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I recently returned from my first cruise since the pandemic began, and I realized mid-trip that my cruise packing list needed to be updated. With mask mandates in place and anxious thoughts about getting sick, I had added several healthy cruise essentials to my suitcase. Once onboard, I realized there were useful items I had not thought to bring that would have enhanced my Covid-era cruise.

Here’s my new post-pandemic cruise packing list for all the healthy cruise essentials you’ll want to bring onboard.

Disposable face masks

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Doing laundry is a cruise buzz-kill, and you don’t want to spend your evenings washing out dirty face masks. Pack disposable masks and toss them at the end of the day. If the surgeon-style blue masks are too boring for your cruise wardrobe, seek out colorful or patterned disposable masks.

Fancy or themed face masks

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Carnival Pride pandemic formal night

I admit it – I bought a blinged-out Natalie Mills mask for formal night, so I could have a fancy mask to match my Cruise Elegant attire. I also saw plenty of cruisers in tropical- or nautical-themed face masks, as well as masks that matched their outfits or twinned with their family.

If you rock matching T-shirts when you travel, you will want to put some attention into your mask-wear as well.

Mask lanyard

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Mask lanyard

One thing I didn’t anticipate on my cruise – taking my mask off to eat or drink and having nowhere to put it. My travel companion brought a mask lanyard, and it was perfect. Her mask hung like a necklace while she ate, and it was close at hand when she had to put it back on to leave the dining room.

You can find a plain chain lying around at home or buy yourself a fun colored or beaded lanyard.

Portable hand sanitizer

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Hand sanitizer portable

Hand sanitizer has always been plentiful on cruise ships, and now it’s everywhere onboard. However, you might want a small bottle to take with you on excursions. I recommend travel-sized bottles with clips that you can attach to your day pack, purse, or belt loop for easy access.

Snorkel and mask

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Snorkel

I wanted to go snorkeling in the Bahamas, but I was hesitant to use shared snorkels and masks. I couldn’t guarantee that the tour operator’s disinfecting process was good enough. I had long wanted my own snorkel mask that didn’t leak, so I ordered a mask and snorkel set on Amazon before my trip.

Not only did I not have to worry about putting my mouth on used equipment, but the mask fit better than any other I’ve borrowed. I had the best two days of snorkeling on this cruise than I’ve had in years.

Travel snacks

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Goldfish crackers

Your comfort level with restaurants in port may vary, especially with many Caribbean destinations on the CDC’s list of destinations with “very high” levels of Covid.

Skip the meals out, and bring your own travel snacks – a tip I follow religiously, pandemic or not. You never know when the tour will run long or the tourist trap prices will be too high, and you need to settle your stomach with a power bar until you can belly up to the ship’s buffet.

Thermometer and first-aid kit

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First aid kit

Is it Covid or are you seasick? No one wants to second guess their health when they’ve gone green. Pack a touchless thermometer to check your temperature should you start to feel unwell. A first-aid kit is always a smart thing to pack, especially with sky-high shipboard prices for over-the-counter meds.

Make sure your kit has sea bands, ginger candy, and Bonine or Dramamine in case you start to feel the motion of the ocean. Painkillers are useful, too; the alcoholic version will just make that headache worse.

Coffee mug and water bottle

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Coffee mug

My desire to eat outdoors or in my cabin rather than in the buffet meant I was often bringing food from one place to another. That’s when I discovered that you can’t get to-go coffee cups on Carnival unless you purchase a drink from the coffee shop.

Had I packed a reusable coffee mug, I could have filled it up with a hot beverage and strolled about the deck. I did bring a reusable water bottle and recommend one for anyone, whether you’re trying to avoid touching communal cups or want to eliminate the waste of plastic water bottles.

Phone pouch or wristlet

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Phone pouch

Paper menus have disappeared from cruise ship bars and restaurants, to be replaced by QR codes. Daily activity schedules are no longer left in your cabin each night, but you can find them in your cruise line’s app. Whether you’re typically glued to your phone or not, all cruisers now need to have their cellphones with them throughout their sailing.

Given that, I recommend packing a cellphone holder wristlet or a waterproof phone pouch with a strap. It makes it easy to carry your phone around if your vacationwear doesn’t have pockets or you don’t want to lug a tote bag around the ship. If you choose the waterproof pouch, you get the added bonus of being able to take photos on the beach or even underwater when you’re in port.

