The worldwide pandemic of coronavirus (COVID-19) is an evolving situation, and every day new changes are made to travel restrictions, business operations, and medical protocols. The cruise industry is no exception to those changes. In just a few weeks, cruises have gone from normal, day-to-day operations to quarantined vessels, ports refusing to allow vessels to dock, increased health screenings, altered itineraries, and finally, to a complete shutdown of operations.
There is hope, however, and as the medical community learns more about this virus and treatments improve, eventually social distancing and quarantines will end and travel will resume. So what does this mean for the cruise industry, and what changes may be forthcoming when ships set sail again?
More Cancellations Possible
Because the pandemic is changing rapidly, it is possible that the current shutdowns within different cruise lines may be extended, and further spring and even summer cruises could be postponed or canceled.
Different cruise lines will make their own individual determinations for when to resume operations based on the guidelines and recommendations of health officials, government authorities, and the ports they visit, as well as the needs of the passengers they serve and the employees who keep the entire industry afloat. Resuming operations will be a delicate balance, and it is important to be patient about the status of future cruises.
New Ship Delays
Many large cruise lines currently have ships under construction, with highly anticipated maiden voyages planned for the next few months. These new ships may see those voyages delayed, however, due to revenue, labor, or diplomatic difficulties as travelers, shipyards, and ports try to recover from the current shutdowns.
If construction has not yet begun, it is possible that the projects could be postponed indefinitely until conditions improve. This also applies to renovations and upgrades, which may also see postponements until regular operations resume.
As cruise line closures could be extended, bookings in the weeks and months to come are likely to fill up fast and it will be more difficult to find last-minute sailings or quick getaways. Passengers interested in specific dates should consider booking their cruise vacations as soon as possible to secure the dates they need with the greatest choice in stateroom availability.
Many cruise lines may offer unprecedented deals and incentives for upcoming sailings, and these deep discounts are likely to be in effect for several months as the industry rebounds and travel becomes more widespread.
Bonus offers, such as discounts on multiple passengers, drink packages, spa treatments, and other enticements are also likely. This makes it a great time for both new and experienced cruisers to score fantastic travel deals once ships begin to set sail.
Increased Health Screenings
It is likely that as cruise travel resumes, crew members and passengers alike will be subject to more detailed health screenings. This may include lengthier questionnaires, temperature checks, and the need for letters from doctors, primary care physicians, or medical specialists certifying that individuals with unique health concerns are fit for cruise travel.
It is possible that additional vaccinations may be recommended or other health records may need to be provided in order to travel, depending on the destination.
Longer Embarkation Periods
If health screenings increase, embarkation lines may be longer and passengers may take longer to board vessels, particularly larger ships with higher capacities. While cruise lines will undoubtedly do everything possible to minimize wait times, adjustments to embarkation hours are likely and passengers will need to be patient and have any required documentation ready when they arrive at the embarkation port.
More Stringent Cleaning and Sanitizing Protocols
Cruise ships have always worked hard to provide exceptionally clean environments and public areas have always been cleaned and sanitized regularly, but it is likely that those cleaning procedures will be further augmented in the weeks and months to come.
Some public areas on ships may be closed more frequently to allow for deeper or more frequent cleaning, and there will likely be more hand sanitizer dispensers and handwashing stations available for passengers onboard.
Onboard Activity Changes
There may be changes to onboard activities and facilities as cruise lines begin sailing again. Pools, whirlpools, spa facilities, children’s play areas, video arcades, and other features that often have very extended hours may be shut down more frequently for cleaning, or there may be stronger restrictions about the number of people allowed to use facilities at once. This could also apply to the capacity at nightclubs or dance clubs onboard.
Restaurant and Dining Venue Changes
Because many illnesses, including coronavirus and norovirus, are easily spread through close contact, cruise ships may adjust how their restaurant venues work in the future.
Large buffet restaurants could be changed to more serving stations where crew members dish up portions or individual portions are available for self-service, rather than many passengers using the same utensils to serve themselves from common dishes. Times between main seatings in traditional restaurants could also be extended to allow for greater sanitizing between dining groups.
More Contact-Free Options Onboard
While many ships have already upgraded online or in-stateroom options for contact-free activities – such as making dining reservations, browsing photos, or booking spa appointments – these conveniences may be introduced more quickly to ships in the coming months. This can eliminate some unnecessary contact and give passengers more options for customizing their cruise vacations with ease.
Port of Call Adjustments
As different governments evaluate their own needs and take steps to safeguard their citizens in the best way they can, some popular ports of call may adjust how cruise ships fit into their travel accommodations.
This may mean changes to how long ships can be in port, how many ships could be docked at one time, or what a total passenger capacity may be for each port. This could result in changes to cruise itineraries and adjustments for visits to popular ports of call.
Greater Demand for Travel Insurance
With different cruise ships forced to alter itineraries, cut voyages short, and disembark passengers in unexpected ports as the coronavirus crisis began, it is likely that passengers will be more inclined to purchase travel insurance for future cruises.
Helpful: Should I Buy Cruise Insurance?
Travel insurance can help offset costs associated with travel changes, but passengers should compare policies carefully to ensure situations caused by epidemic or pandemic diseases may be covered, including extended stays in foreign locations if travel is completely restricted.
Changes to Refund and Cancellation Policies
As the current situation has developed quickly, cruise lines have been equally quick to act by changing refund and cancellation policies to give their guests peace of mind and the opportunity to plan future cruises with ease. While the generosity of the current policies is unlikely to be extended indefinitely, cruise lines are sure to make changes to their overall policies in case a similar situation occurs in the future.
Some Cruise Lines Could Disappear
Unfortunately, while the cruise industry is resilient and travel will resume when it is safe to do so, some small, limited cruise lines may be unable to recover from the economic blow of an extended shutdown or newly mandated regulations.
These will be more local or regional lines with only limited offerings, and their operations may be purchased by larger, more stable travel companies. This does not mean, however, that every small line is in danger, only that the current uncertainty is more troublesome for smaller cruise businesses.
Faster Future Responses
When the coronavirus was first identified in December 2019, it took some time for the severity of the outbreak and the ease of the disease’s transmission to be recognized.
While travel authorities, including cruise lines, reacted as quickly as possible with the information they had available at the time, it is likely that should there be a similar situation in the future, the reaction will be even faster to curb the spread of any highly contagious disease. Faster reactions can be more successful at containing an epidemic and protecting passengers, crew members, and ports of call.
What Will Each Line Do?
Ultimately, each cruise line will make whatever adjustments and changes best suit its fleet, the passengers it serves, the ports it visits, and the employees that make each voyage a memorable vacation.
Not all lines will make the same changes, and while the ultimate scope of changes is unknown at this time, it is likely that there will be adjustments in cruise travel for years to come. Passengers who are currently booked on future cruises should contact their cruise line about any adjustments to their upcoming voyages.
Stay Tuned for Updates
Cruise Hive brings you decades of cruise travel experience and different perspectives on cruise travel, and changes have always happened to cruise travel as society changes.
While these are only speculations about how cruise travel may change in the coming weeks and months, stay tuned for all the latest news and updates from cruise lines around the world, and tips for how to make every cruise you take as safe and enjoyable as possible.