The return to cruising has been a long time coming; I thought it would be a couple of months when Covid first hit! How wrong was I. This is the first time I have been cruising since the start of the Covid pandemic and was the first time I had left the country since the start of 2020.
The cruise was on Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas on a 7-night Greek Isles itinerary. Jewel of the Seas is one of Royal Caribbean’s mid-sized ships weighing in at just a little over 90,000 tons, with a capacity of 2112 guests, less than half the size of the larger Quantum and Oasis-class ships from Royal Caribbean. Due to Covid capacity restrictions there were only 440 passengers on the cruise I was on.
Things to do before leaving
A Cyprus Flight Pass is required to enable you to enter Cyprus. The usual passport information is required, along with your NHS Covid Pass. I used the NHS app to email myself a pdf file of my Covid Pass status and upload this to the Cyprus Flight Pass website. It is a requirement to keep a copy of your NHS Covid Pass with you at all times in Greece, so I printed mine out as well (just in case you need to show it). You also need a photo ID and as your passport is held when you board the ship, it’s worth taking your driving licence, although Royal Caribbean will supply a photocopy of your passport if required. I was not asked once to show any photo ID.
I would recommend booking your day two return to UK PCR test before you leave too. You must pay for this yourself; I got one for £52 from Eurofins but other tests are available.
Getting to the Jewel Of The Seas in Cyprus
The holiday started with a TUI charter flight from a very wet Manchester airport to a hot and sunny Cyprus.
There is an 80-minute coach transfer from Larnaca airport to the Limassol Cruise Centre, which was opened in 2017. On arriving at the cruise centre our luggage was whisked away to be delivered to our stateroom. Online booking using the Royal Caribbean app had already been completed by most people. It did not let me book in online for some reason but the RCI staff in the terminal were very helpful so it was not an issue to do this in the cruise terminal.
Covid Screening Before Boarding
Prior to boarding Jewel of the Seas we all had to pass a Covid screening test. The Covid test was conducted efficiently by medical staff and then there was a short wait while the tests were processed and results announced (about 30 minutes in total). Once we tested negative we we could then get on the ship. I was not aware of a single passenger who could not get on the ship because they tested positive.
Day 1 – Ocean View Balcony Stateroom
The keycard (SeaPass) was on the door when arriving at our cabin/stateroom. The cabin had a double bed and a pull-out sofa bed, while the bathroom had all the usual with a shower but no bath. The balcony was spacious, with well-insulated windows to the cabin which were needed to make the room cool when the days were extremely hot as we had a heatwave during our visit to the Greek Islands. The cabin also had a kettle and coffee and tea making facilities.
Hand sanitiser and a couple of RCI branded face masks were provided.
The room steward kept the room spotless, and every evening would leave tomorrow’s itinerary (Cruise Compass) leaflet and destination info and tips leaflet. This was very useful for providing information about the destination ie. distance to the main tourist sites ashore and the best ways to get there from the ship.
Day 2 Cyprus to Athens – Cruise and relax sea day
The day of the flight to Cyprus was a long day, so I was glad to have the whole of the following day for bimbling around the ship at sea, chatting with the other guests and staff and finding out about what the ship had to offer – and of course eating, sunbathing, swimming and sampling the cocktails.
Everyone without exception was very friendly and so happy to be back at sea again. It was particularly interesting to talk with people from other countries who have had such varied experiences of the pandemic.
Day 2 – Exploring the ship and chilling out
The ship was in very good condition, as you would expect for a ship that has only recently returned to service. Some highlights of the ship can be seen below. There was loads to do and explore. The busiest place was the outdoor swimming pool and Sky bar, where there was live music for most of the day. When I say busy – it’s all relative as it was still easy to get a deck chair, swim in the pool and get a seat at the Sky bar.
If you need total peace and tranquillity on holiday the Solarium pool and bar is the place to be.
Day 3 Athens Parthenon & Acropolis
The ship arrived at Piraeus cruise port dock just before breakfast.
