We got our final world cruise paperwork today.
So…. do we feel safe boarding a ship again? Absolutely! Now that we’ve had our itinerary confirmed (more about that in a separate post) December 23rd can’t be here soon enough!
We’ve only ever cruised with Viking, whether river or ocean, and have always been impressed that they stay in the forefront of innovations and safety. To start with, the ocean ships are smaller than most, only 930 passengers at full capacity. That’s like being back at my job at school, where I always felt comfortable and safe.
There are no inside cabins (except for the crew) – every stateroom has a lovely big balcony.
Each stateroom – including those of the crew – has its own air circulation system, so there is no “shared” air in sleeping areas, but nonetheless additional air purification systems have been added while the ships have not been at sea this past year.
Naturally, the pandemic changed things for cruise companies, but we’ve been thrilled with Viking’s responses.
Here’s what we know so far:
Before leaving home, there’ll be a digital health questionnaire to complete.
Our included flights (for this particular cruise) are in first class, with lots of space between passengers.
Airport to ship transfers are in dedicated sanitized coaches, which we’ve been told will be at 1/2 capacity to allow physical distancing.
Ship boarding times are pre-assigned and spaced out.
Embarkation includes not just a temperature check, but also a PCR test processed in the ship’s own laboratory. (You got that, right? Each ship has been outfitted with a lab to allow daily on-board testing, along with the additional medical crew to perform that process.) Depending on local regulations in Fort Lauderdale on our embarkation date we’ve been forewarned that we might be asked to wait for our test result (an estimated maximum of four hours) in a designated waiting area.
In addition to the on-board PCR testing, there will be also be daily digital health questionnaires to complete, and the ship is newly equipped with automated thermal cameras which will be used each time we return to the ship after an excursion.
The group size for excursions has been decreased to allow distancing on coaches – and Viking already gave each passenger their own personal headsets for the cruise duration to use on walking tours, so there’s never a need to crowd in close to hear the group leader. Naturally, they’re also supplying complimentary masks, which will eliminate the question as to whether passengers’ masks have been properly washed.
We remain curious as to how dining will feel with the new changes. Tables in the restaurants were already widely spaced and, with so many dining options on board, never crowded. Additionally, there is lots of outdoor dining. In the very popular upper deck buffet, other than tongs for sushi, nothing was “self-serve” anyway, and all foods were behind glass; you just had to ask and your every food wish was fulfilled by a knowledgeable and smiling server or line cook. Now everything including the sushi will be “served”. One change we’ve had communicated to us is the need to reserve our evening dining time in the main non-buffet indoor venue – which was previously just “walk up to the Maître D’ anytime to be seated” – to manage sufficient spacing between occupied tables.
Each time new protocols are put in place we’ve received detailed emails containing links to videos (with even more detailed explanations), and Viking’s website’s Health & Safety page and FAQs are constantly being updated. At the beginning of May, we were informed that 100% of passengers AND CREW must be fully vaccinated. (This cruise was sold with a “risk-free guarantee” allowing people to change or defer their cruise up to 14 days before the sailing date, so anyone unvaccinated by then – or whose AstraZeneca vaccines like mine might not be accepted everywhere – could make new arrangements.)
With all these protocols in place, we’ve commented several times in the past year that we’d have almost felt safer on board a Viking ship than locked down in our own community.
Bottom line….. we can’t wait to be on a plane on December 23rd, and aboard the Viking Star on December 24th in Fort Lauderdale for our 141-day adventure !!