Cruising the Bahamas and Bermuda during COVID

By John Leach
This item appears on page 14 of the November 2021 issue.
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Our “permission to board” email from the Bahamian government, after our COVID test. Photos by John Leach

Eileen and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary on July 17, 2021, cruising in the BAHAMAS aboard the Crystal Serenity of Crystal Cruises (Miami, FL; www.crystalcruises.com). Actually, we were on two back-to-back 7-day cruises, July 10-17 and July 17-24, each with the same round-trip itinerary, starting in Nassau.

Our cruises were spectacular, and not just because it had been so long since we last cruised. Everything on the cruise went well, and even after 16 months with no passengers, the ship looked as good as ever.

All passengers had to be vaccinated, and everyone had an antigen test for COVID-19 before being allowed to board. The results took about 10 minutes, with an email sent to your phone. Those who were doing more than one cruise, as we were, had to have a test done aboard the ship, and test negative, the day before staying on for the next week.

Because of the vaccine requirement and testing, everyone felt very safe in our “bubble.”

On board, the crew had to wear masks, despite all being vaccinated. Passengers only had to wear masks when off the ship (during tendering and on land) — a Bahamian requirement.

On the ship, changes from pre-COVID were minor and no real inconvenience. Some seats at the bars were not available (two of the four bars were too narrow to have seats occupied); there was no self-service food, but there were still buffets with staff to serve us; doors in public rooms with two entrances were marked either “in” or “out,” and people’s temperatures were taken before they entered dining venues.

The food was excellent, as usual, and the entertainment and lectures were spectacular. Although the cruise line was keeping the same entertainers on for the first few cruises, many shows from the first week were not repeated the second week. There were usually two shows/events each night.

Unfortunately for the single ladies on board who liked to dance, there was no “Ambassador (Gentleman) Hosts” program, but there was still plenty of dancing.

Our first week’s cruise had to skip Bimini due to a COVID outbreak there. By our second week, the ship was allowed to dock there. We just had an extra sea day our first week, which was fine with us, as, with so much to do on board, we love sea days.

To be honest, there isn’t much to do on the outer islands of the Bahamas, unless you like beautiful beaches and gorgeous crystal-clear waters. That isn’t really “our scene”; we were there for the ship!

We did do a shore excursion each week on Great Exuma, and the first, billed as “swimming with pigs,” proved to be surprisingly popular. After visitors are transported there by fast boat, the pigs swim out to greet you along with their cute piglets, which can be bottle-fed. The adult pigs are fed carrots. Actually, it’s more paddling and wading than swimming.

Stingrays are also fed there, so, as you stand in the water, they are brushing against you and can be stroked. With visits to other islands for a swim and the beautiful water colors, it turned out to be a very worthwhile tour.

The following week, on the same island, we did a 2-person all-terrain vehicle, or ATV, ride, with me driving and Eileen as the passenger. This was fun but quite hard-going (there was no power steering, and turning the handlebars too quickly could easily flip the vehicle); I can see why they cut it off at age 75. Eileen and I were the only ones who ended up doing this (I guess everyone else was with the pigs), so we had our own guide, on another ATV, for a very personalized tour.

On other islands, we generally walked around on our own.

As I said, the primary attraction for us was the ship and the 18 hours a day we were being entertained and fed.

For our 50th wedding anniversary, we enjoyed a lovely meal in the ship’s Italian restaurant, Prego, complete with cake. A few days later, because this was our 75th “milestone” cruise with Crystal, we were treated to a fantastic private dinner with senior officers and staff. All in all, it was a most memorable Golden Anniversary.

On these Bahamas cruises, we had one of the larger cabins on the top passenger deck (luckily, the sea remained calm, so no swaying). As a result, the two weeks cost $24,028, which we paid for using credits from previously canceled cruises (Aug. ’21, pg. 16).

Flying in and out of the Bahamas is not the easiest thing to do, but the hassle was well worth it for us. If we were to do it again, however, we would try to avoid using Nassau’s Lynden Pindling International Airport on a Saturday.

