble for going down to medical center. The truth is they are there to help, and not every visit will result in a major bill or immediate quarantine. 

With Covid-19 being at the forefront of many guests' minds, Royal Caribbean upgraded its medical facilities to handle any potential Covid cases onboard.

The medical team will evaluate the guest in the comfort and privacy of their stateroom, by an in-person visit or by video tele-consultation and determine if a Covid-19 test is needed. The ship's onboard medical facilities can offer rapid PCR testing and results onsite; state-of-the-art equipment enhancements like hospital-grade ventilators with CPAP and BiPAP capabilities; a dedicated Controlled Care Center where infectious guests or crew can be cared for away from general medical areas; and more critical care beds on each ship.

You should be aware the medical facility does not take any insurance, so you will have to pay out of pocket for their services and then reimburse yourself with your insurance provider.  Travel insurance can often cover more of these services, but check your coverages before assuming anything.

The catch-all for special needs

If at all possible, submit any special needs requests before your cruise via Royal Caribbean's special needs form.

Dietary requests, C-PAP machines, mobility assistance and whole bunch of other really common special needs can be submitted before the cruise to be ready when you get onboard.

If you are on the ship and a special need arises, there are a few crew members to speak with to tackle the issue.

For dietary requests, speak to the head waiter in your section of the dining room.

Guest services is another option for coordinating concerns you may have.

How to deal with a problem on a shore excursion

If you run into an issue during your shore excursion, be sure to talk to your tour guide as soon as possible so they can do their best to address it. 

If your tour is sold through Royal Caribbean, once you get back on the ship be sure to go to the shore excursion desk to address your concern.

Do not wait until you are home to identify a problem, as the issues are handled while onboard the ship.

Billing problems

I cannot stress enough the important of dealing with any issues with your bill while you are still onboard the ship.

Waiting until you get home makes the process of disputing any charges much more of a hassle than it has to be.

You can track all of your charges via the Royal Caribbean app, which appear in near real-time once the transaction is complete. Alternatively, Guest Services can always print out a copy of your bill at any time.

Instead, go to Guest Services while you are still onboard to discuss any billing questions you may have.

If you are staying in a suite, the suite concierge can also assist with billing issues on your SeaPass account.

Royal Caribbean cruises in September 2021: What to expect

24 Aug 2021

Have a Royal Caribbean cruise planned for September 2021? Half the fleet will be back in service this month and that means more people will be able to go on a cruise again.

There is plenty happening and changing with cruise ships, so here is a look at what to expect if you are going on a cruise in September.

This post will share important information what you should know before going on a cruise in September. September is the traditional beginning of fall, but it is still a very hot month in the Caribbean.  Meanwhile there are also ships sailing to Alaska and Europe.

September is also one of the best months to book a cruise in terms of value.  Since school is back in session, there are less families cruising and with it being the peak of hurricane season, demand for cruises dips a bit.  The result is competitive prices for going on a cruise.

If you can find time to hop on a ship, September is a great time to cruise and with more ships back in service, there are lots of good options again to consider.

Ships sailing in September 2021

By the end of September 13 Royal Caribbean ships should be offering cruises around the world:

  • Adventure of the Seas from Nassau, Bahamas, although her last sailing is September 11
  • Freedom of the Seas from Miami, Florida
  • Anthem of the Seas from Southampton, England
  • Jewel of the Seas from Limassol, Cyprus
  • Serenade of the Seas from Seattle, Washington
  • Odyssey of the Seas from Fort Lauderdale, Florida
  • Allure of the Seas from Port Canaveral
  • Ovation of the Seas from Seattle, Washington
  • Symphony of the Seas from Miami, Florida
  • Independence of the Seas from Galveston, Texas
  • Harmony of the Seas from Barcelona and Rome
  • Mariner of the Seas from Port Canaveral, Florida
  • Oasis of the Seas from Cape Liberty, New Jersey, beginning September 5, 2021
  • Quantum of the Seas from Singapore

In addition, Liberty of the Seas will sail her test cruise from Galveston, Texas on September 18, 2021. Liberty will begin offering cruises with paying passengers in early October.

New vaccine requirement for cruises sailing in September 2021

The biggest change in terms of protocols will begin in September when Royal Caribbean begins requiring all passengers to be fully vaccinated if they over the age of 12.

Due to a change in the policy of The Bahamas, Royal Caribbean cruisers ages 12 and older will now have to show proof of vaccination to sail from Florida.

