The pandemic has changed the way I cruise (and it’s not about safety protocols)

Oct 25, 2021

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“What the heck did I do onboard?” I thought to myself as I struggled to write an article about one of my most recent cruises.

Pre-pandemic, the list of activities I checked off the daily schedule would have been a mile long. These days, though, I’ve realized I’m taking things a bit more slowly.

I’m not sure if it has to do with my age and the fact that I no longer feel compelled to see every show or try every waterslide onboard, or if I’m simply adjusting to life with a new baseline for what stresses me out and a fresh perspective on the value of my time.

Here, I’ll share an honest look at how my cruise style has changed and what I believe has led to those changes.

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In This Post

I check bags

Although I still opt for self-assist disembarkation at the end of each cruise, I no longer worry so much about packing light.

My carry-on-only abilities are intact, but after spending more than 12 months in sweatpants with no makeup on, I’m in favor of checking bags so I can finally make use of the wardrobe that’s been collecting dust in my closet. (Full disclosure: That includes an intensely sparkly, tulle-filled ballgown I bought at a huge discount last year thanks to all the canceled high school proms. If I limited myself to a carry-on, it would be the only article of clothing that would fit.)

I pay for upgrades

My wraparound aft balcony on Disney Fantasy (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a budget traveler who’s new to the whole points and miles game. Because I don’t have high-level loyalty status or tons of miles to cash in when I fly, I have to pay for upgrades, which were never worth the cost to me before.

For a flight to Greece prior to one of my first sailings after cruising resumed, I decided to give Emirates business class a try. (I was offered a deeply discounted price to do so because the flight was nearly empty due to the lack of people traveling.) It was worth every cent, and now I’m spoiled.

The experience led to a handful of other paid upgrades since — both on flights and on a recent Disney cruise, when just $192 took me and my travel companion from oceanview accommodations to a wraparound aft-facing balcony cabin.

I sleep in

I’ve never been a morning person, but it used to be that when I traveled I would wake up at the crack of dawn to try to fit more into my schedule. See all the sights! Tick off all the tourist boxes! Do it for the ‘gram!

In 2020, I was laid off from my previous job and spent two months doing absolutely nothing but mourning the loss before jumping back into work. Ultimately, that break was glorious. I focused on self-care, which means I finally know what it feels like to be well-rested and to have control over my schedule.

Currently, there are no more early mornings for me onboard (unless I have a shore excursion booked, but even that is becoming rarer for me). In discovering that a good night’s sleep is more important than how much I can cram into a single day, I’ve managed to rein in my FOMO significantly.

I spend more time at the spa

The thermal suite in the Lotus Spa on Majestic Princess (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

Before COVID-19, I would typically do a massage on each voyage. Now, I find myself booking a blowout when I’m frustrated with the cabin hairdryer or scheduling a manicure if I just didn’t have time to do my own nails pre-cruise.

Relaxation is key to keeping stress levels low, and I’m willing to pay a premium for that after what 2020 threw in everyone’s path. Heaven, help me: I’ve even started purchasing overpriced skincare products on board, knowing I can find them for much less money anywhere else.

I cruise alone

Sure, I’ve been on several media sailings this year where I’m part of a group of journalists I’ve now known long enough to call friends, but recently I haven’t had travel companions on most of my cruises — something unusual for me.

Separate from the fact that pandemic-related childcare issues, vaccination requirements and general apprehension have led some of my friends to be unable to sail with me, I find that because of last year’s isolation, I’m more OK now than I have ever been with the pleasure of my own company.

I shop … a lot

The Elemis products that drained my wallet on a recent sailing (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

Cheese alert: The virus has taught me life is short, so, within reason I’ve stopped allowing costs to keep me from doing and buying things that make me happy and add color to my world. I’m so thrilled cruising is back that I’m splurging with less guilt. In addition to the aforementioned spa products, I’m now the proud owner of jewelry and even logo items I previously would have thought were completely tacky — all from the onboard shops.

Just days before the shutdown, I joined Celebrity Cruises‘ International Women’s Day voyage, and one of the special guests was artist Autumn de Forest. I had been admiring one particular piece of her work for years, and I figured it was a good a time as any to take the plunge. I enjoyed the piece so much that I bought two more during the shutdown via an online auction, and I’ve been eyeing more throughout my recent sailings.

I do less but appreciate more

A greeting from a crew member, afternoon tea, a stunning view, in-cabin movies with a side of room service: These are some of the small cruise experiences that I used to largely take for granted because I hardly slowed down enough to enjoy them. A year without cruises has translated into my appreciation for every minor detail.

While the “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone” mindset might encourage some people to pick up the pace in order to see and do more now that cruising has returned, it has caused me to make sure that I truly relish the activities to which I devote my time, leading me to do a smaller number of things, but to draw more value from them.

Bottom line

A rare moment of adrenaline on one of my recent voyages (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

I started my cruise journalism career in my early 20s, and as much as I hate to admit it, I’m no longer the first one in line to try surfing or ziplining because, honestly, I’ve been there and done that. I’m not quite at the age where I’m making prune juice part of my daily routine, but I’m also past the stage where I stay up until all hours downing cocktails and putting away entire pies from the onboard pizza shop in one sitting, as tasty as they might be.

Many of the lessons I’ve learned during the past 18 months — both personally and professionally — have led to drastic changes in the way I cruise, both for pleasure and for work.

As I strive to spend my time more mindfully, my older, wiser, pandemic-weathered self now longs for quieter, less flashy, higher-quality onboard fun that helps me to relax and keep everything in perspective — even if it costs a bit more. And I’m totally OK with that.

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Featured photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy.

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