What to expect from flights, cruises and more post-pandemic

We’re in the busy summer travel season and I’m getting an increased amount of vacation-related questions.

The good news for international travelers is that the U.S. recently lifted its requirement that international air travelers to the U.S. take a COVID-19 test within a day before boarding their flights. (Make note, however, that the CDC will reassess the need for testing requirements based on various COVID strains and severity.)

Although COVID-19 restrictions have eased in many parts of the world, there are still some hot-spots to avoid. Health and safety protocols vary in different countries and can change on a weekly (and sometimes daily) basis.

The bad news is the continuing disruption of domestic and international flights. Experts believe this is not going away anytime in the near future, so what’s a traveler to do if your flight is delayed or cancelled?

If your flight is delayed, go to the Flight Aware website/app and put in your flight number. Flight Aware will show where your plane is, which will help you decide your next move. How many times has your airline posted that your flight is delayed by 30 minutes, but it’s usually longer? Flight Aware will show if your plane is still in another city two or more hours away. With that said, if Flight Aware shows your plane is en route, it might be able to make up time in the air and could arrive at the gate on time – or if weather is an issue, this info may help you decide how long your delay will be – in case you need to try to get on another flight.

Harrisburg International Airport spokesman Scott Miller also stresses the importance of flying early in the day, being flexible and if you have a “can’t miss” cruise, wedding or meeting, fly in the day before.

The ongoing war in Ukraine has altered all Baltic and Russia itineraries indefinitely but has done little to cancel the majority of European ocean and river cruises. But you must be very proactive, informed and prepared before leaving home. As of this writing, cruising is the only industry in the U.S. requiring both vaccinations and testing for crew & passengers.

Over the past couple months, I’ve been out of the country on back-to-back trips and have had very different travel experiences.

In late March I was onboard Regent Seven Seas’ newest addition to their fleet, “Seven Seas Splendor,” for a one-week round trip Ft. Lauderdale/Caribbean sailing. We flew from HIA and at that time had to wear a mask at the airport and on the plane. In order to board the “Splendor” we had to show proof of being fully vaccinated plus a negative COVID-19 antigen test. Masks on the ship were optional for guests, with the majority of passengers not wearing them.

It felt very normal, and zero coronavirus cases were reported. We were told to bring all health documents when getting off the ship in port — Bonaire, Great Stirrup Cay Bahamas, Roatan, Honduras and Key West — although no one looked at anything except our ship’s key card ID.

Beginning Aug. 1, Regent Seven Seas will no longer require guests to complete pre-cruise COVID-19 testing unless required by local regulations and governments, such as the U.S.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises is considered the most all-inclusive luxury cruise line in the world. You hear that a lot nowadays about all-inclusive travel options, but on board Regent Seven Seas, it’s true.

Here is a sampling of what is included in your cruise fare:

  • Round-trip airfare, and if you book a transcontinental sailing, business class air (and the business class airport lounge) is included. (Have you priced business class air to Europe, Asia or South America lately?)
  • Excursions in every port of call – and not just the city sightseeing bus tours. Tours can include: exclusive train or boat rides; family meals at a local home or vineyard; art, photography and cooking classes; private off-hour museum tours; and more.
  • Unlimited valet laundry services, including pressing. (It makes for lighter packing if you plan accordingly.)
  • Unlimited beverages, wines, spirits, craft beers, specialty coffees, sparkling water, soda, and regional beverages.
  • Unlimited Wifi.
  • All gratuities.

And so much more. No nickel and diming. Many guests walk off the ship with no bill.

My five favorite features on this cruise were: the overall luxurious “living-at-sea” lifestyle; space — it was never crowded and there was no waiting in lines; the food; the infinity pool and relaxation area; and the genuine warmth and personal attention from the crew and officers.

The upfront cost of a cruise like this will most likely be higher than a premium or contemporary/mass style of ship. It is very important that you take the time to compare all of the costs with your travel agent and then decide if this is the type of cruise vacation you want.

Our second cruise was in April and May, aboard Holland America Line’s new flagship, “Rotterdam”. It was a two-week transatlantic crossing from Fort Lauderdale, with ports of call in Portugal, France, Belgium and the Netherlands, Amsterdam, plus a week of sailing the coast of Norway.

For 147 years, Holland America has been a leader in the premium-class style of traditional cruising with a high number of loyal past-passengers known as “Mariners”.

Rotterdam holds 2,668 passengers and, as expected, our transatlantic leg of the cruise was mostly American, over age 70 and 90% “Mariners”. We had 1,600 passengers on board and loved it. There was plenty of space, no long lines and lots of individual attention.

The ship filled to maximum capacity, however, once we got to Amsterdam, with Dutch families and a much younger and very active demographic. The few onboard transatlantic announcements in English were replaced by many more Dutch and English frequent announcements – mostly because the majority of guests were first time cruisers and not the older, well-traveled and more experienced “Mariners”.

Holland America’s Rotterdam was a great value for the dollar, but buyer beware, you are paying for all the “extras.” We purchased the beverage, wi-fi and laundry packages prior to boarding – and that was several hundred dollars extra. We also had to pay for all specialty restaurants, bottled sparkling and still water, all tours, etc. We were also charged $17 per person every day for housekeeping gratuities (air and both pre and post hotel charges were not included).

There are numerous cabin and suite categories available on Rotterdam, and if you want to splurge on a suite, you will also have access to the private “Neptune Concierge Lounge,” with snacks and specialty coffees and teas served complimentary.

My top Rotterdam features include: daily walks on the wrap-around Promenade Deck; pre-dinner drinks in the comfy and panoramic “Crow’s Nest” lounge; the excellent live music; and our dining room table at the back of the ship with floor to ceiling windows looking out the ever-changing ocean.

I believe it is more important now than ever to have a relationship (or start one) with a trusted and experienced travel agent. We’ve all been through so much since the pandemic hit, and with the ever-changing health and safety protocols, you will need an expert watching your back from beginning to end. When it comes to cruising, there are so many choices. You need to get onboard the right ship for you and your family – and your pocketbook. There is a perfect cruise for you, I promise.

“Let’s Visit PA with Sandy Fenton” is broadcast every Saturday morning at 11 on WHP580 and is syndicated throughout Pa., Md. and Del. on iHeartRadio.com.

Travel Planning