- FANFARE: After health restrictions docked the cruise industry for more than a year, national governments are allowing some ships to head out into the water. The reactivation of travel is excellent news for the Mexican island of Cozumel, a prized destination on the Caribbean, and for tourists wishing to return to their usual place of leisure. Until April 2020, Cozumel was the third most popular cruise port in the world. The destination was also the first in Mexico to see the return of these ships.
- SPRINGBOARD: As it happened with air travel, the pace of arrivals by cruise ships was slow at the beginning. Royal Caribbean International’s (RCI) Adventure of the Seas(she flies a Bahamian flag) reinaugurated the port of Cozumel on June 16, carrying one thousand people on board. She returned two times, sailing from Nassau. The Celebrity Edge, operated by Celebrity Cruises (flying an American flag and affiliate of Royal Caribbean), departed Fort Lauderdale for Cozumel with 1,100 people on June 26. A total of 4,227 cruise passengers visited Cozumel in June. The situation is a far cry from numbers made in pre-pandemic times. In June of 2019, for example, 85 cruise ships reached the island.At the moment, Quintana Roo’s port authority reports six vessels programmed for Cozumel during July. Yet, the mayor of Cozumel is even more optimistic and expects that a total of 24 vessels will dock in the island between June and July.
- CONCERNS: The number of Covid-19 cases is rising in Cozumel and the rest of Mexico. In Quintana Roo, authorities placed the health threat level in orange (the second worst in a four-tier system). Other Mexican states in the same situation are Baja California Sur, Tabasco, Tamaulipas, and Yucatán. Quintana Roo has registered around 300 new daily cases on average. Although vaccinated international visitors might be at a lower risk of contracting the disease, if cases rise among local workers, like waiters or hotel staff, the government could impose quarantines. In Cozumel, restaurants, hotels, historic sites, and golf courses operate at 50 percent. Outdoor events, beaches, theaters, casinos, real state offices, and churches can open at 30 percent capacity. Bars and nightclubs are closed.
- LAND: State health authorities in Quintana Roo set up specific protocols for the arrival of cruise ships.Mexico has set up a mechanism for receiving ships with federal migration, customs and sanitary inspectors ready to conduct inspections along with state health officials. Passengers that disembark in Cozumel can do so if they hire certified tours or activities. Quintana Roo state government said in a statement that around 95 percent of passengers aboard recently arrived ships were vaccinated (the rest were children under 12 years of age). It’s good to keep in mind that regardless of vaccination status, a Covid-19 antigen test must be administered 24 hours before boarding back on the ship in Mexico. It appears that Mexican authorities rely mainly on measures set up by companies themselves or the governments in their home ports.
- SHIP GUIDELINES: Cruise companies are under the scrutiny of authorities and the media. After many months without commercial activity, it seems they will try not to jeopardize their recently recovered right-to-sail by being flimsy on health protocols. The two cruise companies currently traveling to Cozumel require passengers to present proof of having taken their final dose of Covid-19 vaccination at least two weeks (14 days) before embarking. The protocol applies to teenagers, but consult your booking agency or cruise company about specific age limits. Rules are constantly changing. Among those vessels traveling to Cozumel, RCI ships and Celebrity vessels after August will also require vaccination for passengers over 12. While specific requirements vary from company to company, RCI and Celebrity require taking a negative Covid-19 test prior to boarding. Before confirming your reservation, it’s always important you understand the requirements for international travel.
- MASKS: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) uphold the order of wearing face masks onboard all modes of transport, including when boarding and disembarking. It applies to vessels traveling into, within, or outside of the U.S. Masks must be sufficient to cover a person’s nose and mouth. Cruise companies also emphasize that travelers must respect local rules in destination ports like Cozumel. Vaccinated passengers may remove their masks in open, outdoor areas on some cruise lines. Since early July and due to the increase in cases, the Quintana Roo state government began enforcing a state rule that makes not wearing a face mask a petty offense. Failing to comply can lead to arrest, but several observers have accused the state police to selectively enforcing the statute by only arresting locals but not foreign tourists.
- SARGASSO: Parts of the Caribbean coast are affected by piles of seaweed upon beaches again. ABC News reports sargassum present in places like Playa del Carmen and Tulum. Cancún and Cozumel are free from the nuisance at the moment. The phenomenon can damage coral reefs, pollute water sources, and sour tourists’ days at the beach. The worst sargasso season was in 2018, but 2021 could see similar levels of the seaweed invasion.The Mexican Navy is helping with clean-up duties, while some resorts have installed barriers to protect themselves.
- APPS: Nicole Nguyen at The Wall Street Journal gives readers a list of apps and websites useful for travelers. Among them, one for creating digital scans of important documents with your cellphone (think “Vaccination Card”), one for health records, and another for keeping up with changes with bookings amidst the instability of the pandemic. The list goes on.
- CANDY: Lucas Kwan Peterson, at the Los Angeles Times, published “A beginner’s guide to Mexican candy.” The article recognizes how hard it is to address the complexity of this branch of the Mexican culinary experience.It attempts to present the flavors and textures that dulces (Spanish for candy) can offer. Of course, some will be spicy. Head to your local bodega and ask for your dulces.
- SOTOL: Tequila and mezcal grab headlines, but sotol is a secret held for refined palates. It is a lesser-known traditional alcoholic drink in Chihuahua and Durango, in the vast deserts of the Mexican North. Producers cook and then distill parts of a cactaceous plant known as sereque or the “desert spoon” (Dasylirion wheeleri) to obtain a spirit with unique mineral and herbal flavors. Its taste profile is different from that of agave plants. The sereque shrub has been used for centuries by the Tarahumara peoples in Chihuahua for drinks in sacred rituals. The advent of other distillery processes allowed the modern version of sotol to reach international markets. Some sotoleros (producers) infuse the liquor with desert herbs. Pour it into your tequila glassware and sip slowly. ¡Salud!
* Spotlight by Sergio Mendoza, a freelance writer and consultant specialized in strategic development and geopolitics. He writes the Mexican Memo, a bilingual newsletter on Mexico-U.S. culture and politics. Twitter: @Sergistan