Vaccine card and travel document holder

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Vaccine card

Heads up, cruisers, there’s a new doc in town. I’m referring, of course, to travel documents, and the new ID you’ll need is your vaccine card, along with your passport, cruise documents, and negative test results.

Keep all your vital information together with a travel wallet or document holder with a pocket for your passport and a clear pouch for your vaccine card.

Selfie stick

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Selfie stick couple

Everyone loves to hate on the selfie stick, but imagine this scenario: You’re in a beautiful port, and you want to take a photo of you and your travel buddy. In the age of Covid, you’d rather not hand your camera to a stranger.

You could take a regular selfie, with its accompanying awkward angle and strained smile, and miss out on half the scenery because your arm is too short. Or, you could bring a selfie stick and get a frame-worthy photo. The choice is yours.

Disinfecting wipes

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Disinfecting wipes

This packing tip is obvious, but I’ll throw it out there anyway. Newly converted germaphobes will want a pack of disinfecting wipes for cleaning off airplane seats and tray tables, wiping down cruise cards and TV remotes, and sterilizing other high-touch surfaces.

Even if you never use them, disinfecting wipes are lightweight and useful to have when you want to be extra certain something is germ-free. Add them to your cruise packing list because they’re handy whether you’re traveling during a pandemic or not.

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Celebrity Cruises announced seven of its cruise ships will sail in Europe in 2023.

The new European deployment was announced on Tuesday, with brand-new four to 13-night itineraries added, plus more ‘seven-night’ sailings than ever before.

Celebrity is also touting the fact it is offering more than 45 overnight stays in 11 different cities across the various itineraries released.

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Apex in Norway

Here is a list of the ships that will sail in Europe in 2023:

  • Celebrity Beyond
  • Celebrity Apex
  • Celebrity Edge
  • Celebrity Silhouette
  • Celebrity Constellation
  • Celebrity Infinity
  • Celebrity Reflection

Celebrity is proud of the fact its three Edge Class cruise ships will sail in Europe in 2023, each with compelling itinerary options.

“With all three of our industry-leading Edge Series ships sailing in Europe complemented by four additional stunning ships in our fleet, Celebrity will sail the continent in unrivalled luxury. From our new, exciting itineraries and our return to some of the most popular cities in the world, we have so much planned in Europe for 2023 and we’re really looking forward to sharing the culture and charm of this region with our guests as they Journey WonderFULL with us,” said Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, President and CEO of Celebrity Cruises.

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Portugal

Celebrity Apex will depart from her home port of Amsterdam on a nine-night sailing around the captivating Norwegian Fjords.

Apex will also be the first ship in the fleet to visit Egypt since 2012, with a brand-new 10-night sailing around Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean. This will include an overnight stay in Alexandria. Additional itineraries feature visits to the British Isles, Iceland & Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Malta and more.

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Egypt

Celebrity Beyond will return to Europe, following her 2022 debut season, sailing the Eastern Mediterranean from Rome.

Other highlights of Celebrity’s 2023 Europe season include:

  • Celebrity Infinity will journey through the best of Spain and Portugal on a series of nine-night sailings out of her homeport of Lisbon
  • Celebrity Infinity will also sail from Athens, along with Celebrity Constellation, offering a variety of sailings through Greece and the Eastern Mediterranean
  • Guests on Celebrity Reflection will be treated to famous Santorini sunsets, thanks to the unique late- night stays and stops in popular Greek islands, such as Mykonos, Santorini and Rhodes
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You booked that cheap inside room, but you’d love to sail in a big ol’ balcony cabin. Is it possible to get a cruise ship cabin upgrade for free? 

“Unfortunately there is no secret password or magic wand that will guarantee an upgraded stateroom without actually paying for one,” says Beci Mahnken, president and CEO of MEI-Travel, and a travel agent with the inside scoop. “Complimentary upgrades are not very common in the current cruise climate.”

Just because a surprise free cruise cabin upgrade is unlikely does not mean there aren’t ways to level up your room on the cheap. Here are 10 ways to get a free or discounted cabin upgrade on your next cruise.

