In September 2021, we traveled to Athens, Greece for a 7-night Greek Islands cruise aboard the Celebrity Apex. These are the specifics of the Covid-19 protocols that were in place during our travels.
In general, Greece is less restrictive than other EU states, allowing travelers from 69 countries (including the US) to enter. For vaccinated travelers, you must show your vaccination card. For unvaccinated travelers, Greece requires a negative PCR (72 hours prior) or antigen test (48 hours prior). They are randomly testing travelers at entry and anyone that tests positive must quarantine.
Wanting to be sure (as possible) that we weren’t about to travel more than 6000 miles just to be quarantined, we scheduled a PCR test the day before we departed. With negative test results in hand – we optimistically boarded our flights to Athens. American Airlines uses a phone app called VeriFly to capture the information that is necessary for entry to your specific international destination. In our case our vaccine cards were uploaded, along with passport information and a self photo to complete our VeriFly profile. This profile is shown at the airport during the check-in process to verify you have everything necessary to enter the destination.
In addition, Greece requires a passenger locator form, an online form that details your locations and movements throughout the country. Completing this form provides a QR code that is scanned during immigration and customs clearance in Greece. Presumably this is used in the event that a contact trace would require you be located.
Our outbound flights and airport connections were flawless. Airports are quiet and in most cases our flights left early and arrived earlier. Greece airport immigration and customs were quick and easy with one extra step between immigration and customs to review our vaccination cards and scan our locator QR code. We deplaned, passed through all inspections, claimed our luggage and were in the arrivals hall in about 30 minutes.
After a wonderful overnight at the King George Hotel, we met our driver for the transfer to the cruise terminal in Piraeus. Celebrity is using TrustOne for the scheduling and testing at the cruise terminal. Arrival appointment times are necessary to insure shortest possible wait times for the required antigen test. Arriving a few minute early, we immediately handed our luggage over to the porters for placement in our state rooms. We waited for about 20 minutes before scanning our test appointment QR code and entering the temporary building set-up in front of the departures hall. The test is quick – you pass through a line of testing booths, a tech waves you into a chair, a quick nasal swab and you’re finished. Your assigned number, which is affixed to your passport, is shown on a big TV monitor in the waiting area in about 20 minutes. Once your number comes up, your negative result it verified and you’re handed another sticker. This sticker allows you entry to the main passenger terminal. Again, a very short line because all arrivals are well staggered, you pass through security, pick up your sea pass card and exit the facility to the ship.
Onboard, things are fairly quiet since we’re sailing with about 1/3 of normal capacity. Mask wearing is mandatory in inside venues. In outdoor places, most wear masks when moving around, but once seated at a bar or restaurant or at the pool, masks come off. I saw no crew “reminding” of mask wearing the entire week – the compliance was that good. On this voyage, 100% of all 1100 guests and 1000 crew were vaccinated.
Antigen testing is administered onboard on Friday morning, the day before our arrival back in Athens for disembarkation. The TrustOne team is onboard and as before you are asked to use their website to book an appointment and provided a QR code. Scanning this QR code gets you a very quick test and in this case, no waiting. Results are delivered via email and a printed copy to your stateroom later in the day. This complimentary antigen test is required when re-entering Greece. And, in our case, this test fulfills the requirements for re-entry to the US. If guests are traveling to a country that requires a PCR test, those too can be provided onboard.
With our printed “negative” results uploaded to VeriFly, our check-in at the Athens airport goes quickly. Passport control and customs clearance is smooth in Philadelphia with no mention of tests or vaccinations. All appears “normal” on the US side, except of course that only US citizens and a small list of others are allowed to enter the country.
The bottom line: All of the new procedures surrounding the pandemic are technology based – mostly phone technology. In a few cases the technology could be avoided, for example Celebrity offered a help desk that would schedule your disembarkation test. However, there is still a need to install various apps, upload various documents and use these sometimes cumbersome applications. To do this you need a newer iPhone or Android device and enough skill to navigate these apps. Overall things were easier than we initially expected. In the end, the extra work afforded us the opportunity to travel outside of the US and enjoy an amazing new ship in a wonderful part of the world.