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When cruise travel returns, it will undoubtedly look different than before the COVID-19 outbreak ran the industry into the ground. However, it’s not all bad news, as most of these changes are in the best interest of clients.
We don’t know exactly when cruising will resume, but the current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention no-sail order expires mid-July, so some degree of sailing will likely start back up soon thereafter. If a vaccine is not available for the coronavirus by then, there will be pre-vaccine changes to cruise travel as well as post-vaccine modifications. For now, let’s explore short-term enhancements.
Smaller Fleets With Fewer StaffThe amount of ships that begin operating right away will first be dependent on how well they have disembarked passengers and crew thus far. Until recently, many guests were still onboard ships around the world, and now cruise lines are working vigilantly to get crews home during the shutdown, as well.
The disembarkation of thousands of staff will happen gradually — and re-staffing ships will occur in phases. This ultimately means not all ships in any given fleet will begin operating immediately. During a press conference, Cruise Planners predicted it may be half or one-third of fleets at first.
Limited Guest CapacityThere will likely be a cap to the number of guests initially allowed on each ship. Just as many airlines are foregoing the middle seat to abide by social distancing guidelines, cruise lines may reduce the maximum capacity of passengers to decrease the onboard density of people.
This will effectively increase the passenger space ratio, or the amount of ship volume available per guest (calculable by dividing vessel tonnage by capacity). Many ships are already more crowded than others, so this metric will become even more important to consider come mid-July.
Face MasksAs a further precaution, face masks may come into play on cruise ships, as they have on planes. Although it is unlikely any passenger will want to wear one for the entire duration of their vacation, a recent patent filing suggests Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited might implement a so-called "seaface" sanitary mask for viral isolation. If utilized, though, it might only be required of crew.
Immunity Passports and TestingMore likely than necessitating face masks for passengers will probably be some sort of coronavirus test before boarding to rule out any pier-side passengers with the disease. This would not be unlike the testing Emirates has begun administering prior to flights. Alternatively, some sort of immunity passport could factor in, permitting those previously tested and cleared to board.
Modified ItinerariesCruise ships will have to set sail for somewhere, and whether destinations will be open to their arrival is a whole different issue. The 2020 Alaska season, for one, has been all but obliterated because of current Canadian port restrictions, but it might not be the only popular itinerary affected.
Close to home, Mexican and Caribbean ports will have to be willing to accept visitors. For instance, during a recent conference call, Hon. Kerrie D. Symmonds, minister of tourism and international transport for Barbados, shared that he is optimistic about travel’s return to the island nation come winter 2020.
Before then, home-porting cruise ships will have few alternative options other than local coastal cruises, which are restricted by the Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886. That legislation requires foreign-flagged passenger vessels carrying guests between U.S. destinations to first stop at a foreign port. Cruises abroad will be impacted by flight availability and acceptance of tourists into other countries.
Deep DiscountsIn any case, clients will have plenty of discounts to look forward to as cruise lines try to stoke demand. They will need to incentivize as much travel as possible to regain steam. Deals may not be popping up across the board yet, but once return dates are more securely locked, they’ll surely come flooding in.
Increased CleanlinessBefore cruise lines voluntarily suspended operations, they began to enhance their already-stringent sanitation protocols to combat the coronavirus. Genting Cruise Lines, corporate cousin to Crystal Cruises, is one brand giving us a glimpse into how much more can be expected on that front. For at least the time being, passengers can anticipate everything from buffets becoming full service to certain cabins being designated for potential quarantine use.
Passenger ParticipationLast but not least, passengers will have to wash their hands thoroughly and frequently. One of the reasons the cruise market gets a bad reputation is because of diseases such as norovirus, which often spread because travelers don’t practice basic hygiene.
Most of these changes will be temporary until there is a COVID-19 vaccine, but others are likely here to stay.