Up until September Royal Caribbean was allowing adults to opt out of showing proof on sailings from Florida due to a Florida law that prevents businesses from asking for proof.

The Bahamas announced between September 3 and November 1, all passengers old enough to be vaccinated on a cruise ship must be vaccinated in order for a ship to visit any port in The Bahamas, including private islands.

For cruises departing from any U.S. port and visiting The Bahamas on and after Sept. 3, guests who are 12 and older must provide proof of vaccination in order to sail. This also applies to itineraries that include Perfect Day at CocoCay.

Travelers unable to show proof of vaccination will be unable to sail. Those of our guests under 12, who are currently ineligible for the vaccine, can still cruise with us as long as they continue to provide a negative test result at boarding and follow certain health and safety protocols.

September weather on a cruise

While it may be fall where you live, September is still very much summer in the Caribbean.

Expect typical summer weather in the Caribbean, which means hot and humid weather with passing rain showers at any given time.

If you are looking at the weather forecast for your cruise, don't be surprised if rain is in the forecast every day.  All that means is there is a chance for a passing or pop up storm.  More than likely you will have plenty of sun, with perhaps a quick downpour.

September is the beginning of the peak of hurricane season, which means the likelihood of a named storm is higher than it was earlier in the summer. 

According to the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, 87 percent of minor and 96 percent of major hurricanes occur between August and October, peaking in early September.

Hurricanes are obviously an issue, but Royal Caribbean monitors the weather and will move ships around storms.  Fear not: your ship will not go anywhere near a hurricane.

The biggest issue with cruising in September is the last-minute itinerary changes that can occur due to storms. 

Read moreWhat to know about cruising during hurricane season in the Caribbean

Over in Alaska, September begins the end of the Alaska cruise season, although Royal Caribbean extended the season this year by an extra month.

Just like in the Caribbean, September is one of the cheapest months to sail to Alaska because kids are back in school. 

In addition, the best time see the Northern Lights in Alaska is in September. September is the time of year when the sun sets earlier during the cruise season, which means the sky gets darker and makes for the most ideal viewing conditions.

Read moreTop 10 tips for planning your Alaska cruise

And yes, September is also a great time visit Europe for good deals.

September is a popular time to cruise the Western Mediterranean because you can avoid the families and still enjoy warm temperatures. 

Want to get on your cruise ship as fast as possible? Here's what you should do

24 Aug 2021

When your it's cruise day and you are ready to go on your cruise ship, the last thing you want to do is spend any more than you need to in the cruise terminal filling out paperwork.

Royal Caribbean provides the means to make the check-in process as short as possible, but a surprising amount of cruisers do not take advantage of these options, which means they spend more time standing around in the cruise terminal than onboard the ship.

Your vacation time is precious, so don't spend it in the terminal doing things that could have been completed while you were at home. After all, the fast you get onboard, the sooner you get to really feel like you're on vacation.

After having been on a half dozen sailings since Royal Caribbean restarted cruises, here is my best advice for how to keep moving during the embarkation process and minimize your time in the cruise terminal.

Do everything in the online check-in

When Royal Caribbean opens up online check-in before your cruise, complete all the steps for everyone in your party.

Use Royal Caribbean's app to do the check-in because the app has a a feature to scan your passport, saving you time from entering the information manually if you do it on a computer.

You will have a choice of check-in times, and most people seem to always pick the earliest. If you have a flight or other need to get in later, pick an appropriate time.

Completing all of these questions, and especially taking the photo, saves so much time in the cruise terminal.

Yes, take a selfie photo

The one part of check-in most commonly overlooked is the selfie photo for security.

Whether you question if it's needed, or just decided to do it later, make sure you take a selfie photo and upload it into the app for everyone.

Find a plain wall in your house, and take a selfie in front of it. Think passport photo, with no hats or glasses on, and a neutral look.

Complete the health questionnaire before you arrive to the terminal

About 24 hours before your check-in time opens, you should complete the health questionnaire.

To access it, go back to the Royal Caribbean app and edit your check-in.  You will see the questionnaire to click and complete.

This will save you from every single person in your group having to answer a dozen yes or no questions in the terminal.

Print out your negative Covid test

Royal Caribbean allows guests to bring either a printed or digital copy of their negative Covid test, but you should bring a paper print out.

