Sunday, January 16, 2022

To cruise or not to cruise?

Ultimately we decided to cruise

It was a dilemma between making what appeared to be the sensible choice and staying home or escaping the box we had been huddled in for almost two years. My brain had one solution, but my spirit had another. And that’s why Larry and I went on a cruise in early 2022, just as the omicron virus swept our state and county into the worst scenario since the pandemic began almost 2 years ago.

We had traveled during 2021, visiting Big Bend National Park in Texas in April and Fort Lauderdale, Florida in March. We celebrated our grandson’s high school graduation in Michigan in May. By July the virus had loosened its grip on our lives, and travel seemed okay again. So in August we swam with whale sharks off the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico and finally took the trip to Italy that had been rescheduled three times. We even visited Colorado for a glorious week hiking among the golden aspens of autumn. And all went well.

A previous Caribbean cruise was already booked for mid January, but the delta virus became a headliner, so we cancelled. Felt like that was the smart (safe) thing to do, and it was. But wanderlust crept into my consciousness, and by November I was ready to try again—just on a smaller scale.

Inviting pool area of the ship

Instead of flying to a Florida port for a 12-day cruise, maybe we could sail from Galveston, our state’s home port only a 3.5 hour drive away for a quick one-week excursion. We had received our two vaccines and would soon receive the booster shot, so, together with distancing and masking, we’d have ample protection. A cruise leaving on January 2 was booked.


Then omicron began spreading faster than milk spilled on the kitchen table. Friends on a long holiday cruise texted about not being able to disembark at most ports. They were stuck on the ship for weeks (at least it seemed that long) with not much to do except watch waves curl and splash in the ocean. The CDC began issuing dire warnings about ships with 10 or 20 or 50 people on board who tested positive for covid (not considering it was usually less than one percent of the number of people on board and most had very mild or no symptoms).

Still, being quarantined at sea in a small cabin would not be fun. Nothing adventurous about that.

One week before sailing we considered cancelling. Because our cruise line was allowing passengers to cancel up to 48 hours before sailing in return for full future cruise credit, people began doing just that.

For a few days, we had a new argument for going. With only about half the passengers still booked, social distancing would be easier, and service would likely be much improved. We began to reverse our decision. Call it rationalization or an actual shift in the likelihood of getting sick, we latched onto that fact. Also, all passengers and crew were required to be fully immunized, and we had to present a negative covid test taken two days before sailing.

 

The usual excitement was missing as we packed for the cruise. There were still so many unknowns, but we were willing to do our part to make this as personally safe as possible. That commitment and willingness to be extra vigilant on the cruise served us well.

Sailing day was uncharacteristically cold and windy as we drove to Galveston, Texas. Bundled in sweaters and puffy jackets, we parked the car, took the shuttle to the dock, and boarded the Royal Caribbean Liberty of the Seas. Fully vaccinated passengers were provided green wrist bands to be worn at all times. This would allow them access to certain dining areas, theater seating, and venues designated for vaccinated persons.

Fish and coral from our snorkeling
excursion at Roatan, Honduras


Because of predicted inclement weather, the captain changed the order of ports and headed to our southernmost stop in Roatan, Honduras. From there we would follow a northward journey that included Costa Maya and Cozumel. This new itinerary meant we had two sea days before docking--a brilliant decision that ultimately allowed passengers to have three perfect days for land activities. Winter in the Caribbean did not disappoint!

We were careful about our activities. We masked up indoors and also outdoors if there was a crowd of people around. We requested, and were given, a table for two in an out-of-the- way location but still by a window—the same table every evening in the main dining room.

We walked the promenade decks for additional exercise on sea days, played mini golf or ping pong when those venues were not crowded, and enjoyed our balcony when the weather warmed. We danced to our favorite band several nights and enjoyed a couple of game shows in vaccinated-only venues.

We rafted to a beautiful lagoon near Costa Maya, Mexico

We managed to catch the ice show before it was cancelled due to cast members quarantining (our green bracelets were checked). One main show in the theater was also cancelled, but the evening I forgot my green bracelet I was denied entry to the vaccinated seating section until I went back to the cabin to retrieve it. Tours were also lightly attended, with one of ours having only nine people and another only four.

Yet omicron continues to affect the cruising industry. Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines have cancelled many U.S. departures into March. As for Royal Caribbean, since the resumption of sailing, the total percentage of persons to become ill with the virus onboard their ships is 1.6, much lower than the general population in many areas. Crew members cannot leave the ship when in port, and some have had contracts extended longer than originally intended to shore up staff numbers. Senior officers became dining room servers when needed. Safety and service were still primary, and I give the cruise industry credit for doing the best they can.

We explored the ocean via a helmet dive 
at Cozumel, Mexico

Whether you decide to cruise in the coming months (assuming your cruise is not cancelled) is a personal choice. It’s a decision that only you can make by taking into consideration your medical situation and your tolerance for risk. Even as we know that all travel is inherently risky, we also know there are many benefits to exploring the rest of the world.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

What's in and what's out for 2022 travel?

