It’s no surprise that cruising after coronavirus will be a whole different experience. Cruise ships have been in the headlines almost daily and aside from the die-hard cruisers, many people are concerned about stepping (back) on board.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention) has issued a 9-page ‘no-sail’ order and despite some cruise lines publishing their ‘come-back’ dates, at the time of me writing this the order has not been lifted. The document lists the requirements which ships must adhere to, both now (mostly referencing crew members) and new procedures to be proven before the order will be lifted and/or each specific ship will be allowed to sail.
Although many of us are climbing the walls to be able to cruise again, we need to be prepared that the experience will be very different, and our usual version of a cruise vacation is one of the past…for now anyway. Read on to learn some of these changes.
Reduced Occupancy/Social Distancing
Cruising after coronavirus means gone are the days of the large cruise companies maxing out their 3rd and 4th bunks for max capacity. Ships will need to provide ‘social distancing’ solutions as per the CDC, so cutting occupancy is the first step. TUI have stated that they will likely start back with just 1,000 guests until 31 August 2020 (a big call for their ships of approx 3,000 occupancy), whilst Dream/Genting have stated that they will ensure all public entertainment areas are only filled to 50% capacity, such as their theatres and casinos as well as the port shuttle buses.
TUI has also announced that they will only be allowing 10 children into their Kid’s Club, which is something most cruise lines will probably follow suit with.
With the huge economic impact coronavirus has had on cruise lines, many new build orders have been put on hold, and older ships retired or sold.
Destinations are not opening at the same time either, meaning that some itineraries may not be possible until 2021, so ships are being relocated or kept on hold until they can return to these ports.
Even those destinations which are opening shortly – China likely to be the first, as their lock downs are being relaxed already – will be very restricted as to which countries will allow them to dock.
Aside from the issue of ports not allowing entry, there is also the challenge of airlift. With reduced numbers of airlines operating, transporting guests to departure ports is currently much harder than before. Therefore, cruising after coronavirus will mean local itineraries are likely to be popular when cruising restarts, and something that cruise lines will focus on providing. This will allow passengers to drive to the ports, avoiding any concerns with flying, and also offering shorter itineraries means guests can ‘test the waters’ before booking longer cruises again.
These will start from the major ports such as Miami, US and Southampton, UK.
No More Buffets
This is going to be a blow to some and a relief to others! Whether you love them or hate them, they are the first concern on board when it comes to transmitting any type of illness. Even when a ship has cases of Norovirus they will change the buffets to be fully served by crew, and some cruise lines even do this at the start of each cruise for preventative reasons, such as Azamara. If they don’t have any cases of illness reported in the first 48hrs then they open the buffet up to be used as normal.
Whilst this new style of buffet doesn’t bother me, I have to admit I’ll miss being able to make my own ice cream cones!
Restrictions On Who Can Travel
In March, governments were advising anyone over the age of 70 or with pre-existing health conditions that they were not to travel, and in particular, not to cruise. In response to this, cruise lines introduced a new rule that everyone in this category were required to produce a Doctor’s note to prove they were fit to travel. The backlash was huge.
Fortunately, this was also the time that cruises became suspended, so the requirement was able to be abolished almost as quickly as it was implemented.
However, it is likely that some type of medical check could be required for vulnerable passengers to be able to travel when cruising resumes.
Further to that point, following the example from Emirates airline, who are currently conducting rapid Covid-19 testing before passengers are allowed to board their planes, it’s likely this will be put into practice for cruises. The results are obtained within 10 minutes, and everyone could be tested or at least have a temperature test before boarding is permitted.
Many destinations currently require paperwork to prove that travellers don’t have Covid-19 before they are permitted entry, so this would serve for that purpose too.
Another suggestion has been made that temperature testing continues to be done throughout the cruise, and there’s even a possibility that guests may be given a thermometer when they board to conduct their own daily checks and report to the medical centre if they are sick.
On Board Cleaning
Cruise ships are currently extremely thorough with their cleaning routines, disinfecting high touch-points such as elevator buttons, handrails and gym equipment several times a day.
When they are on ‘OPP3’ or ‘Red’ code, meaning they have cases of Norovirus on board, these cleaning schedules get increased significantly, and more areas included. For example, every seat will be sanitized in the dining areas between guests (I’ve had a very wet bum from this on a Princess ship!), all salt/pepper etc are removed from tables and replaced with sachets, and there is no self-service of anything.