1. Book during a free upgrade promotion

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Instead of waiting for a cruise line to bequeath an upgrade upon you, seek one out from the start. Cruise  lines are constantly running sales, and sometimes these offers include a free upgrade promotion. The cruise line will offer insides and oceanviews or oceanview and balcony cabins for the same price, so you can book an upper-category room for the price of a lower-category one.

Cruise lines also deem certain rooms within a larger category as “better.” For example, a balcony cabin on a higher floor might be deemed more desirable and priced higher than a lower-deck balcony room. Some sales feature same-category upgrades where you can book any room of the same type (inside, outside, balcony) for the same price, letting you get the best available for less.

With these deals, make sure that prices weren’t inflated immediately prior to the sale, so you think you’re getting a bargain but you’re not. 

2. Book a guarantee cabin

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A guarantee cabin is a cruise ship gamble that you will be upgraded to a better room than you booked. You pay a lower rate that guarantees you a room in the category you booked at a minimum, and the cruise line gets to place you in whichever room they want in that category or higher. 

For example, if you book an outside guarantee, you might get onboard and discover you’ve been assigned a balcony cabin. Or, you might find yourself in the smallest, noisiest outside cabin on the ship.

“If you are picky about your cabin location, this may not be the best option,” says Mahnken. Only gamble on an upgrade with a guarantee cabin if you’re fine sailing in any room in the category you originally booked.

3. Book with a travel agent

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The cruise lines aren’t the only ones with promotions. Travel agents can be your key to a free or discounted cruise cabin upgrade. 

“We have access to offers and group rates you may not when booking direct, so the price you would pay by calling the cruise line for an ocean view may get you a balcony or other benefits for the same price,” says Mahnken. Look for advisors who don’t charge for their services (many earn commissions from the cruise lines), so that upgraded room really is free.

4. Upgrade with points

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Most travelers are familiar with points-earning credit cards tied to airlines and hotels, but did you know that cruise lines offer them, too? If you have a credit card linked to lines such as Norwegian and Royal Caribbean, you can redeem your points for “free” cruise cabin upgrades.

For example, with 150,000 Royal Caribbean points, you can upgrade your room on a four- to eight-night cruise departing between September and May for free, as long as the room difference is not more than $300. Of course, the offer has lots of exclusions, but if the stars align, you can turn everyday credit card purchases into an upgraded cruise cabin.

5. Be loyal to a cruise line

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Celebrity's Captain's Club

“Loyalty is a big factor for the cruise lines, and once you reach the higher levels of a loyalty program, you could receive complimentary or reduced rate upgrades,” says Mahnken.

For example, members of Celebrity’s Captain’s Club loyalty program can request a complimentary one-category upgrade during the booking process. One category isn’t much, but it could save you a few dollars. When you reach the highest Diamond level in Carnival's VIFP Club, you will receive a one-time free cabin upgrade from one category to the next (e.g. outside to balcony).

So sign up for the programs every time you sail a new line and make sure you include your member number on your booking for each subsequent cruise you take with that company. Upgrades are not the only perks you’ll receive, and it won’t cost you a cent.

6. Bid on an upgrade

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Several cruise lines such as Norwegian and Royal Caribbean now invite select cruisers to bid for an upgrade. The upgrades aren’t free, but you can get a higher-category cabin for less than if you paid for it outright.

However, you need to be savvy to have success bidding for an upgraded cruise room. “You can bid for the minimum, but I recommend you consider going at least a little higher to hopefully differentiate your bid from others,” says Mahnken. You can go back and change your bid at any time, but once the cruise line accepts it, your credit card is charged and there’s no backing out.

This auction process is not for everyone. Mahnken warns that if you originally booked connecting cabins or accessible cruise rooms, you will not be guaranteed the same if your upgrade is accepted. Also, you won’t be able to pick your cabin location for the upgrade; in that way, it’s like a guarantee room.

7. Accept an offer from the upgrade fairy

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When cruise ships have one category or one sailing that’s more popular than others, the revenue managers will try to free up space in that category by offering targeted upgrades to booked passengers. The offers are a like a magical surprise, so long-time cruisers joke that they’re like a visit from the upgrade fairy. 

You’ll need to pay for the upgrade, but you’ll still get the nicer room at a discount.

