What’s Cruising Going To Look Like in 2021?

In March 2020, I was scheduled on a Mekong River cruise to Vietnam and Cambodia with AmaWaterways. I had booked my cabins, received my visas, and cleared my calendar. Then the world shut down. Countries closed their borders and cruise ships came to a halt. Eight months later, I still have no idea when my cruise will be rescheduled for.

Curious to know when will you be able to go on your next cruise vacation? While there’s no certainty, chances are 2021 will bring new changes to the cruise industry, making it safer and viable.

Cruise to the Italian Riviera

Europe is Sailing

Cruise ships in Europe started sailing in Summer 2020 amidst the pandemic. With only European passengers on board and local (mainly river cruise) itineraries, many of the cruises were able to contain COVID-19 outbreaks. “With enhanced measures in place – including 100% testing for passengers and crew prior to boarding, mask-wearing, physical distancing requirements, highly controlled shore excursions and many more, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) members have gradually resumed sailing in Europe and other parts of the world with success,” the organization said. CLIA members comprise 95% of global oceangoing cruise capacity.

AmaWaterways became the first U.S. based river cruise line to resume operations in Europe. They followed protocols outlined by not only the CDC, but the World Health Organization, IG RiverCruise and other official authorities.

US Suspended Until Dec 31, 2020

In the U.S., CDC banned cruising until October. On Oct 31st, it lifted its No Sail Order on cruise ships in U.S. waters, but with a series of requirements – 74 in fact. CLIA member cruise lines extended their suspension of cruise operations through Dec. 31, following the CDC’s latest order, which ended the cruise ship sailing ban but replaced it with an extensive series of requirements cruise lines must undertake to resume sailing again in U.S. waters. These were established by The Healthy Sail Panel.

Cruising on Anthem of the Seas in the Mediterranean

Simulations/ Test Voyages

The framework includes a requirement that ships conduct test sailings prior to restarting commercial operations and present to the CDC a report showing that those sailings were successful in mitigating the risk of spread to crew, passengers and communities. 

Once a simulated voyage is complete and the cruise line reports on its results, the CDC will determine whether that ship will receive a Conditional Sailing Certificate or if it must modify its practices or engage in additional simulated voyages.

Also among the requirements is that a cruise line must apply for elements of Conditional Sailing Certificate at least 60 days before a ship plans to launch passenger cruises, which is likely to push any sailing in U.S. waters until at least early January.

More than 100,000 people signed up to take part in Royal Caribbean’s test sailings just days after the cruise line put out a call for volunteers. Sign up here if you want to be on a simulated voyage.

volunteer on a cruise
Cruise lines are looking for volunteers on simulated voyages

Sailing Agreements

Further, there are new restrictions by the ports. Cruise lines must establish agreements with shoreside healthcare entities in any ports in which they plan to operate, in case they need to evacuate any passengers and crew in need of Covid-19 care to a hospital.

sail to key west

For example, Key West has capped the number of cruisers allowed ashore and the size of ships allowed to dock, and to give priority to ships based on their health and environmental records. Their measures include banning cruise ships that carry more than 1,300 people, including passengers and crew; allowing only 1,500 cruise passengers per day to disembark; and requiring ports to prioritize berthing to companies based on their scores with the CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program and their record of environmental violations. According to the Florida Ports Council, Key West is one of the busiest cruise ports in the nation, with about 393 ships and 913,323 passengers visiting during the 2018-19 season.

viking world cafe

Food and Tours

Meal service and entertainment venues are going to be modified to facilitate social distancing. While most cruise ships around the world stay docked, many cruise lines are launching new designs and new ships. AmaWaterways is replacing buffets with more personalized dining experiences, from à la carte dining to debuting show kitchens on the newly renovated sister ships AmaBella and AmaVerde. Silversea is launching a new culinary focused Silver Moon ship.

Shore excursions may be fewer, and restricted to smaller groups, rather than bus load. Many of these now focus on outdoor adventures, natural spaces, sustainability and ecotourism.

Views from a Cruise Ship

Smaller

Heard of barges, gulets or Turkish schooners? Luxury tour operators and yacht rental companies are seeing growing demand from first-time customers and ocean cruisers for the variety of small-boat products that enable families or groups of friends to travel in their own bubble.  

These include slow traveling river barges that carry six to 18 passengers. They have sails but are typically powered by engines. You can do a full buyout to create your own itinerary and meals in a Covid-safe bubble. Where could you go? Turkey, Croatia, Mexico, and most of the Caribbean is open to US citizens.