Cruising after coronavirus has meant that this protocol will be used when cruises re-start, as standard practice.
There is a lot of talk about this one. Whilst we haven’t seen many reductions just yet, it’s likely that when cruises are given the go-ahead to start, the first couple of months’ sailings will be heavily discounted to get guests on board.
However, don’t expect this to apply to all sailings, it’s always a case of supply vs demand. Many guests book Alaska as a bucket list vacation, and are excited to re book…along with the usual people who would be booking, therefore the demand will be high and no discounts will be necessary to fill the ships.
Relaxed Cancellation Policies
It is likely that the current relaxed cancellation policies will remain in place until the end of the year. The cruise lines are aware that people are nervous to book when we have no confirmation on when travel bans will be lifted and ports reopened etc. To keep sales coming in, they need to allow cancellations and changes to give passengers that peace of mind. So, now is a great time to make that booking you were probably going to make anyway, as you are getting the bonus of this great flexibility benefit!
It probably goes without saying that purchasing travel insurance is now even more important than ever. I’m always harking on about how everyone should cruise with insurance, for the single reason that medical centres are mostly US operated, and therefore if you get sick on board, you could get stung with a very hefty bill if you don’t have insurance to cover it.
Now, all the other clauses come into play more than ever, with pay-outs for missed ports, unused visas and trip delays etc. Don’t even think about it, just buy it.
Emergency Contact Details
Cruise lines will now be requesting full emergency contact details and next of kin for every guest. Make sure you have the correct information at the time of booking, and if you are using a travel agent (don’t get me on my soap box, but please ALWAYS use a travel agent) then ensure they have all the information for you when they make the booking. This will include a next of kin or key contact they can call for you, should the need arise.
When sh!t hits the fan, you need to be able to call for help. Cruising after coronavirus has definitely taught us that. International call plans are no longer as prohibitive as they used to be, you can generally get a day pass added to your existing plan. Don’t just hope you can find a hot spot somewhere, because if you’re in a foreign port and you’re not allowed off, but you need to change your plans, you will need to make those phone calls (yes, I say this from experience).
Cruise lines are now recommending that you bring an additional two weeks’ supply of any medications you take. When guests were ‘stuck’ on ships longer than planned, this was the number one concern, and the medical centres have limited supplies.
Also, ensure you have a copy of your prescriptions with you, even if you just take a screen shot of them, so that an on-board doctor can help you find an alternative if necessary, but also knows how to treat you in such way that doesn’t affect your current medication, should you get sick.
Over the Counter Medications
If you read my previous post, Best Cruise Packing Tips, then you’ll have seen my recommended list of medications which expert cruisers travel with to cover any eventuality.
Cruise lines aren’t requiring this, but I personally know that it can be hard to buy your preferred products for things like coughs, sore throats and colds, so strongly advise you find space in your case for these.
Have any of these changes been a surprise to you? What changes would you like to see, in order to feel completely safe cruising again? I always love your feedback.
And, if you found this useful, I’d love you to share it…thank you!
See you next time!
Wendy A. x
– Why should I take a cruise? 11 reasons to convince you
– Why we should keep cruising after Coronavirus
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12 comments / Add your comment below
Very good article Wendy! The buffet really won’t bother me. I love eating at the World Cafe and eat a LOT of meals there, but if I have to be served by a staff member that’s perfectly fine. It’s going to be interesting to see when countries open up. We are scheduled for Rome to Miami in Oct but I think we are going to reschedule for March hoping things are back to “more” normal. I’ve always brought a couple of extra weeks meds with me, being over cautious. It’s really sad seeing all of those ships just hanging out in the ocean.
Hi Dobie! Yes, I agree, it never bothers me to be served at the buffet. I’m sure the ships can manage portion control better when guests aren’t loading up their plates with ridiculous amounts too…but that’s a different story! Probably a good idea to postpone to March, I can’t see things being anywhere near ‘normal’ for the rest of this year to be honest – just my personal opinion. We are sitting and waiting to hear when Beven can go back…hopefully not too much longer! Look after yourself. W.x
A very thorough and quite excellent article.
I will certainly not be disappointed at the change to the buffets- virus or not it’s just incredibly more sanitary (sorry about your ice cream ??).
