One of the best parts about a cruise vacation is sharing the memories with all your friends and family when you get back! Avid cruiser Dr. and Captain Brett Ribotsky recently went on his first cruise post-COVID and wrote in to Porthole Cruise and Travel to share his experience with the rest of you. Check it out below!
The People are the Real Gem
Eastern Caribbean, 1st cruise post-COVID – I did not know what to expect. Yes I read a lot of articles, watched a bunch of YouTube videos, but really, you never know what to expect. Let’s begin with reality, cruising has not fully returned. Ships are still empty, and the few that are sailing are below capacity; plus, many new ships have/are taking all the press and interest from the others.
For me the constellations lined up to place me on the October 3rd sailing of the Norwegian Gem. With my COVID vaccination card in hand, I arrived at Terminal B at PortMiami unsure what to expect. The first person, the porter, welcomed me back (he did not know me) but his smile made me feel at ease. With my face mask adorned, it was then into the queue for my COVID swab test done dockside. At times it felt like a line at Disney world as it serpentine back and forth. What seemed like a pain, actually turned into a fun experience talking with many others all excited to board their first trip post-pandemic. The nasal swap procedure was as expected, and the 15 minute wait for results went bye fast.
Then it was onto the ship.
This is where the service and people took over. The continual willingness to assist help and solve any aberrations that may have occurred radiated from their facial covering continuously. From a quick lunch in the buffet before sailing, the happiness smiles, and songs from the crew was infectious (finally used in a good way). Service from those in the hallways stopping their tasks as I walked by, to those serving meals or attending to my cabin was joyful and expressive. WOW what a difference that I did not know what I was missing in the past 18 months by connecting with people. My smile came out, and seemed to be stuck upon my face for the next week.
This ship and I aged over a decade since the last time I was aboard her, and the warmth of familiarity gave me a calming feel. The ship was clearly upgraded since my last voyage (I was not), so the excitement of new, mixed with tranquility of familiarity was upon me. The crew was glowing with excitement to have passengers on board. While all the guests were free from wearing masks, the crew their masks on throughout the trip. The comfort everyone felt knowing that each person was vaccinated, and just passed a COVID test, gave all a feeling of coziness as we return to a normal cruising experience.
Capacity, seemed like 70%, with almost zero children on board (I did miss them a touch) but with COVID requirements, school back in session, I understand why. Plenty of lounge chairs surrounding the pools, always a seat available at a bar and the drink servers, were around always without intruding and asking to get you a drink. This was noticeably different from some previous cruises. Striking up conversations with those in the pool from Oregon, and Seattle we all seems to notice the same things, service and joyfulness filled the crew, and we all just joined in.
The entertainment was very good. The dancers made me feel like I was watching a Broadway show. The musicians were also top shelf. This was surprising to me, as I have after noticed over the years that the newest ships seem to have the top-level entertainment staff, so this seems to speak of the incredible professionalism of the NCL entertainment staff, or that most of the other ships were not sailing. Either way, for me it was superb.
The ports of Nassau and St Thomas seemed to have been really affected by the lack of ships over the past years. Only a few of the shops were open, as we were the only ship in port. Those stores open, were elated to see us. Inventory of items were impressive. The stores looked so clean and bright that shopping was FUN, yes I said FUN, as the clerks were friendly and happy to see us. Of course we needed to wear our masks inside the stores (A touch of 2021 reality); but it wasn’t obtrusive. It made me think of the days 30-40 years ago when I first began cruising with my parents, and visited these ports at a time when stores were more family operations.
The stop at San Juan was wonderful. The ship was able to dock within walking distance of the fort and the stores. Nothing like having a Pina Colada at Barrichina, where the drink was invented, and learning from Jorge the bartender the story. It was interesting to learn that pre-COVID, he would serve 2,200 Pina Colada’s a day, and now it’s just about 700. I did my share to help bringing up these numbers. Back on the boat for an early sailing at 3:30pm gave me a great opportunity to watch the beautiful island seemed to drift away as the sun lowered and placed a golden glow upon the Castillo San Felipe del Morro, calling all to take a picture from the starboard deck. The day at sea was welcomed, with a chance to catch-up on sleep, reading, and of course more food. While many of the guests were tired, the staff seemed to find an extra gear, to keep the energy going. Didn’t I say the energy of the crew was infectious?
The private island in Great Stirrup Cay was just what was needed, a fun day of doing nothing. I spend hours sitting under a shaded palm tree and listening to island music via my AirPods. A great lunch, a cold brew and white sands. I’m back in my element, and cruising has returned.
Quickly jump on a trip ASAP, enjoy the exuberance of a new beginning, and all the excitement that others share around you. I can honestly say, that the crew aboard the Norwegian Gem magnified my experience beyond all expectations. I can’t wait to see you all again soon.
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