In the meantime, learn about Croatia’s delicious food

Also important to note that The Framework for Conditional Sailing Order applies to all cruise ships, which the Order defines as commercial passenger ships with the capacity to carry more than 250 people and where an overnight stay onboard by passengers or crew is anticipated.

cruise in the galapagos islands

Private Islands

To avoid crowds and port agreements, some cruise lines are developing their own private island, just for the passengers to enjoy. Expect more itineraries from Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings. CEO Frank Del Rio said that the cruise company is the only one with a private destination in both the Bahamas, with Great Stirrup Cay, and the Western Caribbean, where it developed Harvest Caye in Belize.

Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean International’s senior vice president of sales, trade support and service, confirmed that the first sailings the line will offer when it resumes service will be short cruises to its private island, Perfect Day at CocoCay.

Continuous Testing

When you do get on a cruise, expect to be tested before and during the sail. According to Viking Cruises, “Continuous PCR testing, along with our extensive onboard hygiene protocols, will lead to making Viking ships a safe place to get away to and explore the world.” The Norwegian cruise operator has installed a laboratory capable of running daily Covid-19 tests on all guests and crew onboard its 930-passenger Viking Star.

When onboard infections are detected in time, they can avoid any ship wide outbreaks. The important things is that the ships have a procedures (and space) to isolate those who are infected.

cruise travel in Greenland

Cruise Restart Will Take Time

It is unlikely that cruise ships will start sailing in January 2021. It takes time to bring crew from various countries, quarantine and test them, provision and prepare ships for service, and deploy them to ports. This will likely take a minimum of two months. The bigger piece for all the cruise lines is to combat media negativity and consumer fears.

two cruise ships
Photo by Samson Bush on Pexels.com

Economic Impact

Why should you even care? With rising COVID-19 cases, who wants to book, let alone go on a cruise in the distant future?

CLIA says that each day without cruise operations in the U.S. results in nearly 1,000 American jobs lost and that from mid-March through today (Nov 2020). It is estimated that the suspension of cruise operations has resulted in a loss of more than $25 billion in economic activity and over 164,000 American jobs. Globally, the cruise industry generates over $150 billion in economic activity every year, supporting 1.17 million jobs paying more than $50 billion in salaries and wages.

“The positive news regarding a vaccine, together with our Travel Waiver Plus program, proven health and safety protocols, and innovative designs give guests peace of mind,” says Kristin Karst, Executive Vice President and Co-Founder of AmaWaterways.

And when you return from your cruise ship or river cruise voyage, check here for the latest CDC advise to passengers.

Read about my fly/ cruise to Antarctica in January 2020

7 Reasons to Sail on Anthem of The Seas This Winter

Anthem of the Seas is the third largest cruise ship in the world and after months of sailing in the Pacific and Mediterranean, the ship has finally arrived in the Atlantic.

As I approach the docks, my complete attention draws towards a majestic 18-story building. It is longer than seven Boeing jetliners and there’s a giant glass capsule jetting out of its top. Anthem of the Seas by Royal Caribbean is the biggest ship I have ever seen and most spectators at the port feel the same.  Along with 4,179 other passengers, I walk into this floating island with pure astonishment. In the next two weeks, I was about to experience over thirty dining establishments, nightly entertainment in four venues, adventures like skydiving at sea, my first Robotic bar, and nine amazing ports of call across five countries. From where I sit, this is the best cruise in the world.

With each passing year, the cruising industry is getting more innovative with high tech infrastructure, modern architecture, and upscale culinary experiences. For this winter, Anthem of the Seas promises the best travel experience in cruising to those looking for luxury at affordable prices. Here’s my review of Anthem of the Seas. 

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1. Largest floating bedrooms

The interior of Anthem of the Seas is modern and elegant, reminding me of some of the classy hotels you would see in Las Vegas. Intricate flooring and ceiling work are specifically chosen to set a different tone on each floor, so you can feel the change in ambiance going from one part of the ship to the other.

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With 2,090 staterooms Anthem has more guest accommodations than the tallest hotel in the world. It also has more balcony rooms than any other cruise ship. The most fascinating accommodations are the spacious two-story lofts and three-bedroom family suites that come with a living/dining room, a TV room, a balcony Jacuzzi, and panoramic views. Say goodbye to claustrophobia!

2. Widest culinary selection at sea

If you are used to the one or two dining options presented on most cruise ships, be blown away by the culinary selection here. On the Anthem, there are 18 restaurant concepts to choose from. Themed restaurants include Japanese, Italian, French, Asian Pacific, American, British pub, cafe, buffet, and much more. Each one has a unique ambiance and creative cocktail menu.

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While just the design of the restaurants is worth checking out, the food is comparable to any upscale restaurant on land. Where else can you taste creations by world-renowned chefs such as Jamie Oliver, Michael Schwartz, and Devin Alexander on a floating island!