A month later, Eileen and I did two more back-to-back 7-day cruises with Crystal, each a round trip from Boston to BERMUDA, Aug. 29-Sept. 5 and Sept. 5-12. The 14 days cost $9,436, again paid for with credit from canceled cruises. (We were lower down in the ship this time — a good choice, since the second week was somewhat impacted by Hurricane Larry, meaning there was a little more ship’s motion.)

You may find the arduous steps we had to take to visit Bermuda of interest.

Embarkation on Sunday required our being tested for COVID the previous Wednesday, having earlier registered with the Bermuda authorities (www.gov.bm/cruise-travel-authorisation) for $75 each. We were instructed by them in an email to upload our COVID vaccine certificates and test results on Thursday, and it had to be a PCR test, not the “quick” antigen test.

However, it can take 24 to 48 hours (or more) to get the results if the PCR test is done at a pharmacy, etc. Eileen and I were tested at a CVS Pharmacy and got our results (negative) in 34 and 40 hours, respectively, so could not upload them until Friday.

It then took 24 hours for Bermuda to process the travel authorization and email it to us. The email linked to a copy of the “waiver” that had to be electronically signed (absolving Bermuda of responsibility if we got COVID), which then formed our “Travel Authorisation document.” The signing was done using the touchscreen of our phone and also typing our initials into a box, after which we uploaded the document to the Bermuda website.

We had received that email on Saturday morning while at the airport, about to head to Boston, where we spent the night. This all made for a lot of stress!

Upon our arrival at the port, we each were given an antigen test (free, with results in 10 minutes) before being allowed to board — a Crystal requirement.

The next day, Monday, we each had a PCR test on board — quite speedy and at no cost to us. When the ship reached Bermuda, late Tuesday afternoon, passengers’ test samples were sent ashore for a lab on Bermuda to process. When everyone on the ship tested negative, we were allowed to dock and go ashore, on Wednesday morning.

We stayed at Bermuda until sailing at 5 p.m. Thursday. On the island (actually a chain of islands connected by bridges and causeways), Eileen and I took a ship’s tour that covered almost every road they have! It gave a good overview of this clean and prosperous island.

A Junkanoo performance on the dock in Nassau, before the ship sailed.

Because Eileen and I were doing a second cruise from Boston to Bermuda (we remained in the same cabin), we had to reapply for travel authorization ($75 each), have PCR tests (free) on the ship, upload the results and again get an authorization to start the next cruise. At least this time there was no stress over getting the test results in time, only over getting negative results.

The PCR tests that were processed using equipment on the ship gave results in less than two hours. (For PCR tests at pharmacies, the lengthier response time is due to samples having to be shipped to a lab and wait in line for processing.)

On Monday of our second week, we each had to get another PCR test (free) for the Bermuda authorities and, again, could not get off the ship to visit the island until everyone had tested negative. This time, because of Hurricane Larry, we had a shortened visit. The captain got us to Bermuda on Tuesday morning, and we were allowed ashore at 3 p.m. We sailed the following day at 5 p.m.

If Eileen and I did not enjoy the ship so much (this time it was the Crystal Symphony), I am not sure all the hassle would have been worth it! Certainly, it is so difficult to get to Bermuda (and most other places, it seems), I would not consider a vacation there at the moment were it not for the cruising aspect.

Of course, when it comes to flying back to the US — and almost anywhere outside the US — you either have your test certificate or you do not fly. Interestingly, when we went to the Bahamas, we needed a COVID test to fly back to the US, but when we sailed into the US from Bermuda, there were no US testing requirements.

For those of us who love traveling, we will not be daunted by the hurdles facing us. However, I am sure there are a lot of folks who are quite put off by the difficulties in place. At the moment, one needs to carry a smartphone and be able to receive emails and upload information to websites in order to cruise as we did. Fortunately, when on the ship, there was always someone to help.

The big advantage of cruising is that one is in a “bubble.” Our ship was one of the safest places on Earth when it came to COVID! Let’s all hope that things will improve, but, then, we have been saying that for well over a year.