The world’s most experienced travelers shared their insights and expectations for destination preferences, modes of transportation, and decision-making criteria in the Global Rescue Traveler Sentiment and Safety Survey. 

In a nearly unanimous response, domestic travel is “IN” but travelers are closely split when it comes to international travel. Fifty-eight percent of survey-takers say international travel is “OUT” while 42% say foreign trips are “IN.”  

Sedona, Arizona

Despite the split in opinion, traveler confidence is surging. TSA data indicates traveler levels have returned to 85% of their pre-pandemic levels. According to the 2021 Fall Global Rescue Traveler Sentiment and Safety Survey, nearly 86% of travelers have taken domestic trips, and 42% have traveled internationally since the pandemic started a year a half ago.   

Air and automobile travel are considered “IN” but large ship cruises are overwhelmingly “OUT.” One survey-taker said, “cruises are still out, except for smaller river cruises”   

AMA Serena, a river cruise ship

Travelers are basing their destinations on new, pandemic-related criteria. Locations with low-COVID-19 infection rates are, understandably, preferred over regions with high-COVID-19 infection incidents. “Countries and states with good, clear COVID-19 management, vaccination protocols and medical response plans are IN. Avoiding states and countries where COVID-19 education and vaccinations responses have lagged are OUT,” said one respondent.  

Old Faithful, Yellowstone
National Park

On another level, travelers are seeking uncrowded, remote or outdoor places to go. Historically, popular destinations are still in play if the COVID-19 rates are low [CDC COVID-19 Tracker]. Metropolitan areas in popular countries are generally “OUT” but cities with open spaces or located in less frequented areas are thought to be a viable option. “Out are large cities with no exposure to outdoor recreation,” said another respondent.   

Travelers are expecting to plan trips to more remote destinations, especially if it’s outside. But most are careful to point out that remote destinations are “OUT” if the local medical facilities are non-existent or insufficient to provide care for complicated injuries or illnesses, like COVID-19. “I would feel safe traveling internationally if I traveled to a country with modern medical facilities, a low COVID-19 rate, and available hospital beds if I had a medical problem while traveling,” said a respondent.  

This post was provided by Bill McIntyre at bmcintyre@globalrescue.com Global Rescue is the world’s leading provider of medical, security, evacuation and travel risk management services to enterprises, governments and individuals. www.globalrescue.com  

 

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Why you should explore South America at these all-inclusive lodges

If you love natural beauty and adventure and want to explore the best that South America has to offer, check out the travel company called Explora. Every Explora lodge is a haven of luxury and relaxation—the perfect combination for adventures in your chosen destination.

Explora Rapa Nui on Easter Island

Explora is truly an all-inclusive adventure company. A stay in any of the lodges not only includes the best accommodations in the area but also superb meals and snacks, all excursions, a sumptuous pool, bicycles, walking sticks, and much more.

For the third year in a row, Explora has received the award for the World’s Leading Expedition Company at the 2021 World Travel Awards. Additionally, Explora in Peru’s Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu won honors as the World’s Leading Adventure Hotel. More awards include Best South American Expedition Company, Leading Boutique Hotel in Chile (Explora Atacama), Leading Boutique Hotel in Peru (Explora in Sacred Valley), and Leading Resort in Chile (Explora in Torres del Paine).

Explora El Chalten,  Argentina

A special feature of each lodge is that architecture reflects the culture, heritage, and local nature of the incredible place where it is located. Each lodge employs its own knowledgeable guides who lead guests through the territory’s most exceptional touring possibilities—always with a commitment to conservation of these beautiful natural wonders.

Explora Lodge, Patagonia

The newest destination to be served by Explora is El Chalten, Argentina. Located on the north bank of the Electrico River with unrivaled views of the Marconi Glacier and the Electrico Valley, the lodge has 20 rooms and is the perfect base for Argentine and international travelers to discover the wonders of  the Patagonia. It offers over 30 explorations with different levels of difficulty so travelers of all skill levels can visit the main attractions of this part of the world.

Map showing regions where Explora has lodges

A few years ago Larry and I stayed at Explora Rapa Nui on Easter Island and were blown away by the attention to detail and to every guest’s needs. Please click on this link to read more about our experiences at Explora on Easter Island. http://www.goingonadventures.com/2016/06/discovering-easter-island-from-explora.html#.YcNd9WjMKUk

Immediately on arrival, activities begin. Then, each afternoon the guides meet with guests to decide on the following day’s activities, keeping in mind interests and abilities of individual travelers. Sometimes we were in a small group; other times Larry and I were the only persons on a specific adventure. The result is a very individualized immersion into remote regions of the world—unforgettable places that are not overrun with tourists.

A visit to see the famous 15 moias on Easter Island
was one of our adventures through the Explora Lodge.

If you have an inquisitive personality and want to travel safely to amazing regions of the world, here is good news: A recent study highlighted Chile as the country best prepared to deal with the Covid virus and its variants. More than 85% of the population has been vaccinated and more than 50 % have received a third booster shot.

Staying at an Explora lodge is not the least expensive way to experience outstanding South American destinations—but considering all that is included, it is among the very best.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier and free sources