Furthermore, you are not restricted to sitting at round banquet tables along with other guests you don’t know. Couples can easily have a date night while families can reserve larger tables for privacy. Did I mention that a server is assigned to you for the entire cruise, who travels with you from restaurant to restaurant?

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3. Nonstop adrenaline rush

The activities on the Anthem accommodate not only families but adventurers as well. Choose more relaxed bingo, guess the tunes, or jeopardy game time, but then you can also go skydiving with RipCord by iFLY, go-carting, rock climbing, and skating at SeaPlex, surfing at FlowRider, and be lifted 300 feet above sea level in a pod on the iconic North Star.

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4. Serious fitness solutions

Sure, most cruise ships have a little gym and nice spa services, but on the Anthem, they take physical health seriously. There are fitness classes – yoga, stretch, Pilates, spin, even a boot camp, for those who want to stay healthy. You can get a personal instructor who will train with you, a nutritionist to consult with, and can select from several anti-aging solutions.

5. The best of Broadway

Anthem of the Seas offers an extraordinary lineup of multidimensional entertainment in state-of-the-art venues with mind-blowing technology. Shows such as Spectra’s Cabaret, We Will Rock You, and The Gift are huge hits, while international artists from around the world fly in to perform live music throughout the cruise.

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6. Entertaining for kids and teens

On no other cruise will you find two entire floors dedicated to teens and kids. SeaPlex is the largest indoor active space onboard offering tons of activities to stay active, from basketball and ping pong tournaments during the day, to a floating DJ booth at night. Kids’ favorite characters from Shrek, Madagascar, and Kung Fu Panda entertain the young ones. There is also a state-of-the-art video arcade and 3D movie room, and a Johnny Rockets diner for when hunger strikes.

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7. Inclusive to LGBT community

The daily cruise planner delivered to the stateroom lists all the activities happening throughout the ship. There are lunches for singles travelers and mixers for the LGBT community, offering a chance to make new friends onboard.

Anthem of the Seas sails around the world, and is now making its course around The Bahamas, Jamaica, Haiti, Grand Cayman, Mexico, Honduras, Puerto Rico, St. Kitts, Barbados, Martinique, and St. Maarten, offering guests the opportunity to truly immerse themselves in the destinations they visit.

How not to get fat on your next cruise vacation

Rough estimates by fitness instructors show that most cruisers gain an average of 1-2 pounds a day. If this statement scares you from taking your next cruise vacation, read this article first. On my recent 2-weeks cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of The Seas, I interviewed Maurice Van Rijthoven, a 30-year old fitness instructor from Netherlands. He oversees the VitalitySM Spa and Fitness center, the largest floating fitness area ever built. This 6,000 passenger vessel also boasts 30 restaurants and bars. Clearly, this is not your destination for weight-loss, but its possible.anthem of the seas

Located at the middle of deck 15, the SeaPlex is a large indoor gym with a full-size basketball court that can be converted into a dance floor, a flying trapeze school, a roller-skating arena, that converts to a bumper cars playground. The “SeaPlex” also features the SeaPlex Dog House food truck and table tennisair hockey and foosball tables on a second-level mezzanine.

bumper cars on Anthem of the Seas

The Spa and Fitness Center are located on decks 15 and 16, offering beautiful views of the surrounding seas. On embarkation day, Rijthoven gives a tour of the gym and spa. This is the best time to sign up for classes as they tend to fill up. Daily class offerings start at 7am and include yoga, pilates, stretching, spinning, body sculpt and more. The spin class emulates a Tour de France type of challenge for the 16 bikers participating. Some of the classes require a fee to attend.

For those who like to freestyle it,  the gym is well stocked with TechnoGym equipment, and includes practically everything one may need for a total body workout, including cardio, weights and a stretching area. The outdoor jogging track is 1/3 of a mile, with an uphill feature, and a great way to get your daily run. But you need to go early morning or late in the evening, as it gets crowded with sunbathers during the day. gym at anthem of the seas

There is also a bootcamp you can sign up for if you need a little group motivation. Generally, 8-10 guests participate in a daily regiment with a personal trainer that keeps them in shape. Rijthoven tells me that on an average, 20-30 people sign up for one on one personal training sessions during the cruise. Roughly 10% of cruisers use the gym facilities, which is tragic for Rijthoven to witness as he overlooks some of the finest equipment on sea.

“The biggest mistake people make is overindulging,” he says. Vacationers think its ok to eat and drink whatever they like, because they are on holiday. They wouldn’t ordinarily pack in these many calories in their normal diet. Rijthoven offers workshops throughout the trip educating travelers on how to properly balance having fun and keeping fit. A personal consultation – Eat more to weight less measure your metabolism rate and advises a diet plan accordingly.

