I typically try to go on two big trips and as many little trips as possible every year as I have a major addiction to traveling and new experiences. Needless to say the Pandemic put a damper on everyone’s life to say the least and being a travel advisor and my love of travel was a challenge to sit home for many reasons, my job setback and industry setback being the big one after health and safety.
I jumped at the opportunity to go on the Norwegian Encore Alaska Cruise as soon as the cruise lines figured out how to salvage the Alaska Season after Canada had kept it’s borders tightly closed. I was already vaccinated as it was pretty clear early on that to travel anywhere would be requiring proof of vaccinations and I mainly got vaccinated for health and my families safety.
I also had never been on Norwegian Cruise Lines, nor had I experienced Alaska’s beauty in person. I do have experience on creating great vacations for my clients with NCL and to Alaska, but now it was time to see it for myself!
As everyone is, I was very apprehensive about traveling during COVID and also with all the testing requirements – what would happen if I tested positive? What if the cruise cancelled? What if I flew there and had issues and couldn’t board the ship? I can be a nervous Nelly even at small things, so this was going to have me use all my calming techniques I have learned over the years. Besides, the opportunity to travel is too great to resist (answer to all those questions is through your travel professional of course! Know before you go).
Norwegian Cruise Lines already had testing requirements and protocols in place before any of the other cruise lines. Norwegian cruise line offers testing right at the port before you board. Of course you can always test before flying out as an extra precaution. We went ahead and filled out all the health declarations, uploaded our proof of vaccination, and loaded up with masks and headed to the airport for our flight to Seattle.
We flew in early as we headed to a wedding of a dear friend in Oak Harbor, then the next day arrived at the ship and my anxiety waited in the wings to see how I would handle the day. Norwegian Cruise ships actually depart out of Pier 66 in Seattle which is right in the thick of it all in the city. I could see Pike’s Place Market as we were going into the port building. We had taken an Uber from the rental car facility and was glad for that as the main street of the Pier was busy! No clue where you would park, and I don’t know if I would want to be on a big bus transfer.
It was really simple as we were let off the curb, the porters took our luggage and up we went for testing. Level 1 complete.
We showed our passports and vaccination cards and proceeded to level 2 of our endeavor. We waited in lines and they had several medical personnel there to take your information, give you a card with your 4 digit number on it and then you went in for testing. The tests were the Rapid small Q-tip type. They labeled your test with your four digit number you got and you went into the waiting room. It was a huge room with two big screens on the wall that had numbers up there. Basically looked like a Keno board. And you waited there for your results. Many passengers yelled BINGO when their number was called out. When your number was called it meant you were clear to go. Also, if you registered before you went on the cruise you could get an email or text before your number was called.
That 15-20 minutes of waiting for your number was when my anxiety jumped on stage and started tap dancing. They only used numbers though, not names. The tap dancing got more intense when Eric (my travel companion) got his results back and they were negative, but it was crickets for me. About 10 minutes later, I got a text showing my results were negative as well. Move up to level 3.
We got to go in the ‘cleared’ line and received a pink paper bracelet that would let everyone from that point on know we had cleared our test. By the way, it was very funny how long people kept those bracelets on. We made it into a point game and I won at the end when I saw two people still had them on at the airport to fly home. Those were just to get through security and on the boat. LOL.
Then we went through security, dumped water bottles, put our bags on the belt, and went through the metal detector. Level 3: clear.
Got our Passports checked again and went through a few halls. Level 4: clear.
We lined up again and signed a HIPAA form and an acknowledgement form that Norwegian Cruise Line would not share our results with anyone. Level 5: Clear. I made a joke it was like Mario Bros and we were clearing video game levels. A few people thought I was funny, but I couldn’t tell too much if it was a courtesy laugh or if they were even smiling as we all had masks on. I did hear some chuckles.
My anxiety tap dancer got tired and didn’t see any other reasons to panic, so she made her way off stage and finally sat down.
Level 6: show our boarding passes and get our cards for our cabin and - Winner!! We passed!
On to the ship! We got onboard and was told we did not need to wear masks on board. WOOHOO!
We found our Muster Station, all you had to do was check in and you were done. Then went to get food, because, well that’s what you do! Then we were told overhead that our staterooms were ready.
Now for vacation. Looking back at this new process, the biggest thing I noticed is it was a LOT of walking. We were fine, but there were some older guests getting pretty tired, so I would highly recommend using the wheelchair assist as it is a lot of steps and walking to complete all the steps and processed. The other great thing is, it was done very efficiently I thought for the amount of guests and just moving people through all those tests and all the checkpoints, I thought it couldn’t have been handled any better.
Our Alaska Itinerary: Icy Strait Point, Skagway, Juneau, Endicott Arm & Dawes Glacier, Ketchikan. * Big notice – make sure to have your shore excursions booked before you go if you want to do excursions. Especially the active ones. People tried to book once on shore and they were sold out.
In Icy Strait Point: We did the ZipGlider. The biggest one in the world. 1300 feet up and you go 60 miles per hour! It was SO much fun. Icy Strait Point was awesome, after our Ziprider, we went and had amazing crab legs and the most amazing Bloody Mary I’ve ever seen or tasted.
Skagway: We did the White Pass Train. It only went to Mile Marker 14 due to bridge construction as they didn’t think the Alaska season was going to open up. Still completely worth it. Got Crab Legs again…
Ketchikan: we did the Lighthouse, Bight State Park, and Eagle excursion. This was a sightseeing cruise that was great and allowed time to wander around Ketchikan as well. More Seafood… I had halibut tacos.
**In Ketchikan with Norwegian Cruise Lines, they do not port right in Ketchikan. They have a new dock about 15 minutes away from town. Norwegian kept talking about how nice it was and convenient, but it wasn’t very convenient. When we arrived in Ketchikan I saw another line that literally pulled straight up to the town. But I do know it will help with traffic flow for NCL to be out a ways from the center of town.
I saw and experienced all I could. We did the massages in the spa, the go cart racing (Eric had best lap, I had 2nd best lap – only behind by .2 seconds - just saying: we killed it) , specialty dining, and made great friends with the staff. I HIGHLY recommend doing the dining package on Norwegian Cruise Line for the specialty dining. Their buffet was really great, their main dining was just okay, but their specialty dining was INCREDIBLE. I would pay the money on that one to do those restaurants in lieu of the main dining. I normally don’t say that on other cruise lines, but here for sure.
We saw Eagles, Whales, flying fish, lots of Star Fish, two huge Sun Fish (way cool), Sea Lions, and Harbor Seals.
All the locals wore masks and took precautions and protocols seriously and I do not blame them. Their main income is tourism and they want to follow all guidelines to keep tourists able to come in. We all did our part to stick with wearing masks in port, washing or sanitizing hands, and spending our money. It was fun and they were so happy we were there! Skagway only has 800 residents and they were so worried about the season being cancelled so they loved that they had us there and that felt really good.
We did bring home some Bull Kelp Pickles – I am going to start ordering them online as they are AMAZING!
In the long and short of it, if you are too worried to travel now, then don’t for now, but plan for the future. If you are like me, and just need to have it in your life, it IS worth going through all the steps, requirements, and just being patient with the process and being kind to all those who are so happy to have their jobs back!
I am planning on going on as many trips as possible, being as safe as possible, following all protocols that are required, and making international friends again.
By the way --- Lines at the airport to come home in Seattle? You better make sure to book your flights 1pm or later, you will not make it…just make sure you talk to your travel professional. I saw a LOT of people not account for 2+ hour long wait times for security and they missed their flight. That’s what we are here for: We make sure you are all set in your planning!
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