JOHN LEACH
Hickory, NC

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Our “permission to board” email from the Bahamian government, after our COVID test. Photos by John Leach

Eileen and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary on July 17, 2021, cruising in the BAHAMAS aboard the Crystal Serenity of Crystal Cruises (Miami, FL; www.crystalcruises.com). Actually, we were on two back-to-back 7-day cruises, July 10-17 and July 17-24, each with the same round-trip itinerary, starting in Nassau.

Our cruises were spectacular, and not just because it had been so long since we last cruised. Everything on the cruise went well, and even after 16 months with no passengers, the ship looked as good as ever.

All passengers had to be vaccinated, and everyone had an antigen test for COVID-19 before being allowed to board. The results took about 10 minutes, with an email sent to your phone. Those who were doing more than one cruise, as we were, had to have a test done aboard the ship, and test negative, the day before staying on for the next week.

Because of the vaccine requirement and testing, everyone felt very safe in our “bubble.”

On board, the crew had to wear masks, despite all being vaccinated. Passengers only had to wear masks when off the ship (during tendering and on land) — a Bahamian requirement.

On the ship, changes from pre-COVID were minor and no real inconvenience. Some seats at the bars were not available (two of the four bars were too narrow to have seats occupied); there was no self-service food, but there were still buffets with staff to serve us; doors in public rooms with two entrances were marked either “in” or “out,” and people’s temperatures were taken before they entered dining venues.

The food was excellent, as usual, and the entertainment and lectures were spectacular. Although the cruise line was keeping the same entertainers on for the first few cruises, many shows from the first week were not repeated the second week. There were usually two shows/events each night.

Unfortunately for the single ladies on board who liked to dance, there was no “Ambassador (Gentleman) Hosts” program, but there was still plenty of dancing.

Our first week’s cruise had to skip Bimini due to a COVID outbreak there. By our second week, the ship was allowed to dock there. We just had an extra sea day our first week, which was fine with us, as, with so much to do on board, we love sea days.

To be honest, there isn’t much to do on the outer islands of the Bahamas, unless you like beautiful beaches and gorgeous crystal-clear waters. That isn’t really “our scene”; we were there for the ship!

We did do a shore excursion each week on Great Exuma, and the first, billed as “swimming with pigs,” proved to be surprisingly popular. After visitors are transported there by fast boat, the pigs swim out to greet you along with their cute piglets, which can be bottle-fed. The adult pigs are fed carrots. Actually, it’s more paddling and wading than swimming.

Stingrays are also fed there, so, as you stand in the water, they are brushing against you and can be stroked. With visits to other islands for a swim and the beautiful water colors, it turned out to be a very worthwhile tour.

The following week, on the same island, we did a 2-person all-terrain vehicle, or ATV, ride, with me driving and Eileen as the passenger. This was fun but quite hard-going (there was no power steering, and turning the handlebars too quickly could easily flip the vehicle); I can see why they cut it off at age 75. Eileen and I were the only ones who ended up doing this (I guess everyone else was with the pigs), so we had our own guide, on another ATV, for a very personalized tour.

On other islands, we generally walked around on our own.

As I said, the primary attraction for us was the ship and the 18 hours a day we were being entertained and fed.

For our 50th wedding anniversary, we enjoyed a lovely meal in the ship’s Italian restaurant, Prego, complete with cake. A few days later, because this was our 75th “milestone” cruise with Crystal, we were treated to a fantastic private dinner with senior officers and staff. All in all, it was a most memorable Golden Anniversary.

On these Bahamas cruises, we had one of the larger cabins on the top passenger deck (luckily, the sea remained calm, so no swaying). As a result, the two weeks cost $24,028, which we paid for using credits from previously canceled cruises (Aug. ’21, pg. 16).

Flying in and out of the Bahamas is not the easiest thing to do, but the hassle was well worth it for us. If we were to do it again, however, we would try to avoid using Nassau’s Lynden Pindling International Airport on a Saturday.

