With multiple vaccines now available and vaccination efforts underway around the world, there may be hope that the COVID-19 pandemic could end soon. Why, then, are cruises still being canceled, even months before their sailing dates?
The Evolution of a Pandemic
While there is progress and hope in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, it is critical to understand that pandemics evolve just like the diseases that cause them.
As the COVID-19 virus mutates into new strains, additional research must be conducted to ensure that treatment measures, medications, and vaccines can remain effective against each strain.
Even while that research is underway, both new and old strains of the virus continue to be transmitted, and therefore case numbers, infection rates, and death totals rise.
Vaccines are an excellent step to halt the spread of this contagious disease. Because the vaccines are still in the early stage of both distribution and public use, however, the extent of the protection they may provide both against catching the disease and against transmitting it is not yet known.
Multiple doses of the early vaccines are necessary for the most protection, and it will take additional time for those re-vaccinations to take place. Overall levels of protection must also be studied and verified.
In the meantime, additional health measures such as social distancing, limited gatherings, mask-wearing, enhanced cleaning, and increased handwashing must continue, as all these measures play some part in preventing the spread of the disease.
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As pandemic-related health protocols continue to evolve, so too do the precautions cruise lines need to take before setting sail, and therefore, more cruises may be canceled.
Health Protocols on Post-Pandemic Cruise Ships
Different cruise lines are implementing different health and sanitation safety procedures and cleaning protocols.
Depending on the line, this may include upgraded air filtration systems, new policies to promote fresh air in indoor spaces wherever safely possible, stronger cleaning chemicals to kill viruses and bacteria coupled with more frequent cleaning, and regular health surveys and checks for both passengers and crew.
Other protocols on different ships can include limiting capacity at shows or activities, requiring reservations for popular spaces, mask-wearing in indoor areas, changes to dining operations, contact tracing for both passengers and crew, and requiring negative testing before setting sail.
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Which protocols are necessary on each ship will depend not only on different cruise lines, but also where those ships set sail from and which ports they visit during each voyage.
Coordinating a Cruise Itinerary
One of the best things about cruising is the ability to visit different countries without the hassle of packing and unpacking, passing through customs, and uncomfortable travel interrupting each part of a vacation.
While this can be very convenient for passengers, it can also be very challenging for a cruise line to coordinate between ports of call in different countries.
As the pandemic continues, different countries are developing their own health and safety protocols for visitors, including cruise passengers. When each port may have somewhat different requirements, it can be difficult for a cruise line to meet the proper requirements for an engaging itinerary passengers will enjoy.
Some popular cruise ports may remain closed to passengers while others reopen, and even as sailings resume, cruise ports may change visitor requirements in response to their own infection rates and COVID protocols.
Cruise lines are easing into post-pandemic practices with a string of “test sailings” and a slow, careful resumption of operations when it is safe to do so.
These test sailings are a way to put new protocols in place, as well as to gather feedback from passengers and crew members about what practices work best and what options are not as feasible.
Each test cruise is being very closely observed, not only by its own cruise line, but also by other cruise lines, vendors, prospective passengers, and the media.
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As different policies are refined, additional sailings will continue to test protocols and adjust requirements before more cruise ships cautiously set sail under updated guidelines.
So, Why More Cancelations?
After all these precautions, adjustments, and tests, why are cruises continuing to be canceled even while the vaccine is being distributed?
Each of these steps to get cruises sailing again takes time, not to mention the time to reposition cruise ships, recall crews, and stock supplies for upcoming sailings. Because of the scrutiny the cruise industry will be under as sailings resume, cruise lines want to take every possible precaution for a safe and successful restart.
Despite the confusion and inconvenience that results from further cancelations, cruise lines are being ultra-cautious about future sailings. With pandemic conditions and different restrictions and protocols continuing to shift on a nearly daily basis, it can be easier to cancel additional sailings a few weeks early rather than risk last-minute emergency cancelations or unprepared sailings.
For travelers, patience is essential. Stay connected to your favorite cruise lines through email announcements, text alerts, and social media to be apprised of potential cancelations as soon as possible.
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Passengers who already have future bookings should stay aware of the status of their sailings and the different compensation offers, including refunds and future cruise credits, if those sailings may be canceled. Of course, the cruise industry wants to resume voyages as soon as it is safe to do so, and many passengers are eager to set sail once again.
Further cancelations, however, are likely inevitable as the pandemic continues and protocols must be adjusted to maximize safety and minimize the spread of COVID-19.
Staying patient and supportive of the cruise industry in these trying times is the best that any avid cruiser can do, and in time, we will all be sailing safely once again.
Main Photo Credit: Toni Arsovski / Shutterstock.com