Cruising the Caribbean during COVID

By Wanda Bahde
This item appears on page 11 of the April 2022 issue.
The Celebrity Equinox docked in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. Photos by Wanda Bahde

I took the “Ultimate Southern Caribbean Cruise” aboard the Celebrity Equinox of Celebrity Cruises (Miami, FL; 888/751-7804,, Dec. 22, 2021-Jan. 3, 2022.

Initially, I felt safer on board than I did in our local Walmart. All passengers were required to have received COVID vaccinations, test negative no more than 48 hours before departure, answer a pre-boarding health questionnaire and not have a fever when boarding. Masks were not required on board, and hand sanitizer was everywhere.

Our first two ports — St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands, and St. John’s, Antigua — permitted free access for vaccinated passengers but required everyone to wear masks when ashore.

The next two — Bridgetown, Barbados, and Castries, St. Lucia — permitted guests to disembark only if they had booked an excursion through Celebrity or took a government-approved independent taxi tour or would shop only in the enclosed port — all in the cruise “bubble.” Masks were required when ashore.

Only in Antigua did I go ashore independently. In the USVI, Barbados and St. Lucia (and, later, Sint Maarten), I took excursions through Celebrity.

Then life got worrisome. On Day 6, the captain shared his first “important message” over the ship’s PA system, stating that two passengers had demonstrated COVID-like symptoms and had tested positive. They were quarantined, and everyone who had been in contact with them was also tested and temporarily quarantined, per CDC guidelines.

I then understood why every excursion driver charted our bus seats by cabin number and, of course, required hand sanitizer be used.

The Celebrity Equinox docked in Barbados.

Similar messages continued daily as more passengers tested positive. The final announced count of passengers who tested positive for COVID was 18, out of approximately 1,500 on board.

Announcements then went from COVID-positive counts to itinerary changes, beginning with, on Dec. 28, “As we return to service, Celebrity Cruises works closely with local health authorities and the status of travel conditions around the world. At this time, St. George’s, Grenada, has made a change in their entry requirements for transit calls, due to the Omicron variant.

“As a result of this last-minute decision by the Grenada health authorities, we will be replacing our scheduled call to St. George’s Grenada on Wednesday, Dec. 29, with Roseau, Dominica.”

Ultimately, St. George’s in Grenada, Roseau in Dominica, Basseterre in Saint Kitts & Nevis, and Nassau in the Bahamas all refused our transit calls and were replaced by Philipsburg, Sint Maarten, a free-access port. I worried if the United States would permit us to return home!

By Dec. 31, the captain had requested all passengers to wear masks, and our daily activity bulletin encouraged our reporting any COVID symptoms.

Much to my relief, returning to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Jan. 3 required only passport control — no COVID test, quarantine or health screening.* Celebrity did offer COVID tests to those who needed them for back-to-back cruises or for return to their home countries, if required.

My total cost for the cruise package was $2,975, covering a shared cabin, transportation from The Villages (Florida), tips, drinks, Wi-Fi and $200 On Board Credit, plus $169 for shore excursions and $263 for trip insurance. I booked the trip through a local travel agency.

The Celebrity Equinox was festively decorated for a holiday cruise.

Since this was my first cruise in the Caribbean, I was disappointed with the itinerary changes and shore excursion restrictions. However, Celebrity staff repeatedly thanked us for sailing and offered a variety of activities, dining and shows. The service was superb.

Passengers who were only seeking festive Christmas decor, lazy “at sea” time and upscale dining opportunities seemed pleased.

COVID definitely impacted my Caribbean cruise experience.

Summerfield, FL

*According to the CDC, passengers returning to the US by ship are not required to provide proof of a negative result on a test for COVID-19.