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Cruises Will Return, Here's What to Expect

The Brits and other Europeans are finally allowed to travel through Europe again. But for the time being, Americans are still not allowed to go to the E.U. The US-based cruise lines dominate the industry and cater to U.S. travelers. So currently, American cruise lovers are left dreaming about their cruises through Europe.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) No Sail Order applies to cruise ships carrying more than 250 passengers and crew (with an overnight onboard stay and in waters subject to U.S. jurisdiction)—and it remains in place until September 30, 2020. Impacted cruise lines (which are most) right now plan to return to sailing when ban lifts.

These protocols affect your entire vacation, not only on the cruise. The cruise industry’s response seems to be taking a while because the industry is working through every facet and every single stage of a person’s vacation experience. A wide range of stakeholders from ports to tourism ministers to shore excursion organizers to airports to health services in countries around the world are adding additional sanitizing health measures. Certain decisions like protocols to debark COVID19 positive passengers can only happen at the government level.

There is no other sector of global tourism taking such a comprehensive view of protecting the traveling public. The response from the cruise industry seems to be taking a long time - well, that is how it should be. People’s lives and livelihoods are at stake, and the cruise lines, for one, are taking this very seriously.

Cruise lines are collaborating to ensure best practices are put in place for all ships to resume service. We’ve learned that despite widespread media hysteria suggesting otherwise, the cruise industry is focusing on creating the very best customer experience in the hospitality industry. They are confident that they can offer a safe environment to their loyal clients. These protocols effect both on and off the vessel. Here are some of the measures that we expect to see...

Flying Has Changed

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) claims the risk of virus transmission onboard aircraft is low even without extraordinary measures. Why does this seem to be the case? First, passengers face forward, with limited face-to-face interactions. Second, seats provide a barrier to transmission ahead to aft, and airflow from ceiling to floor reduces the potential for transmission forward or aft. Third, High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters on modern aircraft clean cabin air to hospital operating quality. The high levels of fresh air circulation assist the filters. Due to these facts, most airlines won’t keep the middle seats blocked for long. As a precaution, however, all airlines require you to wear masks for the duration of the flights.

Increased Health Screenings

Once a coronavirus vaccine is available, most government agencies will likely require proof of immunization; in the same way, a yellow fever certificate or an exemption is the norm today. Until then, enhanced screening will become the norm. Some of these could include trace and tracking apps, self-administered tests, and temperature tests administered by TSA, airlines, cruise lines, resorts, and tour operators. Testing for the virus may be a requirement for some destinations. The test may have to occur in advance of boarding the plane when you arrive at the final destination or the resort when you arrive.

So what happens if someone is feeling poorly and self-identifies as a possible carrier? What will occur if you are feeling sick and denied boarding at embarkation? In most instances, your tickets’ terms and conditions will determine if you will lose the money spent on the trip. You can either buy insurance to insure against the risk or be sure the tickets are reusable if this becomes the case. Some cruise lines, airlines, and resorts are now offering a full money-back guarantee (which will need to apply to future travel dates when you are well).

2020 the Year of Relaxed Cancellation Policies

This year cruise lines stepped up right at the start of the crisis to support their customers, introduce relaxed cancellation and amendment policies, and reassure guests with enhanced consumer protection. People are taking advantage of Future Cruise Credits (FCC) and flexible booking policies to make firm plans. These policies are continually evolving, as people gain the confidence to travel in 2021 and beyond.

Boarding and Embarkation

When boarding the ship, expect smaller increments of 15 minute boarding times. When leaving for ports, the crew will stagger embarkation and excursion times to keep delays to a minimum and keep an enjoyable customer experience.

No More Self-Serve Buffets

For the smaller luxury ships, the transition from self-service buffets to à la carte or staff-served food stations will be painless. Most small vessels and river cruise lines do not have them anyways. Bigger ships that rely on areas designed to service large numbers of guests quickly, with a minimum of staff intervention, will have more challenges. They will need longer restaurant opening hours and increased staff numbers to achieve their aims - they may even need to return to the general fixed seating requirements they have been eliminating over the last few years.

Temporary Quarantine and Isolation

How will cruise ships handle a person who tests positive for coronavirus while onboard the vessel? Key issues emerged during the pandemic back in February and March relating to quarantine and isolation. Governments allowed a ship to dock but did not enable disembarking passengers. Some countries barred entry to every port; a cruise ship tried to stop in to replenish food and fuel. As a result, infection rates were high on those ships that had infected people on board. Cruise lines are now working with government bodies to ensure that at least one of the ports of call on any given itinerary will agree to allow an infected ship to come into port, and assist with quarantine/isolation and repatriation.

