What It's Really Like To Cruise After COVID - our review of one of the first Princess Cruises to return to Alaska on the Majestic Princess.
This post is sponsored by Princess Cruises. All opinions are my own.
Cruising can be safe, incredibly clean, and just as relaxing and adventurous as ever. There is no better way to relax with friends and family, see gorgeous locations, eat amazing food - without the hassle and worry of many trips... so you can get right into vacation mode.
With upgraded HEPA filters and HVAC systems, increased cleaning protocols, and additional hand washing and sanitation stations for passengers - as well as mask, testing, and vaccination requirements - Princess Cruises has made a commitment to safety for their guests, and I can say I honestly felt safer on ship than in hotels, restaurants, and the few airports I have been in post pandemic - by far. I have cruised with Princess 9 times now, and can honestly say I have never been on a cruise where it wasn't absolutely spotless - but the Majestic somehow felt even cleaner!
Our fellow cruisers and the crew were all really happy to be back traveling, and while nobody loves wearing a mask, everyone was really respectful of each other and each other's comfort levels and safety- there just weren't any issues that were going to weigh us down from having a great time. This hasn't been the case everywhere I have been post-pandemic, and it was such a lovely, welcome change of pace especially as the world seems so negative lately.
If you want to visit lots of different locations, eat at lots of different restaurants, take in great shows, hit fun new bars, lounge poolside, go out dancing - without leaving a safe "bubble" - cruising should be the vacation you look into!
PS - love a good theme? Check out one of the new theme cruises this winter! I am dying to book one of the 80's inspired sailings!!
Disclaimer: Per CDC rules, my husband and I had to be fully vaccinated more than 14 days prior to embarkation and tested for coronavirus before boarding the ship, and my husband and I were negative 35 hours before boarding.
For my own curiosity for this review, we both tested, using lateral flow tests and PCR tests, to confirm we remained COVID free 14 days after sailing.
We were invited to sail with Princess Cruises for their relaunch back to Alaska as one of their very first cruises back in 2021 after over 500 days without sailing. This was my 9th Princess cruise - and the first time sailing on the Majestic Princess, a ship designed for the Asian market which will be sailing in the Western US (Mexico riviera from Los Angeles and Alaska routes) and Australia for the near future.
The Majestic Princess quickly became one of my favorite ships - it was perfectly suited for cool weather sailing - complete with an indoor pool club where many Princess ships have the Sanctuary, a specialty Chinese restaurant called Harmony only available on the Majestic (which was phenomenal, and one I wish more ships offered), and a few other unique offerings only available on the Majestic like a full selection of Yao Family wines from Yao Ming's winery in Napa.
There was plenty on offer - we didn't have nearly enough time to do everything we wanted to on ship with so many things to do in Alaskan ports - but I would be happy on routes with several days at sea on the Majestic, because there was so much to explore, and so many activities to take in. It had a lot of space that really helped us feel spread out which was even more important post-pandemic - it never once felt crowded on board. Our sailing was not a full ship as we were sailing at the end of August, one of the final voyages for the season which tends to be a bit cooler and quieter compared to midsummer, but the Majestic is spread out enough even when fully booked it wouldn't feel overly crowded. I will be doing a full review of the Majestic soon - be sure to watch for it here!
Our trip was on the Glacier Bay with Inside Passage Route, starting and ending in Seattle, with ports in Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan - a classic Alaskan cruise route for jaw-dropping scenery, tons of wildlife, and the stunning glaciers of Glacier Bay National Park.
Normally, this route would either begin or end in Vancouver, but because Canada was not open for cruise ships when we sailed, Princess was allowed to use a special route (the US has a little known rule that says a cruise ship has to stop in a foreign port, but it was waived because of the pandemic to get the industry back up and running. Future routes include Canada in sailings) so we had a roundtrip through Seattle. I was bummed to miss Canada, but excited to get back to sailing after a long two years since I was last with Princess for the launch of the Sky Princess in 2019.
I have wanted to take my kids on an Alaskan cruise for some time - I was a bit sad they weren't eligible to sail when we did as they were not vaccinated (they are both under 12), but my husband and I had such a great time, we're looking at sailings to book for next summer to take them with my parents when things are hopefully back to normal. Princess makes sailing with families and groups so easy with MedallionClass, we can't wait for them to get to experience their first cruise ever soon!
