Getting to Norwegian Gem
Not following my usual advice of arriving at a port city a day prior to a cruise, I got up early and headed to the airport. Knowing that I would be going to Florida, I first put on an N95 mask and then added a more stylish Vera Bradley mask. I saw fewer people not wearing masks than the last time I traveled, but still saw chin diapers and decorative mouth covers. Although the security line had marked areas to allow for social distancing, those were simply a suggestion. I found that extending my carry-on far behind me helps keep a decent social distance behind me. I make sure to maintain an adequate distance ahead of me. Paranoid? Maybe. Concerned about my health and the spread of COVID? Absolutely.
No Doc TSA
As I made my way through the security line, I attempted to maintain my social distance. I scanned the line for those who have issues with wearing a mask and stayed away. I chose to fly Southwest due to their convenient change policy and free luggage perk. Southwest has their own security line, but I was surprised when I reached the TSA agent and he said that I didn’t need to show my boarding pass. Has something changed? Couldn’t anybody with an ID get through that line? Did I just forgot showing my boarding pass earlier? I found my waiting area and chose a seat far from other passengers. That lasted for just a few minutes and I just snugged my double masks more tightly. Boarding was done in the typical fashion for Southwest. Line up according to the number on your boarding pass. As is also typical, the passenger with one of the higher numbers moves closer to the front of the line explaining that if you have the “A” category, it’s fine to just go anywhere in the “A” line. It made me wonder what the “A” stood for on that guy’s boarding pass. Fortunately for me, the flight was not full and I found a window seat in an exit row that never saw another passenger. I felt relieved. My flight to Fort Lauderdale was uneventful.
Welcome to Florida
My flight arrived about an hour earlier than my sister’s whom I was meeting, so I meandered over to her terminal and sat in the luggage claim area for her arrival. It was uncrowded and easy to avoid the maskless wonders. FLL does have a mask policy, which has been extended through September 13, 2021. You can read about it and other health and safety precautions here. My sister nearly missed her flight due to the extreme amount of time taken to get through the TSA line. She was forced to check her carry-on bag, but fortunately, it was one of the first on the belt. We proceeded to find our shuttle (we always use this company) to the NCL terminal at the Port of Miami. Being the only two on the shuttle, we had a nice FLL to Miami length of conversation with our driver.
We admired the new NCL terminal, which was built right before COVID. In fact, NCL Gem is the first revenue cruise to sail from the Pearl of Miami as this new Terminal B is called. What a ghost town the port seemed with few ships sailing from Miami or any other port for that matter.
We got our carry-ons (this test cruise was just for three nights) and started heading toward the nearest terminal door. We were met by a port agent who asked if we had done our COVID testing. Where was that? The lack of signage and instinct led us to the wrong spot, but another port agent pointed toward the place where COVID testing would take place.
We had pre-registered for our COVID testing with CVS, the provider of COVID antigen testing at the terminal. No photos were allowed of the area, so I will try to paint a picture of the experience. We first were asked for our docs, which should have been accessible from the NCL APP, which never worked. I had scrambled to find the emails that I sent myself with a copy of my docs and also a separate email from CVS showing that I had pre-registered for my COVID testing. Once the greeter saw our testing confirmations, we were then sent to separate stations with a card in hand with our info. Next, we had to show our vaccination cards. Another person directed us to the next step in the process where we separately found our two assigned technicians behind plexiglass screens. The cards that we had been given demonstrated the process for our COVID tests. At the desk, we were given two swabsticks to swish around each nostril five times. The techs observed us carefully and we then placed the completed swabs into test tubes. From there, the specimens went to an on-site lab. Directed to a waiting area, we listened for our numbers (they were on another card we were given) to be called or watched a board at the front of the room, which indicated that our results were ready.
Once we heard our numbers called, we proceeded to another station beyond the waiting area, where we received our bracelets which allowed us entry into the cruise terminal to register.
Returning outside, we went back to the door into the new terminal. Before entering there, we were asked by security if we had done our COVID test, and needed to show our bracelets before we could proceed.
We stepped on the escalator and proceeded to the upper-level registration area. Although we had pre-registered prior to the cruise to save time, we found the NCL App to be rather useless. We could not retrieve our e-docs from there and the unfriendly agent at the desk lacked in patience. She finally retrieved our reservation and we had to re-do our photos as neither that we had submitted were adequate. If you don’t know, the cruise lines use another agency to work at the pier. With this being the first cruise in many months, we expected the agents here to be a bit more welcoming to guests. After what seemed like an inordinate amount of time before we finally got our keycards, we boarded the ship and proceeded directly to our balcony stateroom. How nice to be back!