For those who want to make a drastic change in their physical wellbeing, he advises a Detox program that travelers can do once they get back. This helps them remove toxins from within the body, and allow it to better absorb nutrients.

One of the ship’s restaurants, Devinly Decadence at Solarium Bistro offers spa cuisine created by author of The Biggest Loser Cookbook series, Devin Alexander. The menu boasts dishes that are under 500 calories for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is a wide selection of salads, sandwiches, seafood, pasta, as well as dessert.

For those who forget to check in with the fitness regime regularly, you may get messages delivered to your door or your tv screen reminding you about the special classes being offered each day. Rijthoven advises that if all cruisers found it in their schedule to exercise one hour daily, whether it is running, attending a class, or training on your own, they won’t end up gaining weight from their vacation.

A New Perspective on Cruising

My first cruise travel experience was about 10 years ago. I took a 4 nights/ 5 days cruise from Tampa to Cozumel, Mexico. Although it was a relaxing experience, I decided that the cruise travel experience was not for me. The main reason being that I love to explore the local cuisine and culture of a country, and spend as much time as possible with the locals. On the cruise, I spent majority of my time on the ship with other travelers. We had organized games, shows, activities, casino, shopping, dining, etc., but I felt it was geared towards families and older crowds. I felt a little too sedentary.

anthem of the seasBeing on Anthem of the Seas, a brand new ship by Royal Caribbean, has changed my perspective on cruising. This 2-weeks Mediterranean sailing took me to different ports across 5 countries – UK, Spain, Italy, France and Portugal. There were organized tours offered in each of the ports, from city tours to wine tastings, I got to know about the history, culture, nature and art of the areas, and I always had the option to walk around on your own. We visited some ports that I may not have been able to see otherwise – Gibraltar, Cartagena, Seville, Vigo, etc.

Being on board offered a very different experience as well this time around. Anthem of the Seas is one of the biggest ships in the world, with 2,090 staterooms and a capacity of 6400 people (guests and crew). Given that, the cabin sizes are huge. I had a superior room with a balcony and sitting area, but there are also 2-storied lofts and 3 bedroom suites available. I never felt claustrophobic during my two week sail.

stateroom anthem of the seas

Walking around the ship’s 18 decks can be quite fun. It took me a couple of days to get oriented, and realize where everything was. I admired every architectural detail, the beautiful artwork adorning the promenade, intricate flooring and ceiling work set to match the tunes of different areas of the ship, contemporary style of the rooms, themed music halls and theaters – this was by far the most beautiful ship I have ever seen.

wonderland anthem of the seas

In my previous cruising experiences, there were only 1 or 2 options for dining – generally a formal sit down and a casual fast food place. On the Anthem, there are 30 eateries to choose from! Themed restaurants include Japanese, Italian, French, Asian Pacific, American, British pub, cafes, buffet, and much more. Each one has a unique ambiance and creative cocktail menu. Just the design of the restaurants is worth checking out. The food is comparable to any upscale restaurant on land. Furthermore, you are not restricted to sitting at round banquet tables along with other guests you don’t know. Couples can easily have a date night, while families can reserve larger tables for privacy.

spice at anthem of the seas

Sure most cruise ships have a little gym and nice spa services. But on the Anthem, they take physical health seriously. There are fitness classes – yoga, stretch, pilates, spin, even a boot camp, for those who want to stay healthy. You can get a personal instructor who will train with you, a nutritionist to consult with, and several anti aging solutions.

The activities on the Anthem are geared not only to families, but adventures as well. I typically won’t sit for a bingo, guess the tunes, or jeopardy kind of sessions. But don’t be fooled, I know all about the best bingo sites out there, like www.swankybingo.com that I can visit at the drop of a hat if I wanted to. I may even do it when I’m all tucked up in bed after an action-packed day full of adventure. I can go skydiving, go-carting, rock climbing, skating, surfing and be lifted 300 feet above sea level.

wave rider anthem of the seas

Another fact I liked about Anthem is that you really don’t need to travel with your family or friends to enjoy this cruise vacation. On the daily calendar are scheduled lunch for singles on the ship and LGBT community mixers. Of course, there are tailored activities for teens, youth and couples too.

There are several options to choose from for evening entertainment. At any given time, there is live music at 4-5 venues across the ship. Depending on my mood, I can sit at the piano bar, listen to 80’s rock, watch Broadway style performances, cabaret shows, or get up close with world renowned musicians.

we will rock you anthem of the seas

I view cruising in a different light now. A ship like Anthem of the Seas is not just for the older generation, but can be a lot of fun for younger travelers too. If this is what the new age of cruising looks like, I will definitely be considering this option for my future travels.