The reason why a printed copy is so much better is it's just more convenient.  You will have to show the negative test results two or three times during the check-in process, and having a printed copy means being able to more easily show it.

In case you're wondering, your vaccine card has to be a hard copy.

Arrive exactly at your check-in time

Royal Caribbean is strictly enforcing check-in times, so don't waste time standing around outside by arriving early.

Whatever time you pick for check-in is exactly the time you should plan to arrive to the cruise terminal so that you can hop right onto line to check-in.

If you are parking your car, you should plan to arrive a few minutes earlier just to get the car parked and your belongings down to the entrance of the cruise terminal.

Keep three documents handy

Once you get in line to check-in, there are three really important documents you will need access to during the entire process:

  • Passport (or birth certificate/state issued ID)
  • Negative Covid test
  • Vaccine card

You will need to produce these documents at different times, and sometimes multiple times.  You speak to different people throughout the check-in process, so having them ready to show saves time from digging through bags to get it back out.

I tried the at-home Covid-19 test that Royal Caribbean accepts

20 Aug 2021

Royal Caribbean recently approved the Abbott BinaxNow COVID-19 Ag Card Test for a pre-cruise test, and it got a lot of readers excited that they might have a new convenient option in the days leading up to their cruise.

As you may be aware, Royal Caribbean requires all passengers to bring a negative Covid-19 test result to the cruise terminal, regardless of vaccination status. 

This test must be taken no more than two days prior to sailing and must be arranged by each guest at their own expense with an accredited test provider.

Depending on where you live and other factors, getting a test appointment is not a simple task, and being able to conduct a test at home is a convenient alternative to going to the pharmacy.

So how well do these tests work, and how long does it take? Many cruisers wanted to know, so I decided to try it out for myself and see.

Royal Caribbean accepts the Abbott BinaxNOW™ COVID-19 Ag Card Home Test because it is supervised and administered remotely via a video session. 

Royal Caribbean updated its policy to specify Abbott BinaxNow COVID-19 Ag Card Test is acceptable, while the Abbott BinaxNow COVID-19 Antigen Self Test if taken at home and not supervised by a medical professional is not accepted.

I reached out to the folks at eMed to get more information about their product, and they provided me with a pack of six home tests. eMed sells tests in six packs, which brings the price down to $25 per test.  

There is also an option to purchase the BinaxNOW™ Home Test from an eMed partner such as Walgreens (currently available in select Los Angeles, New Jersey and New York retailers) or Optum.

It is a good idea to have more than one test in case of an inconclusive test result, as well as to have additional test kits for other family members. You will need one test kit per person.

According to the company, the shelf life has been extended for the BinaxNOW™ Home Test by the FDA and it is remains useful for up to 12 months from the manufacturing date. 

This particular at-home test requires a prescription, which can be obtained when you fill out the form online during the ordering process.

First and foremost, when you get the test, be very certain not to open the box until instructed to do so during the video call.

Once you are ready to take the test, you just sign up for an account on the website and click the link to start a test.

There were reports of massive waits to speak with someone to get the test done, but I waited perhaps 30 seconds before it was my turn for the test. In fact, I had to disconnect a few times because of an issue with my computer's webcam, and was able to jump right back in immediately each time.

My advice is to do the test on a phone, or a computer with an attached webcam, so that you can easily move the camera around while seeing what is on the screen.  During the test, the proctor will ask you to show them yourself, identification, and the test itself.  Often, they need to see you doing whatever it is you are being directed to do, so being able to easily move the camera is important.

After verifying the test is intact, you will be directed to add a few drops of the test solution to the test card and then swab your nose.

You will be directed to swab both nostrils five times. The swab needs to only go up about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch, so no "brain tickler" tests required.  I felt no discomfort.

After you swab both nostrils, you place the swab into the test card and wait 15 minutes for the results.

The test card has a spot for two lines.  One line means you are negative, two lines means you are positive.

After 15 minutes, you and the proctor look over the results and confirm the outcome.  

Results are available instantly email, as well as through the NAVICA app. There is also a QR code provided to be shared via text, email and other methods.

The test can be used on children as young as four years old when samples are collected by an adult and for all people aged 15 years or older.

Having done an antigen test at a local pharmacy and now at home, the experience is pretty much the same. At CVS, the nurse had me swab my nose as well, so it is fundamentally the same process.