Another version of this upgrade offer is when cruise lines try to fill unsold cruise cabins on less popular sailings by sending free or discounted upgrade offers to their loyalty program members booked on those cruises. If you’re trying to be strategic about getting a cheap cruise cabin upgrade, booking off-season itineraries gives you a better chance of getting that offer.

8. Switch cabins when prices drop

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It can be annoying to track cruise fares as they rise and fall, especially if you’re already booked on a cruise. But paying attention to pricing can lead to a free upgrade.

How? If a ship isn’t selling out, the cruise lines might drop the price on cabin categories above yours. When you see those rates come down, perhaps to a similar price that you paid for a lower-category cabin, call your cruise line or travel agent and ask if you can switch your reservation to the nicer room.

If the fine print allows it, congratulations! You just got yourself a free or discounted cabin upgrade.

9. Get lucky at the pier

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The upgrade that everyone wants, but people rarely get, is the free upgrade at embarkation. 

If the cruise ship is not sold out, cruise lines may decide to upgrade either its most loyal guests or new cruisers to the line for free. The cruise line hopes that the upgrade hooks you on the larger cabin, so you book a pricier room on your next cruise. Or, perhaps they’re betting on the upgrade convincing a first timer to sail with that line again.

The only thing you can do to increase your chances of this kind upgrade is to book sailings for special occasions and mark that in your reservation, and sail with the same cruise line over and over.

10. Ask for an upgrade onboard

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It takes chutzpah, but you can march yourself over to Guest Services and politely inquire if the cruise line has any available balcony cabins or mini-suites you can move into free of charge. 

This strategy will not work most of the time. Perhaps if you’re celebrating a special occasion and the crew member is in a good spirits, you’ll get lucky. Worst case, they say no – or allow you to move if you pay the difference.

I did read a helpful tip if you want to try this approach. Don’t make your move on embarkation day, when the Guest Services desk is swamped and everyone else is asking for a free upgrade. Wait until after the first port of call. By then, ship staff will know which passengers were no-shows or left the ship early, and it’s too late for anyone to actually book the cabin. Since the cruise line can’t make money on the empty room and no one else is bothering them about it, the managers may just let you have it.

It’s always worth a try to nab that elusive free cruise cabin upgrade!

Still confused about cruise rooms? Learn more about how to choose a cruise ship cabin

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My last cruise before the pandemic was a late November 2019 sailing on Norwegian Encore. I was booked on MSC Meraviglia in March 2020, but the world shut down a week before I was supposed to depart. Nearly two years and two doses of Pfizer vaccine later, I finally boarded my first post-pandemic cruise ship, Carnival Pride.

Did I spend the cruise anxiously avoiding my shipmates and hiding on my cabin balcony? Did I throw caution – and masks – to the wind, and join the crowds like it was 2019? Was it the relaxing getaway I’d been dreaming about through lockdown?

Here’s a recap of my first cruise in nearly two years.

Pre-cruise

I’ll be honest – I had extra pre-cruise jitters before this sailing. I was nervous about being around crowds of people and eating in indoor restaurants, something I hadn’t done yet. What if I brought Covid home to my unvaccinated children? I checked Amazon daily to see if my new face masks and snorkel set would arrive in time. I worried that my Covid test results would be delayed and I’d be turned away at the pier. 

I was a hot mess.

In reality, scheduling a Covid test through CVS was easy; the only trick is making an appointment two weeks before for the best availability. My results were in my hands within hours. Amazon delivered on schedule. My suitcase was still functional, if a bit dusty from sitting in a closet for two years. My children were thrilled about two weeks with extra Daddy time. Everything was going to be OK.

Embarkation

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Empty Baltimore cruise terminal

Whenever I road trip up or down I-95 from my Northern Virginia home, I like to build in buffer time for the inevitable traffic. But previous Baltimore cruisers were reporting that due to new protocols, you couldn’t even park your car in the Baltimore cruise port parking lot much before your designated cruise check-in time. And there isn’t an obvious place to wait in the industrial setting. (Though now that I’ve been, I know there’s a Harris Teeter a mile away where all the crew go.)

Somehow I managed to time it perfectly, and we were allowed to park. I’ve heard that in pre-pandemic times, it could take an hour to get from the port entrance through luggage drop-off to parking and check-in, but we saw maybe two cars ahead of us. The whole process was fast and convenient, and the terminal building was a minute’s walk from the parking lot.

