Back To Cruising (Part 1 Updated)
Dispatches From Our Cruising Restart
Want to go cruising again? Thinking maybe it’s too soon? Not sure what to expect? Here’s a series of reports on our first attempt to get back to cruising, offered up in three parts.
Part 1 – The Initial Planning
Preface – While we have been very frustrated trying to get back to cruising it is not the intention to criticize the cruise companies. As bad as things have been for us it has to be a million times worse for the cruise companies and each decision they make has millions of dollars worth of impact.
Over the past nineteen months my wife and I have had six pre-covid cruise bookings cancelled. We’ve rescheduled or booked another seven and had all of them cancelled or in some cases rescheduled again. Cruising friends that were going with us on a March 2020 cruise, that was cancelled, asked us to join them on a Lisbon to Barcelona cruise. We told them we would start making plans. Because we are fond of trans-Atlantics we decided to book one of the cruises out of Barcelona following the cruise from Lisbon.
Because the Lisbon cruise was with Celebrity we started looking for trans-Atlantics with them and found the Apex that would sail from Barcelona three days after our Lisbon cruise ended in Barcelona – perfect!
Several weeks later without any notice from Celebrity, my wife discovered the Apex was sailing from Barcelona five days earlier – we wouldn’t be there yet. Looking for options we discovered another Celebrity ship leaving from Rome on a trans-Atlantic three days after we were to arrive in Barcelona. After checking train schedules for Rome we booked that cruise.
Again after a number of weeks we were notified that our booked trans-Atlantic cruise from Rome was cancelled – period. Shortly after that the Lisbon cruise was also cancelled. Now, we’ve nothing booked again. Our cruise friends decided it was just too soon to start cruising again and dropped out. We decided not to give up.
Looking at the Apex trans-Atlantic still on the program we looked into the Apex cruise before the Trans-Atlantic and found it sailing from Athens a week before Barcelona. We now had a new plan.
Part 2 – Getting To The Ship In Greece
Preface – The Covid health requirements for countries and even cities, as well as what the airlines and cruise companies are asking can change from day to day and often communications within these organizations can cause a lot of confusion amongst their employees. What follows is our exploration of how to meet the various requirements and should not be used as a guide while making your plans.
Following from part 1 we began to plan our trip almost two months before the sailing. Since we really enjoy Piraeus, Greece, we decided tofly in several days early. We booked our hotel and contacted a driver we have used in the past and arranged to get picked up at Athens International. The Celebrity Apex was still on schedule and things were looking pretty good for our attempt to start cruising again.
Two weeks before the trip we started looking into how to meet our Covid requirements. We were booked with Delta Airlines and their web site indicated that while you had to wear a mask on the flight (no N-95 masks allowed*) the vaccination and testing requirements would be to meet the destination countries requirements for arrival. Looking into Celebrity’s requirements, initially it seemed that we would have to provide a negative PCR test taken 72 hours before arriving to board the ship.
We were also now starting to game plan eventualities. What would happen if we got to the ship, tested positive for Covid and wouldn’t be allowed to board? What should we expect if we tested positive after sailing? What issues arise as we get back to America and test positive and how do the authorities react?
Before continuing on this tack, a word about travel insurance. Traveling internationally without good insurance is a dangerous thing to do and the most important coverage you can have is health insurance. Missing a flight or a cruise can be a major pain, lost bags a minor inconvenience but a serious health problem can be a financial disaster (refer to our insurance article for additional information).
In looking for answers we exchanged a couple of emails with Celebrity and had a chat with a senior person with the company. While the policy is to not let people with positive tests board they do not just cut you loose. First, if you have travel insurance your expenses associated with a positive Covid test, like quarantine hotel as well as your flight home are covered. In situations where you get a positive test while onboard you will be quarantined to your stateroom and you’ll get additional testing. Half the cases are false positives and as soon as you get a negative test result you’ll rejoin the cruise activities. As far as getting a positive test before disembarking in America there are a couple of policies. If you live near the cruise port (where you can drive home) you’ll be allowed to leave for home with instructions to avoid unnecessary contact, to quarantine once home and get additional testing. If you are traveling to get home you may be required to quarantine in a nearby hotel and to get additional testing. Again, if you have insurance your expenses will be covered.
With those questions answered it was now time to address testing requirements. In our case we discovered that Greece only requires that you have valid vaccination card to enter the country. We were told that Greece is randomly selecting people for testing at the airport and that in that case it could delay our leaving the airport for an hour or so.
In the case of our cruising friends that started this they recently decided to just go to Italy for a family wedding. In their case they needed a negative Covid test within 72 hours of getting to Italy and that there were a number of restrictions as they traveled around Italy. It seems that each European country has their own rules involving entry and Covid. To fly back to the United States they again had to get a negative test before they could fly home.
As you do your own research I would strongly suggest that you print out copies of the information you find and carry it with you. As we were leaving at the airport the Delta agent that was checking us in to fly to Athens insisted we show a negative Covid test. It wasn’t necessary but for our own peace of mind we had a PCR test done three days before our flight. That wasn’t good enough to satisfy her as it would be more than 72 hours when we got to Athens. Showing her dated print outs from Delta’s web site seemed to convince her to stand down and we got our boarding passes.
In talking to Celebrity we learned that for Greece they weren’t requiring negative tests but for Italy it was a requirement. They were actually administering rapid tests at the pier in Greece before passengers could board the ship.
The Cost of Covid Tests – This is another area where the information shifts constantly. At home we contacted our health service and they wanted $178 for a PCR test. It turned out that if we had health insurance CVS and Walgreens were doing the tests for free. We also discovered on a Celebrity web page that they were charging $85 for tests conducted on board but later found that on pages dedicated to each cruise that the tests would be at no charge. That applied to the test at the pier as well as a number of tests required before entering a number of ports.
Part 3 – The Cruise
Before joining the cruise we spent several days in the Athens area and had very little problems. Most Greeks went through their days wearing masks only when going into stores, public buildings or riding public transportation and went maskless outdoors.
As the Apex departed Athens the onboard policy was to wear a mask unless eating or drinking (on a cruise maybe that means rarely). Our first port of call was Santorini and again most people wore masks only when going into shops. At times the narrow streets and alleys were tight and packed with people but no one seemed to be overly concerned.
The next port was Sicily and the Italian government required everyone going ashore to be tested for Covid. Again rapid tests were conducted free of charge the day before docking. It also turned out that we couldn’t go ashore without being in an official tour. This was an Italian government requirement and it turned out that while on the approved tour we couldn’t enter any shops, order a coffee or a drink in a cafe or leave the tour. All around us the Italians were walking around without masks in large groups and sitting in cafes.
After that the Apex stopped in two Spanish ports where we were allowed to just go ashore. After a day in Palma and another in Valencia this part of our cruise ended in Barcelona and because it was being treated as a port of entry again more Covid tests were required. For passengers flying home from Barcelona there were tests provided to meet the home country requirements as well along with the necessary documents.
More on the trans-Atlantic portion of the cruise and a review on the Celebrity Apex to follow…