Tag Archives: Covid

Cruising in the Age of Covid-19 — Part 3

Ready for the Robots — Booze at the Bionic Bar

On Wednesday we looked at the various Covid-19 health protocol contradictions on the dining venues (and the elevators) aboard Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas. Today we’ll take a look at how those protocols affected the overall cruise experience in other venues, and I’ll start today with the Royal Theater, in which the nightly entertainment performed. Now, one might think with a ship running below 50% capacity (in the case of Voyage 1, well below), Royal Caribbean might have been tempted to skimp on their comedians, singers, and production shows. They most assuredly did not. The entertainment was what one has come to expect from a major cruise line — exceptional.

Ovation‘s North Star observation platform — protocol limited to four

Seating in the Royal Theater is on two levels. The lower main seating area allowed unmasking and was not socially distanced, although couples/groups were requested to leave two seats empty between them. Unvaccinated children and their accompanying guardians were restricted to the upper theater seating area, and masks were required for them throughout the show. For those shows expecting near capacity crowds, reservations were highly recommended.

“Virtual Balcony” cabin…
… with its 80-inch LCD “Virtual Balcony”

As with Sorrento’s pizzeria, Windjammer buffet, and other non-main dining room venues, bar tables were placarded as unavailable to facilitate social distancing. This became a factor for Ursula and me mostly during the slightly more crowded Voyage 2. But we also ran up against this during the less crowded Voyage 1 at our favorite, Schooner Bar. There were times we could not get a comfortable table, as we both get uncomfortable sitting at tall tables on chairs where our feet dangle rather than touch the floor. After a while it starts to get to you in the back of the legs and in the hips. Whoever came up with this bright invention needs to be made to sit like that for six hours, straight twice a day, for a solid week so as to get a clue. And just to show how arbitrary and at times silly the protocols got, that El Paso couple we were seated next to in Silk? They invited us to sit with them at their table in Schooners when no others were available, but the wait staff would not allow it.

Getting into Schooner Bar could be a challenge, even during Voyage 1

So, social distancing strictly enforced in the bars and some dining venues. But not in… the casino! We found that exception rather interesting. But, then, cruise lines are notorious at making exceptions for revenue-raking casinos, including smoking areas. Sorry, but a designated smoking area in a large room is to me like the designated peeing area in a swimming pool — the concept of segregating either is pretty much meaningless. You see, there’s this thing called diffusion…. but I digress.

Casino Royale — no, really; that’s its name

Then we get back to the bars, which once again have every other table placarded as unavailable. Below are Boleros, a bar and entertainment venue, and Music Hall and Music Hall bar:

Music Hall — lower area
Music Hall — upper level bar

Bottom line on all this: The Covid-19 health protocols were at times a hinderance, and at times amusing in their unequal application. Seldom were they an inconvenience (but then there’s those elevator trolls I discussed on Wednesday) until Voyage 2. Whereas Ovation easily handled protocols at 1,600 passengers, things began to unravel at 2,300. I can only extrapolate that they worsened the next week when the capacity grew to 3,000, but I don’t know that for certain as we were not there. All things considered, I’m glad we went on both Voyage 1 and the slightly more crowded (700 more) Voyage 2. But I’d be really hesitant at seeing what would be in store for a ship at full capacity with these protocols in place. From my experience the elevators would be rendered useless; dining outside the main dining rooms probably impossible without long waits, and the bars nothing more than a venue into which to peer at those lucky souls who found a table. Fortunately, I don’t see full capacity becoming a serious problem for the time being, but at some point cruise lines are going to have to trust that masking and vaccinations will overcome the need to mandate social distancing requirements. And the only way I see that happening is to quit accommodating those who are unvaccinated, which in this case means families with children below vaccination ages.

Beginning next week I’ll present the destinations we hit on these back-to-back voyages. But for now here are a few more photos of Ovation of the Seas:

Izumi Sushi Bar
Wonderland Restaurant (extra cost)
Riding the North Star in Endicott Arm/Dawes Glacier


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Cruising in the Age of Covid-19 — Part 2

So, now, following Monday’s setup article you have the lay of the land, so to speak, on this week’s topic. But to quickly recap, this week’s series is on the impact on Covid-19 health protocols upon the cruise ship experience. And as previous noted, this is based upon two recent back-to-back Alaska cruises aboard Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas. For Voyage 1 Ovation contained approximately 1,600 passengers out of 4,180 at double occupancy capacity (total maximum capacity is listed as 4,905, but that’s a real stretch).

Ovation‘s “Bionic Bar” robots

The two main dining rooms are Silk, with an Asian flair; and American Icon, which has a Route 66/1950s-open-rode vibe going for it. Unlike the less formal dining venues, such as Sorrento’s, the Windjammer buffet, La Patisserie, etc., the seating arrangements in Silk and American Icon were hardly what I would call “socially distanced,” which is rather odd considering that every other table in Sorrento’s and Windjammer were blocked off with “Table Unavailable” signage to keep passengers distanced.

Silk host station
Silk main dining room

So, just how close were the tables in Silk and American Icon? Close enough that Ursula and I were easily able to converse with diners at adjacent tables without the need to even raise our voices above normal conversation levels. No. We did not in any way feel uncomfortable at this arrangement. The mains are airy and well ventilated, and all vaccinated passengers were readily identifiable as they wore bright green Royal Caribbean-issued wristbands made of a comfortable silicon-like material. Remember: all adult passengers met a vaccination requirement, and were required to produce negative antigen test results prior to boarding. Unvaccinated children also had antigen test requirements to meet and, because they were unvaccinated, they were prohibited from leaving the ship at any port of call so as to avoid potential exposure to the virus.

