If you know money expert Clark Howard, you know that he loves to travel. Clark and his family recently got the chance to take a cruise to the Caribbean.
What follows is Clark’s detailed account of the experience.
What It’s Like Sailing Under Pandemic Protocols
Clark says he’d been itching to get back on the high seas, but it was really his 15-year-old son Grant who yearned to set sail.
“My son missed cruises so much. So what were we able to do? Book the very first cruise to depart from any U.S. port since the pandemic began,” Clark says.
From Fort Lauderdale to the Caribbean
The cruise ship was the Celebrity Edge, which departed from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Because the ship was the industry’s inaugural major cruise of the year, several media outlets sent people to cover the journey.
“I didn’t register as working media and paid my own way, because that’s my thing,” Clark says, “I don’t accept anything for free.
“This was the cruise line’s first chance to make a good impression through the coverage they were getting,” Clark says, noting that CNN, Good Morning America, NBC’s The Today Show and other big media outlets had journalists on board.
Clark says the staff was 100% vaccinated and that Celebrity required all passengers and crew to be vaccinated unless they were under age 12.
Anyone younger than 12 was not allowed on this trip so that unvaccinated children would not exceed 5% of paying customers on board, Clark says.
“I had to answer medical questions twice online, once on the phone and once in person at the port,” Clark says. “Our three vaccine cards were scanned into Celebrity’s computer system.”
“Once on board, masks were optional for passengers and mandatory for crew,” Clark says. During his time on the ship, Clark says he found that, “Walking around a ship with over 1,000 people in close proximity is a test.”
“When we pulled out of Fort Lauderdale on Saturday, there were huge crowds of people along the shore jumping up and down and waving handmade signs,” Clark says.
“They were so excited to see the first cruise ship depart since March of last year. The passengers were thrilled to see a water cannon salute as well. People are so yearning for life to return to normal.”
Clark says the ship was less than half full, and other than media members, he also met avid cruisers who shared notes on how many cruises they’d been on and how many they have already booked for the next year.
“The staff on the ship is the most enthusiastic I have ever seen,” Clark says. “They are excited beyond measure to be back on the job as 15 months without income has been a tough road.”
Aboard the Ship
“There was actually very good protocol on the ship. And it felt exceedingly safe,” Clark says.
“I will tell you that as someone who has had the vaccine, it felt really safe being around people who were vaccinated and not having to worry about wearing a mask anywhere. Virtually 100% of the people I was around for a week were vaccinated. It was really a refreshing experience.”
Ports of Call
Clark’s description of the ship’s stops in port: “weird.” ”In some places, we weren’t allowed off the ship at all,” he says. “At other places, we were tightly restricted in what we could do.”
Clark found that he gained more elbow room as the trip progressed. “Halfway through, most of the media got off at Cozumel, Mexico, and flew back to the United States,” he says. “It was almost like I was on a semi-private charter. There was more staff than passengers.
“None of us will ever get an experience like this again,” he adds. “Being on a fully staffed, big ship with so few passengers compared to normal means that there is a tranquility and level of service that is outstanding and abnormal.”
Clark says he really enjoyed his trip overall, but he doesn’t want people to assume everyone getting ready to cruise will have a similar experience — especially if they’re not vaccinated.
He feels that cruise lines, like much of the travel industry, are still feeling their way through the proper health protocols to try to ensure everyone’s safety.
Cruise Ship Safety
Clark says there has been an ongoing fight between the Florida state government and the cruise lines because Florida prohibits businesses from requiring vaccines.
And he says that cruise lines are now dealing with that by restricting unvaccinated passengers from certain activities, a situation he calls “a penalty box.” For example, Carnival Cruises says unvaccinated guests must wear masks indoors at all times — even in the ship’s spa.
If you’re sailing out of Florida, Clark says you can expect “an inferior experience on cruise ships for the foreseeable future for people who have not been vaccinated. And that’s the way it’s going to play because having people in close quarters on a cruise ship is a perfect grounds for the spread of something like coronavirus.”
“It was, I think for the cruise industry, a roaring success because no cruise will have as much scrutiny as this Celebrity ship, at least in North America,” he says.
Clark says he was happy to cruise with all the media on board and even happier when they left mid-cruise.
“It was an unbelievable experience to walk out on a beautiful afternoon at sea and see the pool deck virtually empty,” he says.