The terminal was also empty. I might have seen more staff than cruisers! Everyone wore their mandatory masks. At security, a guard checked our documents, vaccination card, and test results, and we didn’t need to show them more than once. Our bags went through the X-ray machine, and no one asked about our bottle of wine or cans of seltzer. Perhaps they only check if you are carrying excessive alcohol?

We only waited a minute post-security before a port worker waved us over to a check-in station. (Experienced cruisers know that this is usually where you wait forever.) We were asked to remove our masks briefly to take the security photo.

Not only was it perhaps the most pleasant cruise check-in I’ve experienced, we got the welcome news that Carnival had upgraded us from a balcony cabin to a suite!

Another embarkation day win was the changed muster drill procedures. I have yet to meet a cruiser who isn’t annoyed to stop what they’re doing, grab a life jacket, and stand shoulder to shoulder in the heat listening to a safety briefing. 

To avoid crowds, Carnival now requires that all guests report to their muster station anytime between boarding and sailaway, check in with the crew members there, and learn how to put on a life jacket. A safety announcement is broadcast before sailaway throughout the entire ship, so you can listen from your cabin, your deck chair, or a bar stool. The muster was quick and easy, and I hope Carnival keeps the new procedures after the world returns to normal.

Social distancing and masks

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Carnival Pride lido deck music trivia

Carnival recommends that guests wear face masks indoors, except when actively eating and drinking. However, masks are only required in elevators, shops, casino, and at indoor events where children are present. Additionally, you must wear a mask when being seated at a restaurant, getting food in the buffet, and walking through the gym and spa, though you don’t need masks when seated at a restaurant table or actively exercising.

Many people, like myself, wore masks in indoor areas at all times. Others only wore them when absolutely required. On several occasions, I saw buffet workers remind guests to put their masks on and in one case, gave the passenger a mask to wear. Most people complied. We did share an elevator with one man who was curt with the crew member asking him to put on his mask in the elevator and not only refused to put it on, but spent the entire ride complaining about the need for masks.

With the ship at 70 percent capacity, social distancing was easier than I thought. I avoided peak hours at the buffet, and brought my food to a quiet corner or to the outside decks to eat. I had the flexible dining plan, so I could avoid the crush of hungry cruisers descending on the main restaurant all at once. The Butteflies Lounge where the comedians performed was likely the most packed space on the ship, and the emcee would remind folks to put on their masks.

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Carnival Pride pandemic formal night

I soon got over my nervousness in crowds, reminding myself that the chance that these vaccinated and recently Covid tested passengers had contracted the virus was very slim. Still, I tried to stay outside as much as possible (so easy on a Bahamas cruise) and keep away from others when I could. Carnival Pride has not had a case of Covid since its mid-September relaunch, so the precautions are helping.

I don’t mind wearing masks, and I recommend the disposable masks vs. the cloth masks for cruising as they’re lighter weight. On the other hand, it was fun to see all the different masks cruisers brought – including sparkly masks for formal nights and masks with tropical or nautical themes. You could really have fun accessorizing if you’re so inclined.

Shipboard activities and dining

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Thriller dance lesson on Carnival Pride

Ship life is much the same as it was pre-Covid. A few staple Carnival events, like the Groove for St. Jude and hairy chest contest, are canceled for the time being because they create crowds or require too much passenger interaction. Camp Ocean is closed.

I was able to take my pick of multiple trivia contests each day, and the Lido Deck music trivia still gathers a crowd and turns into a huge singalong during the answer reveal. Carnival is known for its live music, and multiple performers were staged around the ship. The only difference was that the stage areas were cordoned off so passengers wouldn’t get too close to the unmasked musicians. 
The casino was hopping on sea days, and the pool area packed. But it wasn’t too difficult to find a lounge chair somewhere, especially in the morning or late afternoon. (Lunchtime remains a popular time on the pool deck.)

All the onboard restaurants were open. Carnival Pride has so many Lido Deck restaurants – burgers, Mexican, pizza, deli, and the buffet – that it was easy to pick up food and eat outside, and passengers were dispersed among the various food counters. Note that unlike on other lines, Carnival’s buffet is still self-serve, so I tried to use the hand sanitizer before and after touching all those communal tongs.