A month later, Eileen and I did two more back-to-back 7-day cruises with Crystal, each a round trip from Boston to BERMUDA, Aug. 29-Sept. 5 and Sept. 5-12. The 14 days cost $9,436, again paid for with credit from canceled cruises. (We were lower down in the ship this time — a good choice, since the second week was somewhat impacted by Hurricane Larry, meaning there was a little more ship’s motion.)

You may find the arduous steps we had to take to visit Bermuda of interest.

Embarkation on Sunday required our being tested for COVID the previous Wednesday, having earlier registered with the Bermuda authorities (www.gov.bm/cruise-travel-authorisation) for $75 each. We were instructed by them in an email to upload our COVID vaccine certificates and test results on Thursday, and it had to be a PCR test, not the “quick” antigen test.

However, it can take 24 to 48 hours (or more) to get the results if the PCR test is done at a pharmacy, etc. Eileen and I were tested at a CVS Pharmacy and got our results (negative) in 34 and 40 hours, respectively, so could not upload them until Friday.

It then took 24 hours for Bermuda to process the travel authorization and email it to us. The email linked to a copy of the “waiver” that had to be electronically signed (absolving Bermuda of responsibility if we got COVID), which then formed our “Travel Authorisation document.” The signing was done using the touchscreen of our phone and also typing our initials into a box, after which we uploaded the document to the Bermuda website.

We had received that email on Saturday morning while at the airport, about to head to Boston, where we spent the night. This all made for a lot of stress!

Upon our arrival at the port, we each were given an antigen test (free, with results in 10 minutes) before being allowed to board — a Crystal requirement.

The next day, Monday, we each had a PCR test on board — quite speedy and at no cost to us. When the ship reached Bermuda, late Tuesday afternoon, passengers’ test samples were sent ashore for a lab on Bermuda to process. When everyone on the ship tested negative, we were allowed to dock and go ashore, on Wednesday morning.

We stayed at Bermuda until sailing at 5 p.m. Thursday. On the island (actually a chain of islands connected by bridges and causeways), Eileen and I took a ship’s tour that covered almost every road they have! It gave a good overview of this clean and prosperous island.

A Junkanoo performance on the dock in Nassau, before the ship sailed.

Because Eileen and I were doing a second cruise from Boston to Bermuda (we remained in the same cabin), we had to reapply for travel authorization ($75 each), have PCR tests (free) on the ship, upload the results and again get an authorization to start the next cruise. At least this time there was no stress over getting the test results in time, only over getting negative results.

The PCR tests that were processed using equipment on the ship gave results in less than two hours. (For PCR tests at pharmacies, the lengthier response time is due to samples having to be shipped to a lab and wait in line for processing.)

On Monday of our second week, we each had to get another PCR test (free) for the Bermuda authorities and, again, could not get off the ship to visit the island until everyone had tested negative. This time, because of Hurricane Larry, we had a shortened visit. The captain got us to Bermuda on Tuesday morning, and we were allowed ashore at 3 p.m. We sailed the following day at 5 p.m.

If Eileen and I did not enjoy the ship so much (this time it was the Crystal Symphony), I am not sure all the hassle would have been worth it! Certainly, it is so difficult to get to Bermuda (and most other places, it seems), I would not consider a vacation there at the moment were it not for the cruising aspect.

Of course, when it comes to flying back to the US — and almost anywhere outside the US — you either have your test certificate or you do not fly. Interestingly, when we went to the Bahamas, we needed a COVID test to fly back to the US, but when we sailed into the US from Bermuda, there were no US testing requirements.

For those of us who love traveling, we will not be daunted by the hurdles facing us. However, I am sure there are a lot of folks who are quite put off by the difficulties in place. At the moment, one needs to carry a smartphone and be able to receive emails and upload information to websites in order to cruise as we did. Fortunately, when on the ship, there was always someone to help.

The big advantage of cruising is that one is in a “bubble.” Our ship was one of the safest places on Earth when it came to COVID! Let’s all hope that things will improve, but, then, we have been saying that for well over a year.

JOHN LEACH
Hickory, NC