Norwegian Cruise Line took to the water for the first time in 500 days last week, and Emma McHugh and Caroline Kerr of Atlantic Travel were lucky enough to be invited aboard NCL Jade as it left Athens on 21 July.
They were among only eight Irish travel agents invited on the sailing – but still managed to find the time amid the merriment and fun to write this review of their experience exclusively for ITTN!
Getting to Athens
In order to allow for any potential delays, we travelled to Athens the day before the cruise departed, flying from Dublin with Aer Lingus.
Terminal 2 in the airport on the morning of 20 July was very quiet, but as they had checked in online they were able to avail of the bag drop facility provided by Aer Lingus.
Aer Lingus now require you to check in your 10kg carry-on bag; if you wish to bring it onboard with you will need to prepay €5.99 – but make sure you do this before you arrive at the airport otherwise you will be faced with a €35 charge to bring it onboard.
As is the norm with early morning flights not all retail areas in the airport were open, but you were able to get the basics.
Everyone in the airport was wearing masks and it felt no different than if you were in a shop here at home.
We were asked for our EU DCC (Digital Covid Cert) at the gate prior to boarding along with our passport and boarding card. If you are not fully vaccinated then this is the point where you will need your DCC to show your covid test results or proof of recovery.
The flight itself was half full and once again all passengers were fully compliant with health and safety measures required.
There is a very limited inflight service offered so our advice would be if you’re travelling on a long flight or with children bring something to eat with you.
When we arrived in Athens we were required to show three things: our passports, our EU DCC and our Greek Locator Form.
Every country including Ireland requires one of these to be completed prior to entry.
Our advice is to print a copy of it as well as having the digital version. Ireland will not accept a manually filled-in form anymore and it must be completed online: you will receive an email to confirm you have done it and you show this email when requested – it does not have a QR code.
Fully Vaccinated Passengers
All passengers embarking on the cruise in Athens (903 guests were onboard for this sailing but the ship can hold 2,300) had to be fully vaccinated.
On top of this, everyone was antigen tested prior to embarking, so after you checked in for your cruise you were directed to the testing booths.
Results took approximately 15 mins and then you were free to board the ship.
For the moment, masks are required onboard indoors on NCL ships, but this will be something that is likely to change in the coming months.
Just like in Ireland, if you are sitting down at a table then you are free to take the mask off – and once outdoors there were no masks worn.
Our cruising experience was in no way compromised and we did not feel it was impacted by any mask-wearing – the service levels and hygiene were faultless.
The buffet restaurant was open, and upon entering all guests were required to wash their hands and sanitise.
Instead of serving yourself, though, the crew were on hand to plate up your food choices and offered table service for drinks orders.
A Chance to Explore
We decided to explore once we were docked at port.
The great thing was we were free to explore the towns by ourselves and relished rambling through postcard-perfect Greek towns.
Rhodes Old Town was certainly a highlight and truly felt like you were walking through a film set, with tavernas at every corner shaded by abundant bougainvillea.
The evening before we left we were required to take another antigen test, but these were organised superbly and were as quick as ordering another drink from the bar!
Results were emailed to your phone in a couple of hours.
For all passengers returning to Ireland – whether from a land holiday or cruise holiday – there is a requirement to fill out a Passenger Locater Form, but remember: this can only be done online.
Be Prepared: Travel is Back
We definitely feel that travel is something that you can experience safely today.
Our advice would be to be very organised before you depart and know all the requirements in place in the country you are travelling too.
Keep a back-up paper copy of all forms/codes and don’t forget to bring plenty of masks……….oh and most importantly – Enjoy Yourself. Travel is back.