Go where you want, but wear a mask: The new rules for cruisers in Cozumel

Jun 17, 2021

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

The tours for cruisers in Cozumel began running again on Wednesday — the first day the island destination had seen a cruise ship in more than a year.

But the range of tour offerings isn’t what it used to be. And the rules for touring have been tweaked a little.

Most notably, as I experienced personally this week as one of the first people to visit Cozumel by cruise ship in 15 months: You’ll have to wear a mask at all times when touring on the island — or doing just about anything else.

For more cruise news, reviews and tips, sign up for TPG’s new cruise newsletter.

Mask-wearing is mandatory for now both for visitors as well as locals, and the local authorities are enforcing the rule.

You’ll also be urged to sanitize your hands more times than you can count. Cozumel, it seems, has gone a little disinfectant crazy.

I arrived in Cozumel on Wednesday aboard Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas — the first Royal Caribbean ship to restart operations in North America. It’s the first vessel from any line to visit Cozumel since cruising in the Caribbean shut down in early 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

What I found was a tourist hotspot just beginning to emerge from an economic crisis brought on by the downturn in global travel caused by the pandemic.

While some tourist attractions, restaurants and shops are back open, others remain closed — particularly in the downtown area. Around the cruise pier, merchants selling jewelry, tequila, traditional blankets and other souvenirs seemed almost desperate for business, pleading even more than usual with passing cruisers to stop in their stores.

In a normal year, Cozumel is the most-visited cruise port in the Caribbean, drawing more than 4.5 million cruisers. Cruise ship arrivals support a robust tourism economy. But for the past 15 months, the island’s cruise arrivals have been at zero.

Related: 6 changes we’ve seen as Royal Caribbean restarts in the Caribbean

Fewer tours are available

One of the big changes you’ll find if you visit Cozumel in the near future is that the range of tours is greatly diminished.

On a typical Royal Caribbean cruise that includes a stop at Cozumel, there are more than 50 excursions available to purchase through the ship. On this week’s sailing, there were fewer than a dozen, and one didn’t end up operating.

I initially signed up several weeks in advance of the sailing for a “Mayan Ruins, Island Tour and Beach” excursion ($71.99 for adults; $47.99 for children) that would last just over four hours. But I received an email just two days before the cruise telling me it had been canceled.

Once on board, I tried again by booking the four-hour “ATV Ride and Beach Relaxation” excursion ($70.99). This one did end up operating as planned, despite intermittent rain and lightning in Cozumel on Wednesday.

An ATV tour of the jungle in Cozumel on Wednesday. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

Among the common Cozumel tours that weren’t available on this sailing were scuba diving, semi-submersible and Atlantis submarine trips; helmet dives; Xcaret theme park visits; and monster Jeep tours.

The list of tours available included trips that brought snorkeling by catamaran or boat; dune buggy riding, dolphin encounters and beach breaks.

Masks are required

One of the things that was immediately noticeable upon walking off Adventure of the Seas in Cozumel on Wednesday was that everyone was wearing a mask.

This also was the case in Nassau, in the Bahamas, where this cruise began on Saturday.

While many states in the U.S. have eased their mask requirements over the past month following new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on May 13, mask-wearing remains the rule in many other places around the world.

New signs at the pier in Cozumel where Royal Caribbean ships dock alert passengers to a mandatory mask-wearing requirement on the island. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

In Cozumel, it’s not just recommended. It’s a widely enforced rule.

I saw a security official at the port politely but firmly telling a fellow Adventure of the Seas passengers who was not wearing a mask to put one on. Our guide on the ATV tour told us we would have to keep our masks on at all times during the tour — even when riding through the jungle on the ATVs.

This is in part because vaccination rates in Mexico remain far below the rates in the United States. Only 12% of people in Mexico are fully vaccinated, compared to nearly 45% of all U.S. citizens.

The Mexican state in which Cozumel is located, Quintana Roo, also has been experiencing rising COVID-19 cases for several months. It’s currently listed in “orange” status on Mexico’s four-tier COVID-19 risk “stoplight” system.

Orange status brings government-imposed limitations on some activities including tourism-related activities and a 50% cap on occupancy at restaurants and hotels. Should COVID-19 cases continue to rise, Quintana Roo could be placed in “red” status. That would bring a complete lockdown of the region and likely force an end to cruise calls.

Tourist attractions in Cozumel currently are operating at 50% capacity and requiring visitors to wear masks. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

As for the sanitizer craze in Cozumel, there now are sanitizer stations locating all over the cruise port area, and business owners often ask you to squirt some on your hands before entering. The bus driver on our ATV tour came around with sanitizer every time we stepped back on board to move to the next stop.

Individual touring is allowed

At some cruise destinations around the world, passengers only are being allowed off ships if they are on a ship-sponsored tour. This is designed to minimize interaction between passengers and locals that might lead to the spread of COVID-19. But neither Cozumel nor Royal Caribbean has made this a rule for stops at the island.

Royal Caribbean passengers riding ATVs through the jungle on Wednesday on a group tour. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

Passengers were able to walk straight off Adventure of the Seas on Wednesday and wander alone without guides into the tourist area with restaurants, bars and shops around the port, or proceed farther into town.

Small tour groups

Before the pandemic, there sometimes were as many as eight cruise ships docking in Cozumel in a single day. Many of these ships carried 3,000 or more passengers, meaning there could be 20,000 cruisers or more visiting the destination in a single day. But right now, the destination is handling just a small fraction of that number.

That is resulting in very small tour groups in some cases.

On Wednesday, Adventure of the Seas arrived with just over 1,000 passengers — a fraction of the number it normally holds. The ship is designed to carry up to 3,807 passengers at full occupancy. And there were no other ships on the schedule.

Even with far fewer tours available than normal, many of the individual tours that went out from the ship on Wednesday only had a limited number of participants.

An empty beach in Cozumel on Wednesday. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

There were just 10 people on my ATV tour — two of whom dropped out at the beginning due to the rainy weather. That left just eight of us out with a guide for an afternoon of touring.

The tour included a stop at a local beach, which was entirely empty save for the people in our group. In addition to reduced tourist numbers on the island, this probably also was a result of the iffy weather in Cozumel on Wednesday. It was overcast for much of the day with heavy rain at times.

Bottom line

Cozumel finally is back open to cruisers. But it could be a few months before it returns to normal as the Caribbean’s most-visited cruise port.

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

Featured image by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy.

 

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.