American Icon main restaurant entrance
American Icon main dining room

Indeed, we felt so comfortable with this arrangement that we set up permanent dining on Voyage 1 with two fellow Texan couples we met in American Icon on Day 2 of Voyage 1. One couple was even from our very own El Paso, and we plan to stay in touch. For Voyage 2 we went back to our originally assigned dining room, Silk, where we met and chatted with several different groups, including three lovely ladies travelling together from Los Angeles.

Silk main dining room

Which brings us to the other, more socially distanced dining venues aboard Ovation. Below is an image I first presented on Monday’s article. This is Sorrento’s, a pizzeria and salad venue. Note the numerous “Table Unavailable” placards at every other table. These tables are shared with the adjacently located Café Promenade, which only increased demand for them. So, was this a problem? How about the Windjammer, which is quite popular for breakfast and lunch, but which was closed for dinner on these two voyages?

Sorrento’s pizzeria with 50% of tables made unavailabe

During Voyage 1, which was at about a third capacity, this was not an issue. Tables only seldom required even a minimal wait. The Windjammer could be a challenge to find an available table after one entered, but people had their cruise cards scanned upon entrance. If all available seating was taken, then Windjammer would start metering. During Voyage 1 this situation never arose for us.

La Patisserie
La Patisserie

But the system started showing signs of strain during Voyage 2, when 700 more passengers awaited accommodation. Seating became sometimes difficult to find, and in the Windjammer there was at least one point in which metering into the buffet area was initiated. Ursula and I had difficulty getting an elevator to the Windjammer floor that morning (I’ll explain why in a moment), and when we arrived there was a long line of hungry diners being metered into the room. I can only imagine what transpired on the voyage after this one, as Ovation was slated to have 3,000 passengers onboard for that final Alaska cruise of the season.

Amber & Oak Pub — a great place for poutine with crispy fries

The elevators. Now, where do I begin on that fiasco? Royal Caribbean had in place a stated four-person maximum policy in place for the elevators. If you’ve ever been on a cruise, then you know elevator space is often at a premium even without a social distancing limit. Most people appeared to feel comfortable with six, or even up to eight people aboard, but some would actually freak out if a fifth person attempted to enter. Really? Every passenger save children vaccinated? All wearing masks, as required? All in possession of negative antigen test results? A ride that would, at most, last under a minute? And you’re going to panic?

Now, Ursula and I are as cautious as anyone could possibly be, and we have ever since this pandemic broke out. We still mask up whenever we’re out and about here in El Paso, and we avoid tightly packed venues like the plague (pun intended). But, come on… really? You’re going to go ballistic if a fifth person tries to enter your elevator that was designed to hold over a dozen? These are the people who do not need to be cruising, or even going out in public for any reason whatsoever. They will obviously never feel comfortable in this environment, and their sole purpose in life appears to be exercising some form of childish control over others over what the vast majority realized was an entirely unworkable and arbitrary number on the part of Royal Caribbean. The elevators aboard Ovation would easily accommodate eight without being overly crowded to the point where one should feel endangered during a brief ride, especially considering the vaccination, antigen, and masking requirements.

On Friday: How protocols worked in other venues.

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Cruising in the Age of Covid-19 — Part 1

Alaska. Off season. Way off season. Yes, Ursula and I just returned from just such a voyage — our first since returning in mid March 2020, shortly after the beginning of the pandemic and the shutting down of travel and closing of borders. This week I will be presenting to you my perspectives on life aboard a cruise ship in the midst of health protocols necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Fifth floor common area on Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas

The cruise line is Royal Caribbean. The ship is Ovation of the Seas. The destination — Alaska, round trip from Seattle, over the course of back-to-back seven-day cruises. The sail date for Voyage One was Friday, 24 September in an inside “Virtual Balcony” cabin. Itinerary for both was sold as follows: Seattle, Day at Sea, Juneau, Skagway, Sitka, Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier (cruising), Day at Sea, Seattle.

“Virtual Balcony” interior cabin on Ovation of the Seas

The second cruise began 1 October, but weather necessitated a change in the itinerary. Ketchikan was substituted for Sitka, and the port order was changed to: Seattle, Day at Sea, Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier, Day at Sea, Seattle. No great disappointment here, as both Ursula and I adore Ketchikan. Sitka is charming, but much smaller with less to do unless you venture onto a tour.

At the hosting station for Silk main dining room

These voyages were two of the last three before Ovation was slated to depart the Alaska market for warmer climes. Capacity for the Ovation is 4,180 at double capacity in the staterooms, and the maximum capacity is listed as 4,905. Ovation had very stringent protocols. Negative antigen test results had to be shown, and the tests had to be conducted within three days of the boarding date. Vaccinations were required of adult passengers. Unvaccinated children were prohibited from leaving the ship in ports of call. Masks were required unless seated in a vaccination area (theater, lower seating area; other entertainment venues), or after being seated for dining, in the buffet, or at a bar.

Sorrento’s pizzeria and salads

Our first cruise would have 1,600 passengers. Voyage 2 would come in at 2,300. The last voyage of the season, which would occur immediately after our Voyage 2, was slated to accommodate 3,000 paying passengers. So, how did this all work out with pandemic health protocols in place? Tune in Wednesday for what happened. Until then, here are some more photos of the Ovation, taken shortly after boarding before the crowds arrived:

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