Sandra Pennington, market sales manager at Celebrity Cruises Canada, describes her first cruise in two years as “rejuvenating and great for my soul.”
From Sept. 25-29, Pennington embarked on a Western Caribbean voyage on board Celebrity Summit, from Miami and back, with stops in Cozumel and Costa Maya, Mexico.
Unfolding on the heels of Celebrity leading the industry back to service in the U.S. after a nearly year-and-a-half long hiatus, this sailing, for Pennington, was a homecoming.
“I love being on the ocean, the smell of the ocean air and the new luxury environment that Celebrity offers,” Pennington told PAX. “It felt like home to me.”
While Celebrity is already operating at a reduced capacity, this specific sailing was unique in that it had a smaller-than-usual group of guests on board, welcoming some 250 passengers and more than 700 staff.
“The passengers to staff ratio was three-to-one,” Pennington said. “Everyone I talked to was having a fantastic time.”
There were also 20 Canadian travel advisors on board, too, she said.
The vibe at sea
It was clear that the staff on board were happy to be sailing again, said Pennington, who spent her week at sea mixing and mingling with her group of travel advisors from Western Ontario.
“It has been a tough year and a half for the industry, so seeing agents on board with big smiles and enjoying themselves made me smile too,” she said.
Anyone 12 years and up must be fully vaccinated to sail with Celebrity Cruises (and all Canadian mixed vaccines are accepted now).
Unvaccinated children under eleven years old are required to bring a negative antigen or PCR test conducted within three days of boarding.
Everyone boarding a Celebrity ship must also present either a negative antigen or PCR test.
“This creates a safe bubble on board,” Pennington said, “and for ships sailing out of the U.S., masks are not required. It was a great feeling to be able to take my face mask off.”
Pennington considers herself a “pretty seasoned cruiser" and her goal, this trip, was to simply enjoy the experience on board Celebrity Summit.
“It’s a destination in itself,” she said. “I am go-go-go at home between my career and my kids, so I like to relax when I cruise.”
There were lots of activities to choose from, but Pennington had her favourites, from spending time in the pool or hot tub with a cocktail or glass of wine to visiting the Solarium, Sunset Bar and Martini Bar to dancing to “Silent Disco” (a dance party where participants wear headphones).
The entertainment on board was “phenomenal,” she said.
“I love that cruising allows each person to set their own pace!” Pennington said.
As for her favourite port of call, Cozumel impressed her the most. “Mexican food and a great beach is a win-win!” she said.
The Retreat is a treat
Pennington also had an opportunity to experience The Retreat for the first time.
“I treated myself to an upgrade and enjoyed a Celebrity Suite,” she said. “The Retreat Deck rivals any five-star all-inclusive, so I spent a good amount of time there.
The Retreat attendants took care of bringing her beverages, snacks and ice-cold cloths “while I relaxed in the hot tub and loungers,” she said.
Her tip for travel advisors? Suggest The Retreat to all customers.
Most clients, she said, have not travelled for two years “so they may want to treat themselves and enjoy the exclusive amenities, such as Luminae restaurant, Retreat Lounge, Retreat Sun Deck, a 24-7 butler and suite amenities.”
“I highly recommend planting the seed with all clients,” she said.
What can travel agents do to boost confidence among their cruising clients?
Celebrity, for one, will have 11 ships sailing by November “and our health and safety protocols are working,” Pennington reiterated.
“We have had over 50,000 clients sail since June and 0.1 per cent cases on board,” she said at the time.
Celebrity is currently offering COVID-19 Assistance for sailings up to April 30, 2022, which enhances clients’ COVID-related coverage.”
“I was comfortable knowing that everyone is fully vaccinated and was tested prior to sailing and that I would be taken care of in the rare circumstance I tested positive,” Pennington said.
Health and safety protocols are ever-evolving and can vary by destination, added Pennington, advising agents to stay up to date on the latest details at www.cruisingpower.com under Brand Program & News, Healthy Cruising and on Celebrity’s consumer site here.
For more resources, trade promos and company updates via the "Celebrity Commitment," click here.
What was Sandra Pennington’s cruise experience like from start to finish? Watch her recap video here!