Cruising has always been one of the safest health choices for a vacation. As you went about your care-free days, you were witness to the continual cleaning of the public areas, reminded to use hand sanitizers especially pre-meals, and cognizant of the safety of the food you ate. There was never a worry about dodgy food or drink as you might encounter in holidays spots on shore. Sure, there were outbreaks of various flus from time to time causing up ticks in cleaning protocols to keep you safe. And if you were at all concerned, you could research any cruise lines health history on-line as all cruise lines are inspected by the CDC and the results published.
But then along came the Covid-19 pandemic which changed all travel, not just cruising. Ports of call panicked, countries panicked, and cruise ships became the new “lepers”. Yet airports continued to spew out passengers from infected areas with impunity for a long time before flights were curtailed or shut down. Cruises as a vacation became the victim of press coverage.
As the world eases back to some semblance of normal, travel may never be the same as before. Change has come and we believe our cruise vacations will be the better for it.
Many cruise lines have been pro-active in researching and implementing new measures to keep you healthy and safe. They have published all their protocols on their websites for prospective cruisers to see and a few have employed third party inspectors to ensure compliance. Others are still “working on it” but will no doubt implement some or all the same measures. Their very livelihood depends on it.
Here are some of the protocols that seem to be mentioned across the board*:
Enhanced pre-board screening of crew and guests. This can range from questionnaires, temperature checks, and exams by medical staff. If you have recently travelled through or from a high-risk area, you may be refused boarding (Hurtigruten*). Some lines are requiring medical certificates though this may be dropped as time passes. Be assured the skimpy health attestation we all used to sign at embarkation is a thing of the past.
Luggage is being sanitized as well. (Avalon Waterways, American Cruise Lines, Paul Gauguin*)
If we saw hand sanitizers before, be assured they are everywhere now. Some lines are making sanitizer wipes available plus other PPE such as masks if desired both on board and on their tours. (ACL, Avalon Waterways, Uniworld, Paul Gauguin, Victory Cruise Lines*).
Cleaning has been amped up. Public areas are to be cleaned as often as every hour. American Cruise Lines have established public washrooms off limits for the time being as their small size makes returning to one’s cabin easily accomplished. Non-toxic fogging of public areas and even embarkation locales are promised by Norwegian, Princess, Regent seven Seas Cruises, Royal Caribbean and others.
Staterooms will receive more scrutiny including the fogging. Changeover time will see even more cleaning and disinfecting to prevent any carry-over of pathogens.
Norwegian and Hurtigruten mention the use of electrostatic cleaning, and the former will be using UV lights to pick up problem areas not visible to the human eye.
New medical-grade HVAC systems (heat, ventilation, air) will employ filters that screen close to all air-born pathogens (airlines take note). Norwegian and Regent specifically mention these. Other lines note that their air units are stateroom independent and/or have access to outside air (River boats such as Avalon).
Dining will change. Many lines are nixing their buffets for now but that may give way to buffets with crew plating your choice (Many of us cruisers would welcome the change to crew plating after watching folks in line at the buffet touching the food!) There may be more seatings to accommodate less crowding at meals, assigned seatings, and increased time between seatings to allow for disinfecting touch points (chairs etc.) No more communal condiments as pepper, salt, butter, etc will come in individual packets and even the menus may become paper disposable.
Dining will not be the only area where you may see less people. New capacity limits will be in effect for gyms, pools, theatres, spas and other public areas. Physical distance marking may be evident wherever you may queue whether it is embarkation, at ports of call where you must get on and off the ship and/or on board. For now, some lines such as ACL and Avalon are cruising with up to 50% less guests to help with physical distancing.
Touch-free cards for on board purchasing will become the norm but as most lines use them now that is not an entirely new protocol for cruisers.
Most lines will have medical personal on board (doctor and nurses), a dedicated health and safety inspector or if in the case of river lines, some type of medical personal as these ships are always close to a land hospital if required. This is not new. Protocols are in place however with training for recognition of a Covid-19 possible problem, and what to do if results are positive. This goes not only for medical personal, but the crew as well is being taught how to spot potential cases. Empty cabins are being maintained for possible isolation cases.
Crew are being scrutinized for health as never before and in some cases may be in isolation prior to commencing work on board. Avalon Waterways will be checking crew temperatures daily. Crew cabins will be cleaned and fogged the same as guests. Training will be required not only for the new protocols but also in coping with possible sickness on board. The crews of Hurtigruten for example must complete the WHO’s official Covid-19 course.
Cruise lines are well equipped to control and cope with the new health standards on board but most folks cruise to experience a continual line-up of destinations on shore. Cruise lines are working with their shore partners to ensure that physical distancing, disinfecting, and the availability of hand sanitizer wipes and PPE if desired are the norm as well as at the attractions they visit.
There will be strict control over access to the ships in ports and supplies taken aboard will be sanitized. Times to get on and off the ship will be staggered to prevent line-ups and crowding. Security checks may be enhanced with additional health screening when returning to the ship.
Itineraries may change if there are any concerns about a scheduled port of call. Cruise lines will be just as wary of their ports of call as these places were of them during the early days of the pandemic.
With the loss of revenue from cruise ships calling, ports of call, vendors and tour operators at these places are now aware how critical it is to implement health measures to insure confidence both of the lines and their guests.
Common sense would dictate that cruising will be one of the safest ways to vacation in the future the same as it has been in the past despite the bad press it has received. If cruising is considered not safe, then no vacation choice can possibly be unless you wish to staycation. The biggest hurdle to cruising in the near future is the assurance the airport you travel through, the plane you fly on, and the hotel you may stay in before or after you cruise has the strictest health protocols in place that cruise lines do.
As always your travel professional is the best person to turn to for advice and booking being up-to-date on all the new protocols and travel procedures to make your vacation choice as stress-free as possible.
*Note: The cruise lines mentioned may not be the sole practitioners of the protocols mentioned; there may be others as well as this is an evolving situation.