This February, my wife and I took an 8-night Eastern Caribbean cruise. This is our 5th or 6th cruise but our first during Covid. This was post peak-Omicron but still definitely in the midst of it. Since health protocols is probably the part people have the most questions about, I’ll start with that information and then dig into the stats around the trip (and photos).
Covid Health Protocols
As Carnival’s health protocols are constantly evolving, you need to check their Covid-19 Guest Protocols page where they explain the current processes.
The only changes in the booking processes were that we had to sign more acknowledgements of the following:
- We understood the risks and uncertainties associated with cruising during covid.
- We understood the vaccination and testing requirements
- We were required to purchase “Vacation Protection” (trip insurance) which was roughly 10% of the overall cruise cost (before port taxes and port fees).
It was required that everyone boarding be fully vaccinated using a Carnival-approved vaccination. Boosters were not required. There is an exception process cruisers could go through but what we were hearing on the cruise Facebook page was that they were scrutinizing the requests.
We had to fill out an attestation a month or two ahead of time acknowledging that we were vaccinated (or to begin the exception approval process) and they validated again during the boarding process.
Everyone boarding needed to have a negative test from an accepted vendor no more than 3 days before the cruise. Since we were embarking on Saturday, my wife and I tested on Thursday (we were flying on Friday).
We used the at-home self-test rapid antigen from Abbot. See the section “Is self-test acceptable” on this page for more information.
Our experience was that we did the following:
- Ordered the tests from the Optum store (you have to use their branded/labeled tests). It was roughly $150 for 6 tests - the minimum order size at the time. I’ve heard you can buy 2-packs now.
- We did NOT open the tests (they require to watch you open it on camera)
- Installed the eMed applciation on our iPhones (this is where your record is stored)
- Test day: we used our laptop to go to eMed.com and start the test process. They walk you through everything - it took about 15 minutes per person and was very easy.
- After about 15 minutes the results show up on your phone… except when they don’t. My wife’s never did but they did email her a PDF that was acceptable.
Testing is also available at some ports the day of travel however you must make reservations ahead of time and there is a cost.
Since we had our testing and vaccination paperwork completed we decided to try the new VeriFLY process Carnival accepts. Basically you install the VeriFLY app and upload your proof of identity, vaccination, and negative test, and after validating it they provide you a clearance that you can show at the port. Whole process only took a few minutes and they were liberal in what they would accept (photos, screenshots, etc).
If you decide to try this, bring acceptable paper backups of everything.
Our embarkation was at Port Canaveral Terminal 6.
At the port you have a checkin time (ours was 11:30AM) - don’t try to come early but you can always come late (just not too late!).
When we arrived there were two lines. One was for people who had everything ready to go - this line was pretty long and moved reasonably fast. The other line was for people who either needed day-of testing, had vaccine exceptions, or simply did not have their paperwork. That line was short but appeared to move very slowly.
Once at the counter we needed to provide proof of our vaccination and testing results. Cell-service was non-existant in this metal cube building so even though I had VeriFLY open and ready, it was faster to just hand them our paper backups.
We did see people having their paperwork thoroughly reviewed and at least one couple was turned away because what they brought was not acceptable. They really did more than just glance - they compared IDs, checked dates, made sure things were from approved vendors, etc.
Once through the line we were able to get our boarding pass (not room keys) and were able to board. Once boarded we needed to check in at our muster station (it is listed on your boarding pass) and hear a 30-second talk about how life jackets work. It was so much better than a full muster drill. It really just took a minute.
At 1:30 the rooms were opened for access. Your key will be in a tamper-proof sealed envelope at your door. When you arrive you can ensure it has not been tampered with and then securely enter your room. Luggage will show up in the next 2-5 hours (in the hallway outside your door).
