So - we are just back from our 6-night cruise from Southampton, which sailed on 17th July 2021. I was having serious doubts as to whether it was sensible to go the night before. I am glad we went.
First off - PCR testing. We're in Sheffield and we used Eurofins. We had our tests in a travel agency across the city on the Wednesday before the Saturday testing. It was very straight forward, and we both had our (negative) results back in less than 24 hours. Phew!
Our boarding time was 12.00-12.30pm. We arrived at the port at 11.50am and parked up. Asked the stewards in the carpark whether we should bag drop in the carpark or in the terminal (as in the retreat) and were advised there was no bag drop for us in the terminal. Dropped our cases at our car, and headed in. We were stopped twice on the way in to the building - first to ask us if we had been vaccinated, next person asked us if we had our PCR results. Once inside we let someone know we were in a RS, and we were lead through security and to someone with an iPad. She scanned our passports, XPress passes, COVID passes (I had printed them off from the NHS app) and PCR results (which I had also printed out). We were then immediately escorted onboard to our suite - and were aboard by noon.
The ship was at ⅓ capacity - about 1000 passengers. Was lovely - also meant the lifts came really quickly, even on disembarkation day!
The RS was just amazing. We've never sailed in anything higher than a Sky Suite before. Our personal retreat host (aka butler), Joey came to introduce himself and talked us through the suite. Told us we could have unlimited free laundry (and we made use of that - almost everything we brought back is clean!). Almost everything we had asked for from the shoreside concierge was already set up. I gave Joey a copy of our email exchange and the rest was sorted within minutes. Next, we did our muster drill. You watch a short (approx 2 min) video on your stateroom TV, and then click to confirm who has watched it. You listen to a recording of the ship's emergency signal, and then we headed to our muster station where they confirmed we had watched it, and put stickers on our seapass cards. Whole thing took no more than 5 mins, including getting from suite to muster station. Much better than the old way!
I need not have worried re COVID. All the crew wear masks all the time. Seating was distanced. Everyone wore masks indoors (unless eating/drinking) - didn't see anyone not doing it. Hand sanitiser stations everywhere. It felt very safe. Indeed, it felt safer than at home!
All of the staff were so friendly and helpful. They seemed genuinely pleased to have us aboard and to be sailing again. They really made our cruise. Our personal retreat host and the retreat concierges (Mike and Andrea) were lovely and great at dealing with any minor niggles as they arose. Despite social distancing we were still able to meet fellow passengers and make new friends.
The ship is beautiful, and the upgrades due to revolutionisation are really great. The retreat lounge and sundeck are nice but we didn't spend much time there - not a lot of shade on the retreat deck (and, well, it IS a sundeck!). Did pop in to get the drinks we like (with spirits not stocked at most other bars). The new seating areas by the Sunset bar on Deck 15 are just wonderful - we loved it.
Food on board was superb. We had breakfast in our suite or in luminae - both very good. We ate lunch in the Porch, Lawn Club Grill, Sushi on 5 and Luminae - and on our last day were invited to lunch in Blu with the senior officers. All were very good. Dinner was generally in Murano, with forays to Tuscan, Luminae and Le Petit Chef. Murano remains our firm favorite. Tuscan was good too - I tried the Porterhouse (i.e. T-bone) steak and it was tasty (and yes, there is an upcharge even if you have all-inclusive specialty dining. We knew and expected that). We had made our dinner reservations prior to boarding. We found we didn't need to make reservations for any of the other restaurants. We didn't eat in the MDR or Oceanview, so can't comment on that (other than to say that when we looked in, the food in Oceanview looked great!). I have a medical condition that results in a special dietary requirement and it was effortlessly catered for. I ate very well indeed!
There seemed to be plenty of things to do on board, but on board entertainment generally doesn't interest us so we don't bother with it. (We like to spend our time either sitting and chatting with people or sleeping/reading.) However, no need to book - if you want to go along, just pitch up. The cruise director, Lewis, seemed very engaging.
As others have noted, if you buy something onboard, VAT is added - worth bearing in mind if you're going to buy expensive jewellery or watches etc (as I did). There are still good deals to be had and I found the staff open to negotiation. I left feeling I got a great deal and am happy.
We didn't do any shore excursions and stayed on the ship - we went for the cruise, not the ports this time. It was very relaxing.
We had one evening chic night (6-night sailing). This was on the first sea day. There was a good range from smart casual (that was us) up to dinner jackets. So, wear what makes you comfortable!
We wondered whether restrictions re masks/distancing/shore excursions would be lifted on 19th July. They were not. (Didn't hear anyone complain about that - and we too were glad they remained). We asked the officers at lunch on the last day, and were told that they would remain in force for the cruise leaving today. (So, rules might change in future, but they had no idea when).
I've seen comments in the thread re travel insurance, I think. Yes - we had some. No, no one asked us about it and no one asked to see it. (We always travel with it). No one took our temperature, we did not have to undergo any testing on board (no maths A Level - awww!), and there were no tracelets (and, I think, no plans to use them).
All in all an absolutely wonderful cruise. We thoroughly loved it, felt very spoiled by (and lucky to have) our RS, and were sorry to have to disembark.