Stepping into an airport for the first time in 18 months was terrifying, but I put on my KN95 and persevered. The airport was quiet and most shops were closed. I found myself looking for places to eat and drink tucked away so that I could remove my mask without being surrounded by others. That is the trickiest part of travel now, having to wear a mask for hours on end. Still, I was able to find reprieve from the mask and everything else went smoothly. I even slept on the plane!
I arrived to Amsterdam feeling fairly rested from my slumber and was greeted by an AmaWaterways representative who led me to my private transfer. The ride was quick and comfortable. The driver and I both remained masked and there was a piece of plexiglass between the back and the cab of the car.
After what felt like a day of wearing a mask, I reached AmaSiena. Eager to get onboard, I walked up to the hotel director, Romeo, and gave him my name. "Thank you very much, you can leave your luggage here and we will see you at 12 o'clock," said Romeo.
I was used to having to wait for my stateroom to be ready once I got to the ship, but having to wait to get on the boat itself was something I was not expecting. Romeo explained to me that there needed to be four hours between sailings without any guests on board so that the ship could be completely sanitized. Makes sense. Plus, I think I am in the majority when I say that I would rather wander around Amsterdam than get onto a ship that hasn't been sanitized. Because of these new regulations, though, I urge more strongly than ever to stay in a hotel the night before your cruise starts. We usually suggest this in cases of lost luggage or delayed flights, but giving yourself time to stay in or around your hotel until the ship is ready is a good idea.
After walking (and shopping) the streets of Amsterdam, I returned to AmaSiena just in time for lunch. On board, I was greeted by the AmaSiena crew. There was a familiarity to seeing the crew standing on the stairs as I boarded the ship; it felt like a homecoming. (Don’t worry, you can still see the crews' sparkling smiles through their eyes even though they are masked.) Talking to the crew you could feel their excitement to be back on board and to be welcoming passengers. In fact, it was our cruise manager Martina's first week back on board since COVID. I had to opportunity to interview her on the final day of our cruise to hear her thoughts on being back.
I have gotten many concerned comments from readers about what cruising during the pandemic is like. Many people have voiced hesitancy in going on a river cruise because they don't want their experience to be tainted by a mask. Even though I voiced my annoyance at the extended time mask wearing on my flights, it would be a stretch to say that I would ever allow my vacation to be ruined by a piece of fabric. There were things that were different, however, and some of them are important to be aware of.
After getting settled into my stateroom, I headed to the lounge for our safety briefing and welcome aboard. Once in the lounge I sat with fellow travelers, unmasked and enjoying a cocktail during the company’s complimentary Sip And Sail hour. There were, however, two things that were said that absolutely gutted me at this gathering: 1. There would be no dancing allowed on board, and 2. There would be assigned seating at every meal.
For those of you who have not yet traveled with me, let me fill you in. My cruise hobbies consist of mingling with other passengers, trying to learn as many names as I physically (or mentally) can, and organizing impromptu dance parties. End of list. Truly. So, as I said, this was heartbreaking news to me.
These rules were enacted for COVID safety of course. “Once the dancing starts, the masks come off,” said AmaWaterways EVP and Co-Founder, Kristin Karst. And she was right. Though I was sad we wouldn’t dance the night away, I appreciated Ama’s commitment to keeping passengers safe. I have witnessed dancing happening unmasked on other cruise ships, and it does feel unsafe at times.
Assigned dining was done for contract tracing purposes. Most on board were understanding about the assigned dining, though some questioned why we were allowed to be in the lounge unmasked with other passengers and not have dinner with them. I agree with their questioning, but one thing that we have learned about COVID protocols is that not all of them make sense to us.
These new rules set in place really did make me question what the cruise experience was going to be like, as dramatic as that sounds. I empathized with those who were worried about masks and COVID protocols ruining their vacation for the first time. The reason I am mentioning this, though, is that none of these protocols ruined my vacation in the slightest. In fact, being on a ship where people committed to wearing masks and were fully vaccinated and actively practicing social distancing made me feel secure. I overheard many guests say that they felt comfortable on board because of the protocols and vaccination requirements. These slight annoyances ended up enhancing our journey because we all felt safer.
Masks were to be worn when moving about the ship and when in public areas if not seated and eating or drinking. This most guests had their masks off when they were seated in the lounge, as there was almost always a drink of some sort in front of them. Plexiglass dividers were placed between lounge couches to keep groups separated.
Breakfast and lunch buffets were replaced with an intensive selection of menu items. (I always recommend the soup.) Tea, coffee and water stations were manned by crew members and were not to be used for self service.
With few exceptions, this cruise was similar to the other cruises that I have taken with Ama. And with COVID protocols out of the way, we can finally get to what my sailing was really like. Come back next week to hear about my time aboard AmaSiena.
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