The answer to the question what will cruising be like in 2020 and beyond is beginning to look clearer. This week the Healthy Sail Panel, put together by the Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, announced it’s high level plan for a safe return to cruising had been submitted to the CDC. Coinciding with this announcement, the Cruise Line Industry Association (CLIA) announced their plan which would be followed by the 95% of cruise lines they represent.
Update: Mandatory Negative Covid-19 Test
The recommendations are broad — and not unexpected from a common sense standpoint — but what is interesting is that this appears to be a guideline but each cruise line will be required to submit detailed plans and protocols for compliance. In my opinion the Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holding Group brands have a head start in the process since it appears many of the CLIA guidelines are identical to what was released by the Healthy Sail Panel.
- Testing. 100% testing of passengers and crew for COVID-19 prior to embarkation.
- Mask-Wearing. Mandatory wearing of masks by all passengers and crew onboard and during excursions whenever physical distancing cannot be maintained
- Distancing. Physical distancing in terminals, onboard ships, on private islands and during shore excursions
- Ventilation. Air management and ventilation strategies to increase fresh air onboard and, where feasible, using enhanced filters and other technologies to mitigate risk
- Medical Capability: Risk based response plans tailored for each ship to manage medical needs, dedicated cabin capacity allocated for isolation and other operational measures, and advance arrangements with private providers for shoreside quarantine, medical facilities, and transportation.
- Shore Excursions: Only permit shore excursions according to the cruise operators’ prescribed protocols, with strict adherence required of all passengers and denial of re-boarding for any passengers that do not comply.
Speaking to travel agents, Richard Fain the chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Group, discussed what he believes cruising will be like once the CDC gives the green light to resume sailing. The number one takeaway for me was the focus on the vacation experience even while changes are being made to ensure the health and safety of guests and crew. His point was a good one: it’s still a vacation and as such the experience must live up to a certain standard.
With that in mind, Fain outlined some of the policies I have been speculating about. For example, there will be requirements for better health screening including, potentially, requiring guests to submit negative Covid tests as part of the online check-in process.
One of the other questions everyone has when wondering what cruising be like is about the on-board experience. Fain talked about how masks would certainly be required in areas where social distancing isn’t possible. He did note that in many cases the decks are big enough for people to spread out and with changes to the dining options, limited capacity, and changes to the entertainment schedules there will be plenty of ways to avoid wearing a mask for much of the cruise.
One of the concerns I hear often related to what cruising will be like in the future is what happens if a guest or crew member tests positive and the whole ship gets quarantined? We saw that at the beginning of the pandemic with Holland America ships and people are rightfully concerned about taking a vacation and having it last two weeks longer than planned. The Healthy Sail Panel and CLIA addressed this concern, but again, only as a “we understand your concern and any plan has to address this” sort of way.
Through no fault of Royal Caribbean Group or Richard Fain, after the call, I have more questions than answers. How will they decide what the capacity on board is going to be? How will everyone have access to reliable and timely tests before boarding? How will the cruise lines guarantee guests won’t be quarantined for two weeks?
These (and about 100 others) are questions that need to be answered before any meaningful discussion about restart dates can happen. I still believe now is the best time to book your next cruise — for when is simply a guess.
You can visit the Royal Caribbean and Norwegian resource pages or, if you’d like unbiased information and advice or to begin discussing your next vacation (cruise or any other type), use the contact form or call me at 844-483-6669.
About the Author
Joel is a co-owner of JJ Travel Associates (a Dream Vacations franchise), blogger-in-chief at JoelKnowsTravel.com, lover of all things travel (especially UNESCO World Heritage Sites), wannabe comedian, and the person you should call if you're thinking of planning a vacation.