Without a doubt, the home test is extremely convenient, and the fact you can buy a few to have on hand for future cruises or for any potential exposure concerns in your everyday life is a really nice option.

Moreover, you could take the test much closer to your sail date. This is helpful for someone who is flying to their destination and wants to take the test the day before they sail.

Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast Episode - A look at the 3 biggest changes Royal Caribbean has made recently

13 Aug 2021

Listen to the Show

There has been plenty of rule changes lately, but this week, Matt breaks down the three biggest changes announced over the last few weeks.

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When do you have to take a Covid test before your Royal Caribbean cruise?

05 Aug 2021

Royal Caribbean requires all passengers to get a Covid test before their cruise if their sailing, and that has generated a lot of questions about when exactly should take your test.

All guests over the age of 2 are required to arrive to the cruise terminal with a negative Covid-19 test, regardless of vaccine status, prior to boarding.

The primary concern is getting the test completed with enough time to get your result before your cruise begins.  Wait too long and you might not have your results in time.  But do the test too early, and it will not count.

The logistics of when and where to get a test before your cruise is somewhat confusing, so here is what you need to know about getting a Covid-19 test before your cruise so you can get onboard without any issues.

When should you get your test done?

Vaccinated guests must present a negative PCR or antigen test result taken no more than 2 days prior to sailing in order to board. (Previously, it was 3 days.)

Unvaccinated kids departing on or after December 17, 2021 must show a negative test result for a PCR test (not antigen) taken no more than 3 days before boarding day.

Unvaccinated kids’ pre-cruise test cannot be taken on boarding day, because that may affect the sample taken during the kids’ test at the terminal.

So when should you get your test done so that the results are valid and within the timeframe?

Basically, Royal Caribbean says the day you set sail is not one of the days you count. Instead, count backwards from the day before to figure out which day to get your test.

As an example, if your cruise departs on a Saturday, you could get your test done on

  1. Friday (Day 1)
  2. Thursday (Day 2)
  3. Wednesday (Day 3)

Your best bet is to schedule a test in advance to ensure there you can get your test completed on the day you want to ensure there is enough time to get the results before you sail.

Where can you get tested?

Depending on where you live, there can be different options available for getting tested.  This includes testing sites that are free or have an additional cost.

Keep in mind Royal Caribbean accepts antigen or PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test results for fully vaccinated passengers.

Many health providers and chain drug stores, including Walgreens, Rite Aid and CVS, now offer COVID-19 testing for work, travel and other reasons. All of these often offer PCR testing at no additional cost if using insurance or if you fall under some federal programs for those without insurance. 

Another option is Passport Health, which has over 100 locations nationwide meant for someone who is travelling or going back to school.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services maintains a list of testing sites per state where you can be tested, including ones that have no-cost.

You may even find some testing sites offering drive-up testing, where you never have to leave the car. Roll down your window, get swabbed, and be on your way.

How long will it take to get your test results?

Depending on the type of test you take, results could be in your hands within hours or days.

Antigen tests can come back in as little as 30 minutes, whereas PCR tests usually take longer.  PCR tests generally take around 72 hours for results, although some testing sites offer rapid PCR tests that can come back much sooner.

CVS advertises its PCR test takes "typically" 1-2 days, while the rapid test is a few hours.

There are few guarantees on when exactly you will get your results, but taking your test earlier in the time window before your cruise departs is the safest bet.

How to give Royal Caribbean the test results

You simply need to bring a copy of the test results for everyone in your family to the cruise terminal.

The test results must have:

  • Your name
  • Date the test was taken
  • Type of test
  • Negative result

You have the choice of bringing a print out or using a digital copy. Royal Caribbean recommends printing out the results whenever possible to simplify the process of showing the results.

If you prefer a digital copy, the cruise line will accept  test results presented on your phone.

8 truths of going on a Royal Caribbean cruise in summer 2021

08 Jul 2021

I have been fortunate enough to go on three Royal Caribbean cruises so far this summer from North America, and already there are some new lessons learned for cruising right now.

While the basic cruise experience pre-shutdown is still there, there are a few new, altered, or completely different ways to plan a cruise due to new protocols and ways the cruise line is operating.

If nothing else, you should expect changes early and often, so this post may even end up becoming outdated quite quickly with everything Royal Caribbean is doing to get ships operating again.

Based on my experience, here are the top eight new rules I've garnered from going on a Royal Caribbean cruise so far.

