First Carnival Cruise Live Blog: Day 7, Coming Home (and COVID Test)
Note: We post a live blog daily aboard the Carnival Vista on the first Carnival cruise to resume sailing since March 2020. You can read the previous days here:
Day 7 of our cruise is coming to an end, as is the trip itself. Today is another spectacular day of time. Throughout this journey we have been blessed day after day by blue skies.
The sky is partly cloudy today, the sea is calm and we return to Galveston. The only downside is that with a southerly wind as we sail north there is not as much breeze on the deck so it was very hot. Of course, that makes for perfect pool weather for our last day at sea.
Before heading to the pool, let’s start with last night where, after having a quick dinner in the deli, we headed to the evening show at the Liquid Lounge theater. This show was “Flick”, a musical and dance number where the team performed hit songs from movies including Skyfall (James Bond), I Will Always Love You and medleys featuring songs from Jurassic Park and Star Wars.
If you remember we went to a show a few nights ago it was good but didn’t blew us away. Browse simply went above and beyond. The show is a staple in our book. Throughout there are a number of neat special effects as well as the great performance of the crew.
Skyfall’s vocals featured a whirlwind of fans holding huge, loose fabrics magically suspended in the air. Later, a dancer appeared to bend and break the lasers as they lit up the room. The truth is, it’s hard to explain special effects or give them due credit, because we’ve never really seen anything like it. Bottom line: It was a great performance. If you have the chance, go see it. It was a fantastic end to the day in Cozumel.
Like the last day on the ship, it is one of those days filled with different emotions. Firstly, you are always a little disappointed that the trip ends. Second, you can’t wait to get home. Finally, it’s still a day at sea, so you have the boat to enjoy it a little longer.
This morning I got up early so I went to the gym for a quick workout. Apart from a few other early risers, it was empty.
Then it was off to breakfast. Even around 8:30 am, it was already nicely toasted by the time we finished eating. We played a quick round of mini-golf with our son, sweating without doing much. From there we quickly returned to the room to change, but noticed something from the balcony.
As the ship sailed, we passed several schools of flying fish. Sometimes it was one or two, other times it was dozens of flying fish that circled the surface of the water. We watched until the sun hit us too hard. Then it was again for more time in the water park to cool off with the kid and work on our tan. Due to the good weather and time in the pool my wife and I were able to get some great colors which was definitely not the case before this trip.
One thing I noticed today is that the outdoor crew – like lifeguards and cleaning staff – no longer wear masks. Previously, all staff were masked inside and out.
I asked one of the lifeguards, who said due to the sun and the masks were wet they were allowed to go without a mask. I saw a poor crew member who had a very distinct mask tan line on the lower half of his face from previous days. I’m sure he’s happy with the change.
As we ended up at the pool, we dried off, went back to the room, and planned to go to lunch. Then the phone rang. It was the ship’s staff saying we had to go down to deck four immediately for COVID testing for our son.
As part of CDC protocols, unvaccinated passengers should be tested before disembarking from the ship at its end. We expected this test, but never heard a single word about when it would happen until the phone call.
As I got down, I noticed that the list of unvaccinated passengers for testing was almost complete, with the exception of a few latecomers. I asked how everyone knew to come and get tested and was told we should have had a flyer on our doorstep. We never received any notice until the phone call. Giving up everything to go have our son tested was a bit of a surprise.
Regardless, the living room we arrived in was largely empty and we went straight back to test. The team wore full PPE gear, took a quick swab from my son’s nose, and then we had to wait about 20 minutes for the test results. With a negative test, we then received a letter stating the result and were able to continue the rest of our day.
We chose to have lunch at BlueIguana, sitting outside by the pool where the Groove for St. Jude event was taking place. On the last day at sea, the music was playing, the weather was wonderful, and it seemed like the whole ship was here enjoying the last hours before heading back to the real world.
This afternoon, we’re spending our time packing things up while our son takes a nap, and also figuring out what we want for our last meal on the ship. Cruising is hard work.
Our final thoughts on the first cruise
So what’s the result of the first Carnival cruise to return to sailing? In my eyes, it depends on whether you have it or not.
If you are vaccinated (which most people who sail will be) then, as I mentioned, the cruise experience has largely returned to normal. You can set sail, go swimming, eat at all of your favorite restaurants, gamble in the casino, watch a show and hit the shore.
The differences you notice are minimal. Staff wear masks, you have to wear a mask at ports of call and terminals, and a lot of printed materials like menus and daily planner are not there.
In other words, it was a Carnival cruise before the break and it is still a Carnival cruise despite small changes.
But if you don’t have the vaccine or if you are sailing with someone who hasn’t been vaccinated, then things are different.
On the ship, many things are largely the same as before without the vaccine due to the high vaccination rate of all passengers. Masks are recommended, but not required (it seems less kids wear them as they travel). You are free to go to all parts of the ship, and there are no distancing rules in place. The staff are also ready to make sure you have a good time. Go to the dining room, to the swimming pool, to the theater… everything is there to enjoy it.
As far as life on board was concerned, this cruise had the children’s area closed for the little ones, making the biggest difference. There are also pre-boarding and pre-departure testing requirements. Still, testing is quick and easy, so it wasn’t a big deal.
Where there is the greatest change for the unvaccinated is on land. Right now, only a handful of ‘bubble tours’ are available, unless you’re heading to one of Carnival’s private islands. If you don’t book one of these trips, it means you have to stay on the ship. And even if you do one of the excursions, expect the rules to be strict ashore.
So you will need to be prepared to spend a lot of time on the ship or spend a lot of money to pay for one of the very few excursions on offer.
One final note: my experience only describes this one cruise. It is almost certain that things will change one way or another in the future. If there are higher cases on land then I would expect more restrictions on the ship.
For example, I’ve seen Royal Caribbean’s crossings from the UK (where cases are rising sharply despite vaccinations) require testing, even with vaccinated passengers. They also implement other rules on the ship. Personally, I am concerned that another wave of cases here in the United States will occur given what has been seen elsewhere.
But if cases remain low and cruises can sail with limited positive tests, then some relaxation of restrictions – such as offering more excursion options – may be in order.
For now, however, my opinion is that the cruising experience is back if you’ve got the hang of it. Otherwise you can still have fun like we did, just know that most of it will be on the ship.
- Is anyone else hypnotized by the ship tracker on the cabin television? I check it several times a day and even my son is asking for it now.
- One thing I forgot to mention is that in the ports I have visited you feel a bit like a celebrity. There were people taking a lot of videos of the ship and the passengers disembarking. Roatan had what looked like a press crew there to film the story. Galveston had hundreds lined up near the wharf to say goodbye. The return of ships is a big problem for these ports.
- I am surprised by the number of blue “Sail & Sign” cards I see. A blue card indicates a passenger during his first navigation. It seems that many people have chosen to take their first cruise the first after more than 15 months. I expected veteran passengers to make a strong comeback when they return from cruises, but the new cruisers are making a good impression.