Before blogging, I had been on a Princess cruise with my family and loved it - and have usually gone on cruise trips with my cousin or friends when I have sailed, since cruising is great for girls trips! My husband and I spent our 10th wedding anniversary on the Sky, and while we love going on far-flung adventures that get a little crazy and adventurous (ok, that's just me, I tend to give my husband heartburn when we travel), we really love how cruising allows you to relax and unwind in a way other vacations can't. He had always insisted he wasn't into cruising, but our trip on the Sky, and experiencing a Princess Cruise, converted him.
Our trip on the Majestic was at the height of the Delta surge, and yet on ship, we honestly felt safer than being in airports, hotels, and even local restaurants near us. Princess has gone so far above and beyond with their commitment to safety.
After the year(s) we've had, we were a bit hesitant to get back to traveling - but more than excited to get back to vacationing!
It was even more relaxing, invigorating, safe, fun, and exciting than we ever imagined - and I can't wait until our next cruise!
About Our Cruise
We cruised right at the re-opening of the 2021 cruise season and re-launch of cruising post Coronavirus during the height of the Delta variant - so our experience may differ a lot from others.
The regulations we had for our trip were as follows (some have already changed per CDC guidance, Princess has committed to exceeding CDC guidance to ensure passenger safety):
- Cruisers must be fully vaccinated with a CDC approved vaccine, with the second shot more than 14 days before embarkation.
- Negative COVID test within 3 days (now Princess requires 2 days.)
- Masks required indoors, except for when seated at tables at restaurants and bars.
- Under 10 people in elevators, preferably only one party. When masks weren't required indoors at all times the cruise before ours, masks were still required in elevators.
- Previous to our cruise, masking was required in ports, during disembarkation, and embarkation, or in crowded areas indoors - however currently the mask order is still in place indoors as of publishing of this post.
- Tour operators require masks on buses, trains, boats, or other enclosed spaces and in groups. The show we attended required a mask except when seated or eating.
Masks are available for purchase in the gift shop or through the app.
The crew was incredibly vigilant but polite about masking, and firm on hand washing and hand sanitizing stations across the ship.
To walk through the buffet, or be seated at restaurants, we were asked to wash our hands (at the buffet) or use hand sanitizer before entering.
Why Ocean Medallion Makes Cruising Safer and Easier
One of the top reasons to book with Princess Cruises is the Ocean Medallion - Princess' game changing accessory and technology that makes cruising better than ever.
Your medallion is a small token that can be worn in a lanyard, bracelet, necklace, or clip - so you can forget about a room key or cruise card!
Using the screens around the ship and your stateroom TV, or the MedallionClass app downloaded on your phone, you can order room service, book excursions and spa appointments, look at the cruise schedule in Journey View, make reservations for dinner, find your friends and family cruising with you - even play games and connect with the casino!
MedallionClass allows you to choose your comfort level on the ship - if you prefer to do things more on your own in your stateroom where you can take in gorgeous views from the balcony, you can order drinks, food, and even gifts right to you in the same amount of time it would take for them to come at a bar or restaurant. If you don't mind socializing with other vaccinated and tested passengers, you can belly up to a bar like Good Spirits where you get quite a show with your drinks!
If you're looking for world class entertainment, you can take in a number of shows around the ship - from the awesome shows in the Princess Theater (shoutout to the amazing cast, especially Ashley Rose who has such a great voice!), to live music, comedy, magicians, and even bartender mixology shows at Good Spirits all across the ship. If you want to stay a bit more isolated, you can catch first-run blockbuster movies outside with Movies Under the Stars, or enjoy the massive TV, movie, and original programming catalog in your stateroom. Princess has a ton of movies in-room - plus their partnership with the Discovery Channel means lots of amazing programming to catch up on. You can also catch tons of lectures, live ship shows, and other Princess original programming on your stateroom tv. And of course, the MedallionClass internet makes it SO easy to stay connected - we were able to stream Ted Lasso while floating somewhere off Juneau, far from where other ships had any kind of internet service! Princess has the best internet at sea (I was even able to live stream the view from Glacier Bay National Park!) There is zero risk of boredom - no matter your comfort level!