Check-in times are much closer to your sail date

Before the shutdown, you could count on online check-in for your cruise opening up 90 days before your sail date, but not anymore.

Right now, there is no pattern to when you can start checking in for a cruise, so you have to keep checking back periodically to see if it has opened.

First and foremost, expect online check-in to open up much closer to you sail date than 90 days. It is not uncommon to have check-in become available just a couple weeks in advance.

Keep in mind that what someone else on another sailing experiences for their check-in date opening may have no bearing on when yours could open up.

Regardless of when online check-in is available, try to get it done as soon as possible. Check-in times at the cruise terminal matter now, and the early check-in times go very quickly.

Don't expect protocols until a few weeks before your cruise

Because of the changing government regulations, new health protocols will likely not be available until at the most a month in before you sail.

Royal Caribbean is in the tough situation of wanting to share what the experience will be like with guests as early as they can, while at the same time trying to adhere to new guidelines and requirements from various health agencies.

In order to avoid creating confusion with changing protocols, Royal Caribbean is waiting until much closer to when a ship may sail to announce what guests can expect onboard.

It may not be idea, but most passengers are not keeping up with every change the cruise line makes, and as a result, the cruise line appears to be doing what it can to simplify messaging.

Windjammer will be closed for dinner until capacity gets up to at least 50%

After speaking with Royal Caribbean executives, it looks like the Windjammer buffet will remain closed for dinner until more guests are sailing again.

All of Royal Caribbean's ships are sailing at reduced capacity, although they have not divulged specific numbers for any ship.

Roughly speaking, the Windjammer will not re-open for dinner until at least half the ship is full again.  This means you may need to spend some extra time planning dinner before you cruise.

If you were someone that usually ate dinner at the buffet, consider specialty restaurant alternatives, going to the main dining room, or maybe just enjoying room service.

A lot of flights are getting cancelled

Never before can I recall so many flights being cancelled arbitrarily close to the departure date than right now.

Airlines are much further along in their recovery from the global health crisis (it helps when your industry gets bailed out with taxpayer money and never had any oversight by the CDC), but that does not mean their operations are smooth.

Anecdotally, a lot of cruise passengers are reporting last-minute flight cancellations for any number of reasons.

The best thing you can do is plan to fly in to your cruise at least one day ahead of time.  If you can manage it, two days in advance would be ideal (especially for sailings out of The Bahamas where there are few flights each day).

Don't rely on booking flights with Royal Caribbean through Air2Sea for the same day as your flight departs.

Cruise planner sales give the best prices

If you want a discount on a drink package, shore excursion, or something fun to do at CocoCay, be sure to purchase it during a Cruise Planner sale.

It was always a good idea to pre-purchase as much as you can to lock in discounts, but the importance of this strategy has gone up quite a lot due to higher base prices for these items than we saw in early 2020.

The good news is there is usually a Cruise Planner sale once every few weeks, and they are almost always offered over any major or minor holiday.

If you know you want something in the Cruise Planner, book it at the current price, and then cancel and rebook later if there is a price drop.

You can do eMuster from anywhere

One of the best innovations to come out of the cruise industry shutdown was eMuster, which allows passengers to do the guest safety drill from anywhere onboard the ship over the span of a few hours on embarkation day.

My advice is to multi-task the process, and go through the eMuster process in your Royal Caribbean app while you're doing something else onboard, such as eating lunch, enjoying the pool, or grabbing a drink at the bar.

Doing this allows you to be more efficient with your time, and get it taken care of sooner.

You can ask for printed menus

I love how Royal Caribbean is coming up with new ways to make its app more useful, but reading menus while in a restaurant missed the mark, in my opinion.

When you go to any restaurant on a Royal Caribbean ship right now, there are QR codes you can scan to get a copy of the menu.  Alternatively, you can ask for a printed menu.

I am all for keeping everyone healthy, but contact-based spread of Covid-19 is pretty darn remote, and Royal Caribbean's printed menus are now made of a material that is unconducive to spreading germs.

More importantly, reading a restaurant menu from a phone just is not easy, and I think a big part of the dining experience is holding a menu in your hands.

Book cruises early or they will sell out

While ships are sailing at limited capacity, sailings are selling out incredibly quickly.

Pre-shutdown, you could usually find at least something to book closer to your sail date at the last minute, but that just is not a thing right now.

Sailings from Florida are especially popular, so if you think you might want to go on a cruise soon, book it now.

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