Our Resident Cruise Expert Answers Our Most Pressing Questions
Mayla Melo, F1S’s Director of Leisure, talks about her recent cruise to Alaska, new safety protocols, and the cruises she’s looking forward to in 2022 and beyond
There’s so much happening in the world of cruises these days—from new ships to new safety protocols. And that’s good news for travelers: Cruising remains one of the best ways to see a destination, as well as, of course, to experience the variety of on-board luxury amenities, all in one place. To get up to speed on what’s happening with cruising these days, we tapped our resident expert, Mayla Melo, F1S’s Director of Leisure, to give us the full scoop. Here, she chats about her recent cruise to Alaska, what’s changed since the pandemic, and some of the destinations (the North Pole!) and ships she’s most excited about:
F1S: You recently went on an 11-day Silversea cruise to Alaska. We’d love to hear about your experience!
Mayla Melo: This was my first time in Alaska, and also my first time on a Silversea cruise. I was very impressed with the organization of the check-in process, especially with the Covid protocols. At arrival, they checked our temperature and vaccination cards and the process was very smooth. While onboard, our temperatures were checked daily and since all guests must be vaccinated to sail on Silversea, masks were optional. I must say, though, that most guests were wearing their masks when attending shows and when indoors.
For this trip, I sailed on the Silver Muse ship. Usually, it can carry 596 guests, but this time there were only 237 guests in total, with 411 crew members. The crew was happy to be back on board and the service was amazing. Our butler pampered us, as did the rest of the staff—and we were so grateful!
Our suite was very spacious and a balcony is definitely a must when sailing through Alaska. The food was also phenomenal—who doesn’t like caviar in bed, right?—and is all-inclusive. It’s great to be on a cruise and not worry about gratuities and drink prices. Every night the sommeliers would introduce new wines from different countries (though of course, you can always request your preference). My favorite restaurant onboard was La Terrazza, which serves fresh pasta and has incredible ocean views. I also loved Silver Note, the jazz and blues club— it felt like a local Jazz Club in Harlem!
The cruise left from Seattle, and as we were sailing out, we were able to see many whales. During our 11-day voyage, we visited six ports of call: Ketchikan, Sitka, Icy Strait Point, Skagway, Juneau, and Tracy Arm. At most stops, we were the only ship in town.
Alaska is such a great destination because not only are there tons of outdoor activities, but lots of great history to be found, too. Our favorite ports of call were Sitka, Juneau, and Tracy Arm. We hiked, saw black bears, eagles, and whales, and visited Tongas National Forest Park—my top pick—where you can see salmon going upstream and lots of well-preserved totem poles. We also visited the Sheet’ka Kwaán Naa Kahidi Community House where we saw a dance performance by the Tlingit Tribe. At our last stop, Tracy Arm Fjord, we were also able to get very close to the Mendenhall glacier—amazing!
F1S: In your expert opinion, how has cruising changed since the Covid-19 pandemic?
MM: To be very honest, cruise lines have always done a great job. Even before the pandemic, there were handwashing stations and sanitizer on board. One of the major changes that I’ve seen is the enforcement of check-in times. In the past, you picked when you wanted to check in and if you wanted to check in earlier it usually wasn’t a problem. Nowadays, to maintain social distancing, you can only arrive at the pier at your designated time. In my opinion, this is great and makes the process much faster. Of course, they are also doing more health screenings: For example, during my Alaska cruise our temperatures were checked every day. Another major change since the pandemic is that all cruise lines have eased their cancellation and final payments to be closer to sail dates.
I’ve found that cruise lines are also moving towards having more and better technology onboard. Through apps, guests can have a more contactless experience, with the ability to book shore excursions, dinner reservations, spa treatments, and so on. Many ships are also offering their restaurant menu via a QR code. I think the self-service buffet will definitely be serviced by the crew for the foreseeable future, but they won’t go away entirely.
F1S: What are some of the safety precautions now in place—and what should travelers know before embarking, especially those who might be nervous to cruise?
MM: Health screenings are taken more seriously, with a daily temperature check-in place for most cruise lines. Guests will be required to engage in frequent hand washing and sanitizing before going to restaurants and other public places. Proof of Covid-19 vaccination and, in some cases, a negative Covid test are also required as is mask-wearing in indoor areas, though not all cruise lines are mandating vaccinations. Cruise lines also have strict protocols in place in case of positive cases onboard.
F1S: There is so much going on in the world of cruises. What are some of the highlights?
MM: The number of new, smaller luxury ships. For example, I am very excited about Ponant’s icebreaker ship Le Commandant Charcot, as this is the first luxury ship to be able to reach the North Pole and parts of Antarctica.
Many ships have new shows onboard: The Virgin Voyages ships for example, will have a drag queen brunch and retro workouts from the 80s. Plus, they offer different types of dining experiences, such as a plant-based restaurant and the world’s only Korean BBQ at sea.
Speaking of food, we will see more Michelin-rated restaurants and chefs onboard the newer ships and a focus on regional options. Silversea recently launched SALT—Sea & Land Taste—their new immersive culinary program where they will connect a local cuisine with local markets during each port of call. Sustainability is also on everyone’s mind and I am happy to report that many cruise lines are committed to producing less waste, with some also looking for new fuel options with lower emissions.
F1S: Are there any specific cruise destinations you think are great for travelers these days?
MM: So many! Alaska, of course. The Galapagos, since you can move around the islands easily, as well as the Norwegian Fjords, the Arctic, and Greenland. The Mediterranean is always a hit, especially these days, since you’re able to cross many European destinations on one trip, without having to change hotels.
F1S: Anything else you’d love to share?
MM: The cruise industry is always evolving, and nowadays you can find a ship/cruise line available for everyone. There are also more options for overnights in different destinations, giving travelers a chance to spend more time at each port of call, which I think is a great option.
Three Cruises to Put on Your Radar
Where to next? Here are the upcoming cruise lines that Mayla is particularly excited about for 2022 and beyond:
- Royal Caribbean Wonder of the Seas. Launching in March 2022, this family-friendly ship has a great playground for kids: It will be open-air with lots of slides, climbing walls, games, puzzles, and—super cool—an interactive mural.
- Silversea Silver Origin. This is the most luxurious ship in the Galapagos. (And technically launched this past summer.) I can’t wait to see their bathrooms, which have an ocean-view bathtub. Also, the sustainability features are amazing: They have a freshwater purification system that can reduce plastic bottle usage and the ship positioning system protects sea life.
- Explora Journeys Explora I. This new ship, out in 2023, is one of four upcoming Explora Journeys ships to be introduced over the next few years. I absolutely love that they’ll be docking in off-the-beaten-path destinations, like Bordeaux and the Lofoten Islands, and that they are offering wellbeing and fitness programs onboard and at the destination. Their whole concept is incredible.
When you’re ready to embark on your next cruise, our experts can arrange everything you need for the experience of a lifetime—whether it’s to Alaska, the Mediterranean or somewhere in between.