MedallionClass also works as a fantastic contact tracing tool, so Princess can quickly identify anyone who may have been in contact with someone who has an illness if someone was to come down with illness on ship. This tool was designed before the pandemic - but is extremely useful now that it the app offers even more robust options than ever before.
Check In Ahead Of Time
Using the MedallionClass app, you can check in ahead of getting to the port - pre-loading your health information and answering all of your health questions, as well as adding credit card, setting dining information and room configuration - so you can sail through the line and get right to relaxing!
I used the MedallionClass app's OceanReady tools to fill out a health questionnaire, to reduce contact and speed through embarkation at the port:
After going through the health information questionnaire before boarding, we were given green lane status - meaning my husband and I simply needed to present our negative COVID tests, vaccination card, and medallions upon checking in at the cruise terminal, and head out on our vacation!
Hot tip: have your test screenshot-ed on your phone if you have an email test result - my phone had a hard time connecting to the port building's internet. Port employees were incredibly patient as it seemed to be a common problem, but save yourself the frustration I endured and print yourself a copy or get a screenshot!
Hot tip: pre-order flowers to your room through the app - or champagne and strawberries to celebrate a birthday or anniversary - before you even step foot on board so they can be set up your first day!
In-Room Muster Drill
In the past, on the embarkation day of the cruise, you would head to a crowded muster station for a muster drill where you would go through a safety presentation - which was always hard to hear and pay attention to, long to wait around for, and generally a pain - as well as being really crowded.
With the MedallionClass app, Princess has changed their muster process - now, you watch the safety information video on your stateroom TV when you arrive, and then scan your medallion app in at your muster station before the ship disembarks.
This process is not only much easier and more comfortable - I found it was much easier to take in the important information and felt I understood even more of the safety information even though it was my 9th muster drill I have done on a Princess ship.
This is one change I am so glad Princess made - it was planned before the pandemic, but is incredibly helpful now to help keep distance! I will not miss crowded theaters and bars for the muster drill on the first day of cruising one bit.
Easier Dinner Plans
Using the Dine My Way feature in the OceanMedallion app, we made reservations for our dinner each night - either in the main dining rooms (you can pick any room you like, based off ambiance), or a specialty restaurant.
Using the app ensures you can get a table in the specialty restaurants (they can book up early, but the app means you no longer have to make a mad dash on embarkation day to reserve all your dinners - do it at your own leisure, including before boarding) but it also helps cut down on lines in main dining rooms when everyone shows up at the same time.
I used Dine My Way to pick dining times, so we didn't wait in line, or have to call or walk to the restaurant for a reservation! Currently main dining rooms were all available for Dine My Way as passengers are dining with their own party at the moment. You can make your selection based off ambiance, or reserve a table at a specialty restaurant. The buffet, quick-serve food bars on the pool deck, and Alfredo's Pizza do not take reservations.
I absolutely love using Dine My Way - it helped to make service run smoothly and pace diners out to maintain distancing.
Order Room Service Anywhere
Hungry for chicken fingers at 11pm? Want coffee and breakfast in bed? Cheese plate, hummus, and wine for an afternoon on the balcony?
Or how about needing advil, dramamine - even a windbreaker or stuffed animal?
You can order room service right from your phone, from a list of food and beverages, goods, gifts - and even room services like more hangers, pillows, blankets - or even service like a technician to your room.
We used the OceanNow service in MedallionClass to order room service often - including our favorite egg muffins and cafe style Americanos every morning!
The best part? Your order will come to you - wherever on the ship you are!
I ordered snacks one night, late at night, in the Hollywood Pool & Club, and they delivered them right to me, thanks to the medallion I was wearing!
Princess has been rolling out the MedallionClass program the last few cruises I have been on, but it offers even more features now than ever before.
The medallion really does reduce frustration for me, and help keep me organized on a cruise - but it also offered a lot of advantages for a post pandemic trip, since it helps you cut down on the papers and surfaces you're touching, and allows you to communicate with crew without being face to face.
Princess has also taken additional pandemic-specific steps to further reduce touch points, including an updated buffet setup.
No Room Key
You medallion acts as a room key - when you're standing in front of the door, it sees you, and unlocks!
No more fumbling for your key - just walk right up and open your door!