I agree completely about supply and demand; where brief season such as Alaska is involved, the demand should preclude the need for discounted rates. I am fine with things not getting so cheap that the quality goes down in with the ship is able to offer.
Thank you so much Bob, appreciate you taking the time to read my posts! Haha, I’ll get over the ice cream machines…a certain cruise line makes their own gelato and the butter pecan is to die for!!
Fingers crossed that all is ok by February 2021 hey…!
If this post isn’t needed, i don’t know what is! I actually pretty nervous to start getting back into the swing of things but I know a lot of people are super ready, so I hope they are able to see articles like this.
It makes me feel a lot better to know that there are at least guidelines that are to be followed and i hope that the cruise lines and the people follow them!
Yes, we definitely need the changes in place in order to get things up and running again – safely! I hope you’ll consider cruising when the bans are lifted. Thanks for the comment 🙂
Well well well…I was expecting some changes bu certainly wasn’t looking forward to so many.
First of all, excellent article. Thank you for putting this together. I’m yet to go on a cruise ship and for a long time was very skeptical. The recent changes I believe are extremely necessary and I for one certainly feel better about getting on a boat knowing these measures are in place now.
Do share any news concerning when the CDC can lift the ban so we can start planning.
I absolutely will! Thank you so much for taking the time to read my post and comment, I appreciate it!
Hi Wendy – A great and very thought provoking article, as unless they find a cure and/or vaccine this could be the new normal. Cruising has evolved considerably from the days of liner services and with the current virus your article mentioned many areas that must be addressed.
Looking at it from the perspective of a ship owner/manager and the Master, I see three major drivers for the changes:
– Need to protect the crew and passengers
– Proving due diligence
– Regulatory change/compliance, which could be continuously evolving, with additional experience. This also includes P&I Club recommendations for crew safety
Similar to the primary defensive move implemented by many Govts, I believe social distancing must be considered and incorporated into the new norm, and at least in the short term, could have significant impact:
– Buffets: in addition to crew service, I anticipate both a reduction in the number of tables and a reservation system to effectively manage the number of diners. A reservation system will manage potential queues at the entrance. They might even revert to plated meals.
– Restaurants: reservations required in all restaurants, with less tables
– Lifts: steps taken to restrict the number of pax in lifts could even see crew members operating them manually
– Entertainment: could see assigned seating for timed shows
– Pool decks: a reduction in the number of loungers/chairs and a booking system, with crew sanitising between use. Pool towels only available from the cabin or pool deck attendant, as no piles of towels will be available
– Disembarkation in port: the crush of pax milling around gangways must be managed, so I can foresee some type of timed gangway pass.
– Customer service/Shore Ex: again the queues for these services will need to be managed, so they could implement an appointment system
Those areas are fairly easy to manage, but crowding around railings, dance floors, etc are not so easy, so in addition to not filling 3rd/4th bunks, I see a greater reduction in pax count to improve the pax/space ratio. A claasic example is the Princess Grand Class/Super Grands. They modified a good design by adding an additional deck of cabins (500 pax) with same hull and pax spaces, resulting in crowded ships. Reduced pax counts will ease congestion.
Crew numbers – to ensure safety the numbers have to decrease, with less pax. I can see where work assignments will change for enhanced cleaning. Cabin assignments may change so crew on opposite shifts share cabins to reduce contact time. Crew messrooms may also change to served meals rather than buffet style.
Temperature checks – I can see daily checks, but for due diligence, I don’t see pax being responsible for this. If I was the Master, I would want the Medical Staff running this operation and retaining records.
Just a few quick thoughts.
Thank you so much for your thoughts Andy, you make a lot of great points here, especially about the crew. It will be challenging for the ship operations to reduce crew numbers too much, but as you say, maybe working opposite shifts could be a solution. It will be sad to lose things like sail away parties, and dancing under the stars though, I hope these would be able to continue in a safe way. I guess we can only wait and see what happens when the cruising ban is lifted… Appreciate you taking the time to comment, hope you and Judi are keeping well.
Great post! It shows that even the cruise industry can pivot in ways no one ever thought they could or would. I think there are some big benefits here too. Hopefully, people will start slowly getting used to the new cruise norm and love it as much.
Let’s hope so, it’s such a crazy time, and no one knows when the bans will be lifted…they just keep pushing back the return dates, in hope that they can sail again. Hoping it won’t be too much longer, with the new practices in place, everyone should be able to cruise safely!