As we move closer to 2021 and a return to cruising, we want to look at how cruising will change due to COVID 19 not only for the short term but in the long term as well. I like to think of this as cruises changing for the better and kind of a refresh.
Short Term Changes
There are going to be some CDC guidelines the industry and passengers will need to follow for the short term but expect these to go away towards the end of 2021 if not sooner.
Current guidelines require mask be worn while in the terminal and on board in public spaces. Of course just like on land, when you sit down for dinner a mask will not be required and when doing activities or in the pool. With social distancing especially on deck, I think hanging in the sun will be fine without a mask.
All of the cruise lines have cancelled sailings longer than 7 nights through October 31, 2021 per the CDC Guidelines. This does have an impact on cruise lines like Princess and Holland America who sail the longer cruises year round. And cruise lines like Carnival and Royal have moved from the 7 night weekly rotation to a more 6 and 8 night rotation so ships will either change itineraries or sit idle for a week.
One of the questions that still linger is how will this affect Alaska, Europe and Trans-Atlantic sailings. I would expect after that deadline of October 31, we will see those itineraries return.
Going by the example of the Quantom of the Seas from Royal Caribbean sailing in Singapore, they have reduced capacity to around 50% which is what I expect here in the US. Maybe 60%. This allows passengers to spread out and social distance. I also believe it leaves rooms vacant proving somewhere to move guest in the case of a quarantine situation.
Going along with the reduced capacity, guest will be more spread out in the dining room, theater and other venues in order to meet that requirement.
Each person boarding the ship will be required to go through a medical screening including rapid test. It has not been confirmed yet, but you will likely need to provide proof of a negative PCR test prior to entering the terminal. In addition, a health questionnaire will need to be completed and tempature checks prior to boarding as well as during the cruise. Although most of this will be temporary, I think the questionaries will remain. It used to be you completed a form prior to sailing and that seem to fade away but it will comeback and I believe will remain. Just be honest.
Long Term Changes
As we have seen on the cruises that have sailing like MSC and Royal Caribbean, the buffet is still around but just a slight difference. Instead of walking up and filling your own plate, you will have a crew member serving you. This is not going anywhere, at least in my opinion. Not only will this prevent cross contamination but it also will save food since people are more likely to get smaller portions. I have seen tables full of plates that are left half full. Now Carnival already does this with the bacon for some reason.
Some of the touch points in cruising are being modified with technology. For example, Princess Cruise Line has Medallion Class where you swipe a medallion rather than handing a card over to make purchases and more. And this contains all your information so from check in to debarkcaton, it creates less points of contact.
Your phone will be used more than ever with cruising as cruise lines develop and modify their apps. All of the cruise lines have apps where you can do almost anything like look at your bill, view a menu, see activities and even make dinner reservations. Royal Caribbean has even launched the new Muster 2.0 allowing you to complete your muster drill on your phone at anytime and then just check in with a crew member. This will do away with the big crowds at muster stations. I am all for that.
Cruise lines have had to cancel almost a full year of sailings and have done a pretty good job with handling it. They have given the choice of a full refund or a future cruise credit with some sort of incentive whether it be an on board credit or higher credit. In the beginning refunds were taking extra time but now they have systems in place so its working pretty well.
The cruise lines have done a fantastic job in adjusting their cancellation policies Almost all but Carnival have created a policy allowing guest to cancel their cruise 48 hours prior to sailing and receive a full 100% Future Cruise Credit. That allows you to be flixable in the case you are sick prior to leaving and really feel uncomfortable about sailing. Of course this does not get rid of the need for vacation protection.
The cruise lines have always taken pride in keeping their ships clean but with this the cleaning effort will be stepped up. More attention to high traffic and high tough points like railings with more frequent sanitation of these areas. This will likely continue even as restrictions have been lifted but they will do without impacting the guest experience.
Now this is just a brief overview of what I think we can expect based on what is out there now. We are likely to see more specific announced over the next few months as we get closer to the return. It will be very important to understand the rules and protocols before the cruise so you know what to do and what not to do. I don't know about you, but I am ready to go.
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I have a passion for travel and believe travel is about experiences. Experiences create memories and are the stories we tell to friends and family - even with a little fudging on the facts.