Because it was going to be very hot (41°C), we decided to do a shore excursion ‘Best of Athens’. A 30-minute bus journey into Athens through the bustling traffic dropped us at the bottom of the steps up to the Acropolis and Parthenon. Even though it was only 10am it was hot, so make sure you’ve got water and a hat if you visit in summer (cold water was available on the tour bus we were on). It’s quite a short but steep climb to the top of the hill, from where the views are fantastic and the historical monuments just breathtaking. Tick that bucket list visit off…. I could not help thinking about Jason and the Argonauts from the 1960s classic movie darting in and out of columns fighting weird stop animation monsters.
The ‘Best of Athens’ excursion includes visits to the Acropolis, The National Archaeological museum, Hadrian’s Arch, a short lunch stop at the Cave of Acropolis (with ice cold wine), and a wander around The Pláka district. It was a great day out, but merely scratches the surface of what is available to do in Athens – I can feel a city break coming on.
There were so many amazing places to see in Athens – I’ve just included a few highlights below.
If you want to go into Athens independently:
- Taxi to Athens/Acropolis for app 20 euros each way.
- Metro 10 minutes’ walk from the port. Access the Acropolis from the Akropoli metro stop (you need to change to the red line at Omonia station – direction Aghios Dimitros)
- Bus – take express bus “ATHENS BY X80” from cruise terminal ‘A’ or ‘B’ to acropolis or Syntagma Square.
Day 4 Mykonos
We arrived in Mykonos around 7am and anchored a short distance outside of Mykonos Old Port. As a bit of a cruise ships spotter (let’s admit it, aren’t we all? ) it was great to be anchored next to the new Celebrity Apex.
A short tender ride on flat, calm sea takes you to the heart of the Old Port. Walking around the Old Town doesn’t take long; don’t miss out on the windmills, Little Venice overhanging the rocks, and the Paraportiana Church complex. There are plenty of places to dawdle in appealing small tavernas and restaurants in the narrow whitewashed lanes or around the harbour if you just want to chill out. There are also some leading brand boutiques all with a laid-back charm.
A bit further afield is Delos – the mythological birthplace of Apollo. This is a World Heritage Site. You can easily do this independently with just a 30-minute ferry ride from the port. Ferries depart frequently through the morning and return during the afternoon. You can also do this trip as an organised tour on either the ‘Delos Tour’ or ‘Best of Mykonos’
Day 5 Santorini
You have all seen the photographs, but nothing is quite like experiencing it in the flesh. The ship anchored below the main town of Thera, with its iconic views and narrow streets clinging to the cliff tops.
You can get off the ship on the tender for the short journey to the harbour at the foot of the cliffs below Thera. There is a steep climb up to the top on a narrow road or alternatively take a donkey or the cable car (6 euros each way). From Thera the local buses cover the whole island if you want to go to any of the beaches, ancient ruins of Akrotiri or local vineyards for a tasting.
For the history buffs a tour of the ancient ruins at Akrotiri prehistoric city is a must. Not unlike Pompei, it was buried by volcanic ash in a volcanic eruption in the 16th century BC and has been extensively excavated from its ashy tomb.
As with most days the last tender was at 7pm, shortly after which we set sail for Crete. It was almost impossible to tell when we were moving and the sea was so calm that there was never any perceptible movement even when leaving port.
Day 6 Crete
The ship docked at 7am in the port of Souda, located around 6km from the town centre.
Transport into the town was easy with a bus terminus just outside the port gates (2 euros) . We took the bus into Chania centre (20 minutes) and got off where the bus turns to return to the port. The stop was outside the Old Chania Market – also called Agora. Use the same stop outside the market to get the bus back to Souda cruise ship port.
The Greek authorities had issued an extreme heat warning of 43°C and boy it was hot in Chania. Even when we arrived at 10am it was starting to get extremely hot. Luckily there are lots of narrow streets in Chania Old Town, so keeping out of the sun was not too much of a challenge.
