What is it like to go on a cruise right now?

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In the pandemic’s earliest days, between February and mid-March 2020, three cruise ship voyages resulted in more than 800 confirmed COVID cases and 10 deaths, according to the CDC. All of a sudden, cruising – an industry that is rabidly adored by an estimated 30 million passengers every year – became dangerous to one’s health.

The CDC essentially closed cruising down on March 14, 2020 – the same time lockdowns reverberated around the world.

Testing the waters

Lines like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Princess and Norwegian, which command the super-size passenger vessels, eased back into the water this past June and July. If the idea of sailing with thousands of passengers gives you pause, Crystal Cruises offers a great solution.

Crystal Serenity was the first ship in the company’s fleet to set sail, departing July 3, 2021 from Nassau for a week-long tour of the gorgeous family islands: a voyage so popular that it broke the record for single day bookings. Close enough to home to be easy to get to but still offering a cultural experience along with perfect beaches and clear, aquamarine waters, the Bahamas delivers a much-needed tropical getaway.

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Aboard the Serenity, the company’s vigilant pandemic-era requirements, transparency and detailed protocols are designed to keep guests safe on holiday. And discounted prices sweeten the allure.

But just know that before you board, there are a lot of hoops to jump through.

What’s between you and that cocktail on the beach

There is some housekeeping to do before you’re on a sandy Bimini beach with a rum punch in hand. All passengers age 12 and up must be fully vaccinated to cruise on most lines. Proof of vaccination along with a negative PCR test is required to book your ticket.

Although Crystal allows a limited number of unvaccinated kids on board, parents should know that they can’t freely move around the ship or disembark at every port. The usual kids’ programming is not offered and the pool, specialty restaurants and most public areas are off-limits, making another family vacation option perhaps a better move.

Vax proof and multiple tests

Besides satisfying Crystal’s requirements, the Bahamas (like all countries) has its own protocols. Incoming visitors pay $40 for a Bahamas Travel Health Visa, obtained by uploading a vaccination record and a PCR test taken no more than five days prior to entering the country. The online process for getting the visa isn’t always intuitive, and if anything goes wrong – like your test results are late – the last-minute scramble can be a nail-biter.

Speaking of stress, do yourself a favor and avoid arriving the day of your cruise in case of a delayed flight. The best bet is to get to Nassau the day before and stay downtown; the Marriott Courtyard Junkanoo Beach close to the local Fish Fry is one good option.

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Plan on drinks or an early dinner at the Poop Deck, locally owned by the colorful Donna Carrer since 1973. The whole grilled snapper and spicy conch salad is a great way to kick off a Bahamian adventure.

Making it aboard

On cruise day, there’s another COVID test to take prior to boarding the ship: a simple and organized process that is the final gateway to that Crystal experience.

Onboard, the measures in place to keep every inch of the Serenity spotless are myriad. Besides endless cleaning and sanitizing, handwashing and sanitizer stations abound. Extra crew members man the previously self-serve eating and drinking options – no buffets onboard.

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Every suite and social space is treated with fresh, non-recirculated air. Masks are worn by every crew member and by guests in public spaces when not eating and drinking.

Now you’re cruising

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Crystal delivers an all-inclusive boutique luxury experience on sleek vessels a cut above the bigger boats. Akin to a floating five-star hotel – including two levels of penthouse staterooms that come with private butlers – the ship is understated and elegant in its design, with plenty of intimate spaces for sunning, reading and just getting away from the crowds. Bookings are being kept at a significantly reduced capacity, giving everybody plenty of personal space.

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The Serenity is all about gourmet cuisine. Two specialty restaurant meals are included, with Umi Uma offering a sushi bar and cuisine from chef Nobu Matsuhisa and Prego dishing out fine regional Italian fare in an intimate setting. There’s also Brazilian-style churrascaria, the globally inspired Marketplace with multiple culinary stations, a Chinese restaurant called Silk and the Waterside dining room with open seating.

Numerous pubs and bars dot the ship, with the Palm Court an especially glam spot for cocktails and music. Activities abound: from live shows to computer classes to karaoke to bridge lessons, there’s something for everybody. But after the last 18 tumultuous months, downtime punctuated by sea views, onboard coddling, swimming and beachcombing on the friendly Bahamian islands is just what the doctor ordered.

The takeaway: Cruising during COVID

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Although it would be wonderful to sail away from all things COVID, that’s not happening anytime soon. But if cruising is balm to your soul, do the work it takes to get back onboard, knowing that sun and sandy beaches, restful days at sea and the finest hospitality await.

10Best is a part of the USA TODAY Network, providing an authentically local point of view on destinations around the world, in addition to travel and lifestyle advice.

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