Should you take a cruise?

SHERYL NANCE-NASH | 5/21/2020, midnight
Carnival Cruise Lines recently announced it will resume some operations in August.
Cruise ship Photo by Matthew Berra from Pexels

Carnival Cruise Lines recently announced it will resume some operations in August. That comes on the heels of Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines who say they plan to return to the seas this summer.

However, a new survey from Azurite Consulting’s “COVID-19 Impact on Business” report revealed that 25% of cruisegoers said they will never take a cruise again. Sixty-five percent said they will wait at least until there’s a vaccine, and 55% of those waiting will delay their next cruise until at least one year after the vaccine is available.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s no-sail order is scheduled to expire July 24, but who knows if it will be extended. Despite all the caution, some cruise lines are reporting stronger than expected sales for 2021 sailings.

Are you ready to set sail sooner, and should you?

Tanner Callais, founder and editor of Cruzely.com, a website about everything related to cruising, says, “We’ve all seen the terrible headlines around coronavirus and cruising. However, coronavirus has been a worldwide issue. Yes, it can spread on cruise ships, but it seems to be able to spread everywhere.”

According to Cruzely.com’s analysis that uses data the Miami Herald and Johns Hopkins University found, “Despite the headlines, cruise ships were only linked to 0.07% of coronavirus cases worldwide. There have been about 4 million confirmed cases, but fewer than 3,000 linked to cruises.”

However, he adds, “I wouldn’t suggest taking a cruise just yet and agree with the decision to suspend sailings. But when the pandemic is under control, I wouldn’t see cruising as any riskier than going to a concert or being in the crowd at a sporting event,” he says.

Becca, who runs the Halfhalftravel.com website with partner Dan, is less enthusiastic. “With the concern over disease spread, I cannot possibly imagine myself taking a cruise, dipping in a pool, brushing shoulders with passengers in tight hallways and/or trying to sunbathe with a face mask...not until we have a vaccine, at least!”

Be sure though, that the cruise industry is hard at work addressing concerns and fears. When you next board a ship, things will be decidedly different.

“According to Cruise Lines International Association, the cruise industry is using the mandated suspension of cruising by the CDC to implement protocols for stringent boarding standards and passenger screening, social distancing once they are on board, food service (adios self-service buffets), increased onboard medical professionals and hospital-level sanitation measures. Cruise companies are also collaborating with home port partners to make certain they are playing their role in expediting passenger check-in,” reports Virginia Sheridan, cruise specialist and managing partner of Finn Partners’ North America Travel Practice.

Alex Miller from UpgradedPoints.com expects cruise travel to pick back up in the fall. He offers his thoughts on changes. “Buffets will be replaced by servers and there’ll be less opportunity for guests to self-serve themselves in restaurants and bars. There will be more sanitizer in public areas such as elevators, pools, restaurants, on decks, etc. The more that’s there, the more people will use.”

On cruises that aren’t sold out, expect passengers to be separated more often—whether it be in the restaurant and dining areas, or in cabins where every other cabin might be filled. They’ll be more opportunity for spacing people out, predicts Miller.

There will also be a rise in the use of established times—where previously you will see dining areas and entertainment open in a “come whenever” atmosphere, you’ll start to see established times for passengers. “For example, while breakfast might be open from 6-10 a.m., you might see cabins 1-100 served from 6-8 a.m. and cabins 101-200 served from 8-10 a.m., that way it spaces out more customers in popular areas,” says Miller.

Terika Haynes, CEO of Dynamite Travel, a luxury travel consultancy, offers further predictions. “The cruise industry will probably come back in stages. Cruise companies will likely start sailing a few ships in the Caribbean and expand from there back into other international markets.”

She says they’ll have to show the public the ships have been disinfected to increase consumer confidence and reduce anxiety. Cleaning will go to a new level, “including steaming of mattresses, staff uniforms and footwear will be completely sanitized,” she says.

Staff will have their temperature checked upon entering the premises and will have face masks. As for you, she surmises you may be asked to sign a declaration of health, confirming you are free of any COVID-19 related symptoms, or show an immunity passport. Your luggage will likely immediately be disinfected at check-in/embarkation.

Take advantage of the industry’s tactics to entice you back. “Most cruise lines are currently offering historically low rates, and more flexible cancellation/rebook options to entice travelers to begin cruising again,” says Haynes.

Hurtigruten Cruises plans to gradually restart operations from mid-June. Even before the global outbreak, Hurtigruten imposed strict measures and protocols to combat the spread of the virus. They’ve gone further still: “In total, we will implement hundreds of small and large measures to keep our guests and crew safe and healthy. Some of them are transitory, some will be permanent. But from even stricter hygiene protocols to reduced guest capacity to allow social distancing, this will give you a safer voyage without impacting the experience,” Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam said in a prepared statement.

Hurtigruten has also introduced a flexible rebooking policy, offering free rebooking for all guests on all voyages departing before September 30. Guests are offered rebooking and a future discount of 10%, to any future Hurtigruten cruise, Expedition or Norwegian Coastal, in 2020 or 2021.

American Queen Steamboat Company has implemented multiple processes to combat the risk of COVID-19 on its boats. According to CEO John Waggoner, new steps include pre-cruise screening, gangway screening, screening and surveillance during the cruise, enhanced board sanitation and cleaning procedures, ground transportation protocols, adjusted sailings and cruise change policies, among others.

Lissy Urteaga, the co-founder of Delfin Amazon Cruises, which offers upscale river cruising in the Upper Peruvian Amazon, touts its small size. There are four private suites onboard with a capacity of eight passengers. The suites and public areas have their own air conditioning systems, allowing for optimal air flow. Delfin will implement any requirements and recommendations by the health ministry and the CDC. She anticipates that as the lockdown lifts and people are traveling, they will want to be away from busy cities and crowds and connect with the purity of nature.

Finally, Kevin Sheehan Jr., president of Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line, says, “Cruising has been, and always will be, in the business of bringing joy. When we return, our onboard experience may look a little different, but no matter what, providing a great experience will be at the heart of everything we do.”