Cruise bookings are rebounding to record levels as COVID-19 and occupancy restrictions are loosening, and cruise veterans and newbies are packing their bags. What to stow in those bags depends on where you’re sailing, length of the trip, anticipated weather and the sort of ship you’ve booked. But there also are new considerations, due to the pandemic. On board, you might find that masks are required in some public areas or that testing, vaccinations and boosters may be mandatory, says Gene Sloan, senior cruise and travel reporter for The Points Guy website. “Nothing is uniform, line to line or even ship to ship, when it comes to COVID-related protocols,” he says. Even fully vaccinated passengers may be subject to testing.
Vaccinated veteran cruiser Bill Harriman of Spring, Texas, sailed to South America in May on the 229-suite Seabourn Odyssey. The retired oil company exec and his wife had to test before embarking. Masks weren’t required but recommended, and he packed them. “It’s not back to cruising as it was, but not very restrictive,” he reports. “Though there is a lot of sanitation and hand cleaning.”
If you’re ready to sail, heed these tips to maximize your experience.
1. Look to the CDC for guidance.
In late March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) dropped its two-year-old advisory against cruising, leaving it up to passengers to assess the risks. In May, it dropped the percentage of unvaccinated passengers allowed per ship from 5% to 10%, though some lines require 100% vaccination. The Cruise Critic website lists line-by-line requirements. Another planning aid is the CDC’s Cruise Ship Status Dashboard that rates vessels from green (no reported COVID cases) to red (high level of cases). Some cruise lines refuse to say how many passengers are infected, and COVID still is causing passengers to quarantine on board or before returning home. The CDC recommends buying trip insurance to cover health care overseas and trip cancellation.
2. Pack masks.
On some other ships, both crew and passengers must mask up in public areas, but protocols are changing fast. Prior to departure, get an update from your cruise provider, including pre-trip testing time frames and requirements for shore excursions. So bring a mask, or a few, in case you need or want to wear one on the ship, on tenders ferrying passengers ashore or in port.
3. Choose bags carefully.
The typical stateroom is too small to leave suitcases out in the open. Closets aren’t likely to fit all your bags, so bring luggage that can be stored under the bed. “Think longer rather than wider,” says Chris Gray Faust, managing editor of the Cruise Critic website. The under-bed bag can be used to store extra clothes or dirty laundry. Expandable luggage is a good option in case you need extra inches to bring back souvenirs. Consider a fanny pack or small backpack to keep hands free on shore excursions. A mesh or cloth tote bag can double as a beach or shopping bag, without taking up precious space. And an over-the-door shoe organizer can hold toiletries and cosmetics in the bathroom, making up for cramped counter space in standard cabins.
Some savvy cruisers bring spare hangers for closets (or ask cabin stewards for extras). Another tip: Bring gallon-size sealable plastic bags, which are great for taking home damp bathing suits and preventing packed toiletries from leaking in your luggage.