Thanks to the MedallionClass app, you can get all the information you need with your own ipad or cell phone (which lets face it, I always have with me all the time anyways, especially with how great MedallionClass internet is, and the fact I want to take a picture of everything), so you don't need brochures and papers - creating less touch points for you. (And less waste!)
You can keep track of your schedule, find your friends on the ship, make reservations, order drinks, find photos you've taken, pay for purchases in gift shops, gamble in the casino - all from a tap of your medallion or click of your app. I felt much more organized, felt I got to actually experience more activities I might normally miss, and didn't have to worry about hauling around a purse to buy things - just needed to wear my medallion!
In the Buffet
The number one question I got on Instagram about cruising was how the buffet was working - was it open post-pandemic?
I have to say I was pleasantly surprised with the way the buffet is being run now, and I really hope the changes stay in place forever, because they not only will help reduce the risk of coronavirus, but other illnesses as well.
Diners can grab individually plated items (items served in their own bowls or cups like fruit salads, some soups, some desserts), but for other buffet items, a crew member holds a plate and walks along the buffet line, plating for the guest at their direction, behind plexiglass.
I wondered if this would slow down buffet lines, but never saw a problem! The food looked great, and I felt even more confident eating from the buffet after the changes. I've always loved Princess' buffet and their delicious choices (they have great fresh picks that aren't too heavy and change up the menu often throughout the day so you can find tons of great choices to indulge!)- but I love it even more now.
Why We Love Cruising Post COVID
Cruising might not have been on your radar before coronavirus - but how else can you travel to numerous different destinations, with a group of people you know has been tested and vaccinated? You certainly can't guarantee that at all restaurants and hotels - but with cruising, you can try different restaurants, bars, performances, nightclubs, pools, and even the spa and gym - and do just that.
Cruising can be really flexible to what you're comfortable with - whether you're a social butterfly and want to meet new friends - or want to stick to your own group and keep a safe distance from other groups.
There is so much you can do on a cruise ship - even just from your own state room.
We had such an amazing time just taking in the view from our balcony - we watched whales, got to take in Glacier Bay and Marjorie Glacier, sat outside as we sailed into Juneau, watched the San Juan Islands drift by while sipping champagne on our embarkation day - we honestly could have stayed in our room the entire time and been perfectly happy (though with so much to do on ship, how could we?)
Everyone on our cruise was in an amazing mood - people were so thankful to be out exploring again post pandemic - and while we've all heard stories from airports and hotels, none of that came anywhere near our ship. Everyone we saw was so happy to be back breathing fresh ocean air, respectful of each other, and just plain happy.
It was such an amazing trip, I almost cried leaving the ship!
Sweet C's + Princess Cruises
For more on our trips with Princess Cruises, please check out some of our favorite trip recaps and recipes inspired by our favorite cruises below:
- Why to Book an Alaska Cruise
- What To Eat On The Majestic Princess
- Ketchikan, Alaska Cruise Port Guide
- Skagway, Alaska Cruise Port Guide
- Juneau Alaska Port Guide
- Top 11 Things To Do On The Sky Princess Cruise Ship
- Easy Greek Tzatziki Recipe
- Danish Dream Cake - Easy Coconut Caramel Cake
- The Ultimate Sky Princess Bar Crawl
- The Top 13 Ways To Make A Cruise Romantic
- Top 10 Reasons to Book an OceanMedallion Cruise
- Cruising With Celiac - Caribbean Princess
- Ocean Medallion on Caribbean Princess
- The Best Easy Pina Colada Recipe
- 4 Citrus Margaritas (& "no"garitas)
- The Best Easy Irish Brown Soda Bread Recipe
Book Your Own Real Vacation
Ready take a real vacation, and let the last years sail away?
Check out some of the offers below:Take advantage of up to $200 onboard spending money per stateroom. Available on all cruises and cruisetours. BOOK A CRUISE TODAY!
Princess is back — on the California Coast! Guests and crew together again starting October 6 aboard Majestic Princess! We will operate these cruises consistent with CDC guidelines for a vaccinated cruise. Book now!
Check Out Princess Cruises - Alaska 7-Day Voyage of the Glaciers (Northbound) - Interior from $899* per person. BOOK TODAY, TO SAIL LATER!
Princess is committed to meeting and often exceeding CDC guidance for safe cruising, so you can truly relax and enjoy. If you haven't considered cruising in the past, it is time to reconsider!