- Halee Whiting, 32, is a frequent traveler who's been on multiple cruises during the pandemic.
- Whiting's most recent ship wasn't able to dock at San Juan in Puerto Rico due to COVID-19 protocols.
- This is her story, as told to writer Jamie Killin.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Halee Whiting, a frequent traveler who's been on multiple cruises during the pandemic. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I'm an avid cruise goer and travel blogger who's gone on nearly 20 cruises — four of which have come during the pandemic. I just returned from a trip on Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Reflection ship that departed on December 26, and it was one of the cruise ships that wasn't able to dock at San Juan in Puerto Rico.
My husband and I found a cruise blog article talking about San Juan turning away cruise ships the night before it was canceled for us. Before we got on the cruise, we started seeing islands turning ships away, so I knew there was a chance for us too.
After we saw that article, we called guest services to verify, and they hadn't received any information yet. The next morning, we were notified by the captain via an announcement.
When we were notified, there were no confirmed COVID-19 cases on board. However, San Juan's health department launched new, stricter COVID-19 protocols — causing many major cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises, to skip the stop on their itinerary. It happened a few days before we were scheduled to arrive.
Since the change in itinerary, there was only one confirmed COVID-19 case on the ship that we were notified of. They let us know that the person was doing well, and that they and anyone they were in contact with were isolated.
At this time, we were allowed to dock at St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands — even though other ships were turned away and stayed out in the ocean. I believe it's due to the percentage of unvaccinated travelers on those ships. Virgin Islands Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion said the ports were turning away cruise ships with more than 1% of people on board with active COVID cases.
The itinerary change was a little disheartening, but I'm finding that cruising today requires you to be prepared for changes constantly.
Despite the one COVID-19 case on board, I do feel safe cruising. I'm using the same personal protocols that I've used on all my sailings this year: I carry sanitizer and wear a mask when close to people.
The experiences I've had on my pandemic-era cruises — whether on Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises, or MSC — have been pretty consistent. The cruise I just returned from was mask-optional for vaccinated cruisers in all areas.
We also had to have a negative COVID-19 test two days prior to sailing. We used a home test that we purchased from a recommended provider by the cruise line, and everyone 12 and up must also be vaccinated.
Celebrity Cruises is typically more adult-oriented, so there were only a few children on the ship. That's part of the reason my husband and I picked this cruise line: all families with children under 12 who are unvaccinated must wear a mask.
Despite the changes to our itinerary and the COVID-19 case on board, I'd still cruise again — especially with Celebrity Cruises, given the age demographics and lower percentage of unvaccinated passengers. Plus, they're just an amazing cruise line.
I even have another three cruises lined up for this year, and I may add more to my schedule.