U.S. cruising: Passengers must adapt to ever-changing rules for port calls

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T0705EDGEBUBBLETOUR_JJ_HR [Credit: Johanna Jainchill]
A group on a Celebrity Cruises' tour gathers on the dock in Cozumel outside the Celebrity Edge. Passengers on the Adventure of the Seas, docked across the quay, were allowed to roam freely in port. Photo Credit: Johanna Jainchill

ONBOARD THE CELEBRITY EDGE -- Richard Fain, ever the quotable CEO, succinctly summarized the difficulty of keeping up with cruise restrictions in the current climate: "We are dealing with a hodgepodge of regulations and rules that would confuse the Dalai Lama."

For those of us far below that level of intelligence, the restrictions can be downright perplexing. Especially when it comes to rules around disembarking in port.

As I've written this week, the onboard experience on the Celebrity Edge's first cruise was remarkably normal. The shoreside experience was not. Port policies are set via a combination of the destination and the cruise line, and travelers on the Edge faced confusion and inconsistencies.

For example: two days before the cruise departed we were told that we would not be able to disembark in the Mexican ports of Costa Maya or Cozumel except on Celebrity's curated bubble tours. Once onboard, we found out that would also be allowed to disembark independently in Costa Maya to visit shops, restaurants and cafes in the private port area, or take a curated taxi tour to a pre-approved destination. That was not wholly unexpected -- anyone traveling now should know that changes in virus prevalence and vaccination rates makes these types of decisions part of traveling in a pandemic world.

But just up the coast, in Cozumel, passengers were still only allowed to disembark on Celebrity's tours and couldn't even go into the immediate port area.

Here's what's really confusing: Passengers on the Adventure of the Seas, from Celebrity sister line Royal Caribbean International, was docked right across from the Edge on the Cozumel pier, and those passengers were allowed to get off and wander freely in port.

Another cruise line gets creative in its approach to 'bubble' cruise excursions.

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A Royal Caribbean Group spokesperson told me that since the Adventure's home port is Nassau, it has different rules than the Edge.

On this Edge voyage, at least, about 25% of the roughly 1,200 passengers onboard took the cruise line's excursions in Costa Maya and Cozumel. So many people stayed on the ship in Cozumel that Luminae, the restaurant exclusively for suite guests, opened for lunch to relieve the expected crush at other spots onboard.

Anyone cruising in these early months will have to expect that changes are possible, both onboard and off.

It reminds me of a conversation I had earlier this month Gary Smith, a Dream Vacations franchisee, about setting expectations for clients as cruises restart.

"Everything these days is sold with an asterisk over it -- an asterisk in giant print," he said. "We tell our customers to expect the worst, and if you're willing to accept the worst, whatever you consider that to be -- that you have to wear a mask, that you have an excursion in a bubble -- if that's your worst, then you're fine, because it can only get better from there."

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