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Experiencing Ocean Cruising During the Pandemic - What’s different and what extra measures are in place

Tuesday 21 September 2021

I cruised with Viking, a line I have travelled with many times before, on one of their ‘Welcome Back’ itineraries from Malta to Athens, checking out what was different and what extra safety measures and protocols were in place. Pre-embarkation, there was some paperwork to complete, which although time-consuming, was relatively simple and having already travelled to Europe twice this summer, wasn’t out of the ordinary.

The key point to note is that all guests must be double vaccinated and have adequate covid insurance before they can embark the ship, evidence of which had to be presented, either digitally or in paper form, to the crew who were managing the process at the cruise terminal. Credit to Viking who did as much as possible to make it as easy as they could to ensure a smooth and quick embarkation upon arrival at Valletta port. All paperwork checked and temperature recorded, I could embark for what turned out to be a fabulous holiday. There were many extra measures in place to ensure guest safety, and independent exploration in ports was limited, but the overall onboard guest experience remained relatively unchanged. Most importantly guest enjoyment was certainly not affected. If you are considering taking a cruise but are a little apprehensive that the experience will be different or not as good, please don’t be!

Additional hand sanitising Contact tracing device Daily temperature recording Lift sign Little reminders Sample tube Sanitising wipes Seating Signs and temperature check on embarkation Social distance seating Touch free handwash

Check out my guide to the extra measures and procedures that were in place when I cruised with Viking in early September 2021:

Daily PCR tests are carried out

The first PCR test is done as soon as you arrive into your stateroom and a subsequent one each morning. It is a very simple process – a test tube in a clear bag labelled with your name and room number is left in your cabin each evening when the turndown service is completed. You must provide a sample of saliva (not the most attractive thing in the world, but certainly a whole lot less invasive than the throat and nasal swab) and then simply leave outside your stateroom door at a specified time for your steward to collect and take to Viking’s onboard, state-of-the-art testing lab.

Regular temperature checks are taken

It is a requirement to provide a daily temperature reading, again a process that the line have made seamless by putting ‘temperature reading machines’ outside every dining venue as well as at guest services. It is a completely contactless process, whereby you scan your room key and then look into a camera screen and your temperature is read and recorded. The whole process is done in a matter of seconds and as everyone visits the dining venues, you’re not going out of your way.

You will need to wear a contact tracing device

The small medallion is worn round your neck and lets the ship know what areas of the vessel you have been in and who you might have been in contact with. The device is lightweight and if you don’t want to wear it around your neck you can place it in a pocket or a handbag.

There are increased hand sanitiser stations

As you would expect there was a big increase in hand sanitising points throughout the ship and there was also a small bottle of sanitiser provided in the cabin for use on excursions. As per pre-pandemic requirements, guests were expected to sanitise when embarking the ship and before entering each dining venue.

You’ll need to wear a face mask in public areas (indoor)

Face masks needed to be worn in enclosed public areas onboard the ship. The masks are required when moving around in all indoor areas aside from when you are eating or drinking in the venues onboard. I was advised of this when booking and had taken a supply of masks with me, but needn’t have bothered as these were provided in the cabin (black ones too, much better for outfit coordination in the evening!).

Little has changed in the dining venues

First and foremost the food was still as incredible as ever! In the main restaurant and the two alternative dining venues (Manfredi’s and The Chef’s Table) the only difference was the reduced capacity. With less guests on the ship, it didn’t make getting a table more difficult. The Pool Grill, where guests usually wait at the grill for their food to be prepared, has converted to table service, and likewise in Mamsen’s, the Norwegian Deli dining venue in the Explorers lounge. One of the biggest changes was in the World Café buffet restaurant, where rather than helping yourself to the food at the buffet, it is now plated for you by crew at the other side of the counter – a much more hygienic process and one that I hope remains after the pandemic.

Social distancing in the theatre, bars and public areas

In true Viking style, the implementation of social distancing in public areas is done very elegantly. Chairs which are not to be used simply have a small cover on indicating that chair is not to be sat on. In most cases there are two seats together and then two blocked out, to maintain distancing. There was certainly sufficient seating to enable couples and parties of up to 4 to sit together and there was still the option of sitting at the bar, just again with distancing between chairs. In Torshavn, where the Viking band play late into the evening, the music and atmosphere were still as wonderful as ever, but the dance floor had been blocked off with tables and chairs to stop guests getting too close to the band and also to discourage dancing.

You need to book to use the spa and the time is limited

It was nice that the spa was still open as I had feared it might not be. However visits must be booked and are only available on the hour for 45 minutes sessions, which doesn’t give awfully long to unwind. Personally, I think it would be better to give longer sessions less frequently, but I was still grateful to have access to the facilities, which I used daily and where the numbers were really well controlled and the environment felt extremely clean and safe.

No excuses… the gym is still open!

Viking have brilliant gyms and as a fitness enthusiast I was very pleased that these were still open. There are extra sanitisation measures in place and alternate pieces of equipment are labelled ‘out of use’, but other than all is as normal. There is a recommendation that you only stay in the gym for 45 minutes to allow all guests the opportunity to use the facilities, but given I was only ever at the most one of three people in there, this wasn’t necessary.

Independent Exploration Is not always Possible

In some of the ports of call, it was only possible to disembark the ship as part of a guided excursion and guests couldn’t explore on their own. Viking provide a complimentary shore excursion in each port of call, so this didn’t result extra expense, but for other cruise lines it is worth taking this into consideration. Restrictions in each country are changing all the time, so don’t let this be a reason not to cruise, just check the policy before you travel.

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