The cruise line industry has commitments to ensure infected people can be effectively isolated on board and evacuated from the ship at the earliest port during the trip. The proposed requirement for cruise lines is to provide isolation for 5% of passengers, 5% of crew (or 1% when debark is possible within 24 hours if the port or country which has agreed to accommodate the patient is within 24 hours of testing.

Social distancing protocols ideas

Smaller luxury ships (under 500 passengers), will apply social distancing while continuing to deliver higher levels of service and enhanced guest comfort. Expect removal of 30% of their seating in an open area to spread apart passengers. In dining venues, staff will reduce capacity where necessary at peak times. Expect ships to have single-use menus and require masks for guests and staff.

Larger ships (500 passengers and over), will need to rely on new technology to help with social distancing. An example is Carnival’s OceanMedallion program. Each guest receives a wearable tech device to be an onboard key, credit card, and tracking device. The staff tracks guest locations, so rooms are cleaning and disinfecting occurs while guests are out of their rooms. The tech will assist in delivering food and drinks to the right tables. Other uses will be to monitor passenger flow.

Other ideas for the larger ships include creating a guest group “bubble.” The concept of keeping specific groups of guests and crew together will reduce the interaction between ‘bubbles’ to reduce exposure to spreading germs and viruses. Sophisticated onboard technology should make it possible for such logistics to occur. The concept minimally impacts the guest - they may not even be aware they are in a guest bubble. Smaller ships are already a bubble in itself, so no further divisions with wearable tech would be necessary.

Enhanced cleaning protocols

A crucial part of preventing the spread of any infectious disease requires appropriate cleaning protocols. Cruise lines are well equipped to implement additional steps. For many years the cruise industry has had to adapt to containing various viruses. It’s much easier to strengthen an existing framework than set one up from scratch. Look for more in-depth cleaning shipwide, especially in communal areas. Ships will increase the staffing level to ensure additional cleanings.

Cabin amenities will change. If an item could spread infection from cruise to cruise without the ability to be sanitized, you won’t see it in your cabin. Such things could include kettles, coffee machines, minibar contents, amenities, cruise deck activity papers, and brochures.

The removal of paper items will help cruise lines with their sustainability program. The enhanced technology improves guest experiences with daily onboard activities, shore excursions, and dinner confirmations. Each guest will have a personalized trip planner to keep on their phones or tablets.

Upgrades to Ventilation Systems

Like airlines, cruise ships will upgrade to HEPA filters or Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI) systems. New filtration systems will assist in directing airflow and recirculation of clean air below the ship. Exhaust fans in cabin bathrooms will need to continually run to help air handling units recirculate 100% outside air.

Few Passengers When Ships Relaunch

A temporary drop in demand will mean ships won’t operate at their normal occupancy levels near full capacity. Now ships will need extra space to put in place the social distancing required and hold back quarantine and isolation cabins for use in the event of an outbreak on board. New capacity numbers have yet to be released by the major cruise lines.

Due to all these changes, don’t expect highly discounted fares. The cruise lines may revert to an older business model, with higher ticket prices for fewer guests, more realistic pricing, and less’ nickel and diming’ on board. In terms of booking incentives, look out for upgrades, onboard credit, or low single supplements, and if it’s the cruise you want, snap it up rather than waiting around for a better deal.

Shore excursions Changes

Large Cruise lines often used full-size coaches to allow for up to 75 to 100 passengers to embark on excursions. These large group excursions will likely go away. Expect fewer cruise lines to offer them. Instead, you will need to book with independent tours through local operators. Working with a tour operator allows for smaller, safer groups to explore each port. The benefits of a smaller group are less crowded venues and more benefits for the local economy. The mainstream lines will have to adopt similar measures, with smaller group tours and less mixing of guests, so expect an increase in pricing if they do continue to offer excursions.

Cruising is back just not the way you cruised before

If you’re ready to return to cruising, there are options. The CDC ban does not apply to U.S. small-ship companies, like UnCruise Adventures, American Queen Steamboat Company, and American Cruise Lines. Cruise lovers can book today on these U.S. small ships, which have already placed new strict health and safety protocols.

So when you’re ready to return - we are prepared to help with your holiday or other celebration plans. If you would like a callback, please click here and I will contact you today!

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