Day 7 Rhodes
If you have never visited Rhodes town before it’s an easy 5-minute walk from the cruise ship to the Old Town. There are lots of interesting historical sites to visit, as well as places to eat and drink.
Highlights of our visit to Rhodes are:
There are lots more sights to see in Rhodes, these are just a few.
It’s a short day in port at Rhodes as the ship departed at 2.30pm. This did not give much time to explore but I had plenty of time to wander around inside the old city walls and see the sights.
Day 8 Limassol, Cyprus
Royal Caribbean added a free coach excursion to the end of the cruise for those people on charter flights back to the UK after we disembarked. This was so we did not have to spend the day in the airport. It was a lovely trip to the Limassol Old Town and a very pretty hill village, Lefkara, where they traditionally produce lace. There was time to stop in one of the little bars and cafes in Lefkara, as well as buy some of the traditionally produced lace.
The ships Coral Theatre had entertainment every night. It ranged from one man juggling acts to lavish show productions and much in between. They got a standing ovation most nights in the theatre and were better than your average cruise performances.
There were also a number of live bands on the ship providing holiday tunes for all tastes.
The practical stuff
- The cabin had plug sockets for North American & European plugs, so if you’re from the UK you need to take a suitable adaptor.
- Tea and coffee making facilities were in the room, but no milk.
- The TV has an accessible HDMI socket, so if you have a player for films you could plug that in to watch movies, play games etc.
- All transactions onboard are in dollars. If you add a credit card to your Seapass Card they will automatically debit your card at the end of the cruise and send you a final statement which itemises your expenditure. There is a daily hold fund applied to your account – you will see this as a payment if you check your bank account – but this is not a charge and will be balanced up at the end of the cruise.
- Currency on shore is Euros so a bit of cash is advisable for entry to museums, ice creams, taxis etc but for bigger transactions you can easily use credit cards.
Shore excursions from Jewel of the Seas
Shore excursions were available at all the ports. You can book them on the RCI app. Passengers who had a Covid Pass (double jabbed or recovered from Covid) could leave the ship and create their own adventures ashore or go on organised tours. Those passengers travelling with unvaccinated children were required to confine themselves to organised tours only and not leave the tour.
A full list of the available Greek Islands RCI shore excursions and prices is available here – note prices and tour details are highly likely to change. You can see a full list, prices and book shore excursions on the RCI mobile phone app once you have registered your cruise on the app.
For those traveling on a charter flight back to the UK a free excursion to Limassol Old Town and the pretty hill village of Lefkara was included to entertain us between disembarking the cruise (8am) and going to the airport (1PM).
We were provided with a sheet of paper that gave instruction about disembarking the day before the end of the cruise. This gave our disembarkation time and luggage labels. Bags were to be left outside the staterooms by 10pm the night before. Don’t forget to reclaim your passport between 4-5pm on the day prior to disembarking. To prevent queueing an allocated time slot was given for disembarkation and passengers were called from their state rooms at the designated times. This worked very well with no queues and we got onto the waiting transfers with our bags.
Returning to Cyprus and the UK
To return into Cyprus and then to the UK you will need:-
- A Covid-19 test in the three days before you return (provided free at the onboard Eurofins testing facility) I did mine the day before departure. Book your slot on the app or speak to the guys at the onboard Eurofins desk.
- Book and pay for your Covid-19 test once you return (I used Eurofins £52 day 2 test. The test was posted through the letter box while I was away and took it to the local drop box. The results were emailed to me the following day)
- Fill in a passenger locater form (You will need the ID number for your pre booked Covid-19 test) – if you are travelling in a party of more than one you can add as many people on your passenger locater form as you require once you have filled in the first passenger.
The rules can change about returning to the UK after a holiday abroad so it important you look at the latest UK Gov regulations about returning to the UK from a cruise to an amber list country.
Once you have returned to the UK
- Fully vaccinated travellers do not need to isolate and are required to take a Covid-19 test on or before day 2 after their return.
- Non vaccinated people need to quarantine for 10 days AND take a Covid-19 test on day 2 and day 8.