I would have liked both the salad bar and the fruit and dessert buffet to be open longer into the afternoon because I found myself doing a late brunch on sea days and wanting to eat again around 3:30 when the only options were pizza, burgers, and deli – and self-serve ice cream for dessert. Room service is now all fee-based, which is a bummer when you want to dine off hours.

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Edy the dancing waiter on Carnival Pride

Menus in all dining venues and bars have moved online; check them via the Carnival Hub app or by scanning a QR code. The waiters do have access to print menus when your phone is struggling with the codes.

The main dining room did not feel crowded, and we never had to wait for a table. Even two-tops were easy to get. The Carnival waiters wore masks, but that didn’t stop them from dancing on the serving stands. Food and service were as I remembered, and there’s plenty of chocolate melting cake to go around.

Onshore activities

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Paradise Cove beach resort in Freeport Bahamas

For me, the ports have always been the highlight of cruising. Tourism is definitely down. Nassau can accommodate six to eight cruise ships at a time, but Carnival Pride shared the pier with only Freedom of the Seas. Stores and beaches were not crowded, and tours are operating at reduced capacity.

For example, our Nassau snorkeling trip, booked through Carnival, could only take 10 passengers rather than 16. It meant that we all had room to stretch out on the speed boat instead of being crammed in like sardines, and had fewer people to collect every time we got back on the boat. I know it’s bad for the operators, but it made the guest experience more enjoyable. In Freeport, we booked an independent outing to a private beach and were the only people there for the entire morning. 

Half Moon Cay was crowded, of course, as the private island is an itinerary highlight. By walking down the beach, we were able to find a shady and more secluded area. We did not experience lines at the barbecue, and it was easy to claim a picnic table to ourselves. 

On this trip, I definitely felt compelled to maximize my time off the ship, which meant I put more effort into finding things to do onshore. To me, this made for a better overall cruise experience – even if we raced up to the ship in Freeport about one minute before the All Aboard time. 

Final thoughts

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Towel heart on Carnival Pride

I needn’t have worried. Getting away from daily responsibilities, the flood of emails, the home I’ve been stuck in for 19 months, and the stress of not knowing whether the people you encounter can infect you with Covid was something I desperately needed. The risk of catching Covid on the ship is so small compared to the mental health benefits of a week of R&R.

Once you get used to seeing your shipmates and crew in masks, the cruise experience is much the same as it was before the pandemic. I never found wearing a mask to get in the way of the fun I was having, and I never felt like any of the activities I wanted to do were curtailed due to Covid.

Would I cruise again this year? Definitely! I would want an itinerary where I could spend the majority of time outdoors, and I’d much prefer a drive-to cruise than a fly-in one. I likely will wait until my kids are vaccinated to bring them onboard. But overall, the experience was less stressful than I had feared, and I feel wonderfully refreshed after my time away. 

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Celebrity Cruises has released its list of Alaska cruises for 2023.

Three Celebrity Cruises cruise ships will be deployed to Alaska in 2023, with the first sailing beginning May 3, 2022.

Celebrity's cruise season in Alaska runs between May and mid-September, and includes the Inside Passage on every itinerary.

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Icy Strait Point
  • Celebrity Eclipse will sail roundtrip from Vancouver offering seven-night itineraries to Hubbard Glacier. The itinerary also includes visits to Juneau, Ketchikan and either Sitka or Icy Strait Point.
  • Celebrity Solstice offers seven-night itineraries sailing roundtrip from Seattle, and one nine-night Ultimate Alaska voyage. Celebrity Solstice is the only Celebrity ship to visit the pristine Endicott Arm Fjord and Dawes Glacier. Additional stops include visits to Victoria, Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan.
  • Celebrity Millennium will sail seven-night, open-ended itineraries between Vancouver and Seward.

The new 2023 Alaska sailings open for sale to the general public on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021.

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Hubbard Glacier

One reason to book an Alaska cruise with Celebrity is every cruise offers guests the chance to learn more about the culture and history of the Last Frontier, from the native Tinglit people to the gold rush days that brought adventurers and fortune seekers to the wilds of Alaska.

More Alaska information:

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