Cruise and Ship
|Dates||February 12-20, 2022 (8 nights)|
|Stateroom||6396 (8B Balcony)|
|DAY||PORT OF CALL||ARRIVE||DEPART|
|Sat||Port Canaveral (Orlando), FL||-||4:00 PM|
|Sun||Fun Day At Sea||-||-|
|Mon||Fun Day At Sea||-||-|
|Tue||St. Maarten, NA||9:00 AM||6:00 PM|
|Wed||St Kitts, WI||7:00 AM||5:00 PM|
|Thu||San Juan, Puerto Rico||7:00 AM||2:00 PM|
|Fri||Grand Turk||9:30 AM||5:30 PM|
|Sat||Fun Day At Sea||-||-|
|Sun||Port Canaveral (Orlando), FL||8:00 AM||-|
Things We Learned (Ports of Call)
- St. Maarten’s two sides each have a distinct vibe. I would suggest focusing on one or the other but not trying to do both in one afternoon. We were not looking for a beach day so we went to a French cooking class on the French side and had a great time.
- San Juan is definitely a new favorite location. I anticipate we’ll come here for a proper multiday vacation soon.
- St. Kitts’ duty free had the best liquor selection. I was able to grab a bottle of Blanton’s for about $10 over US MSRP.
- Grand Turk is your best bet for a casual beach day.
- Don’t pre-pay for a chair or umbrella as there will be hundreds for rent on the beach.
- If you walk down the beach (to the left as you leave the ship) you will eventually end up at Jack’s Shack (5-10 minute walk). Very friendly staff, good drinks, and surprisingly good food. Get the conch.
Things We Learned (Ship and Sea Days)
- Deck 5 on the Magic is a promenade deck. It sticks out further than the decks above it so if you are on deck 6 (like we were) with a balcony, you will be looking right over hot tubs and sunbathers. We like to sit and watch the flying fish jump through the ways from our balcony but that was not as easy with this setup. Going a few decks up or down would have helped.
- On this ship the Alchemy Bar is right next to the stage where bands play throughout the day and evening. It’s not as quiet as on other ship layouts.
- The Red Frog interior bar has a decent rum selection.
- We paid for the multi-day Thalassotherapy package and were up in the pool and steam rooms daily. You need to use it almost daily to make it worthwhile.
- I’m not a touchy-feely guy so I was a little hesitant to get my first massage (we went with a couples package). So I probably surprised my wife when I immediately bought a second for a few nights later.
- The movies on the lido deck at night are awesome and very few people come to them. Great way to chill out.
- The Steakhouse was good but if you are only going to splurge on one meal, get the Chef’s Table. It was amazing. It sells out quickly so make your reservations before boarding. You will find out what night your reservation is for when you board (it took a few days for us to find out - they can let you know at the front desk).
- The Italian restaurant was disappointing. It’s free for lunch, though, which would have been fine but we were not thrilled with paying extra for the dinner we received.
- The Hub App is improving but still has a lot of issues. Chat messages could take hours to arrive and it sometimes did not have our reservations listed. But it was great for pulling up maps or seeing what was happening.
- We did not use ship wifi but many people we talked to were and there were some complaints about reliability and performance. If you are planning to work on the ship be prepared for that.
- Our T-Mobile plan provided us at least 2G connectivity at each port. This was enough to check in but not enough to upload photos. I’m not sure it mattered but I disabled all services that automatically uploaded photos and turned off background data for most applications.
Things to Pack
- Cruise-safe (no surge protector) power strip with USB. Be aware that the stateroom has one US-style and one European-style outlet under the mirror. The US-style is “upside down” so getting this to plug in was a very tight fit but we were able to get it to work. A small (inches) cord could have fixed the problem.
- Magnetic Hooks to hang clothing on the wall. The stateroom walls (but not the bathroom) are all steel so these work great to hold hats, damp swimsuits, etc.
- Luggage tag holders. You’ll need to secure luggage tags to your bags (you can print them at home) - stapling them works but these will help ensure they don’t get ripped apart and your luggage lost.
- Towel bands to hold your towel to your chair. This will ensure that when you put your towel on a chair at 7am, and then walk away for 12 hours, that no one else will ever be able to use it.