With different cities, states, and countries slowly beginning to ease stay-at-home restrictions and lift the most severe coronavirus quarantine measures, it can be disheartening for eager cruise passengers to see their favorite cruise lines extend operational suspensions further and cancel more cruises. Why aren’t cruise lines resuming sooner? The answer is far more complicated than just letting passengers onboard and setting sail.
Preparing the Ships
Before a cruise gets underway, the ship must be properly equipped and supplied to meet passengers’ needs. This includes not only consumable supplies such as fuel, food, and beverages, but also having appropriate cleaning and medical supplies on board.
Because of changing regulations in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, cruise ships may need to carry different medical and cleaning supplies than they have in the past, and before a ship sets sail, it must be adequately supplied.
A cruise ship cannot sail without the proper crew on board, not only for standard ship operations, but for all the extra features a cruise ship offers its passengers. Because many cruise lines have released crew members from their contracts during this uncertain time, it may be a challenge to have the correct crew members report to different ships, particularly with additional travel restrictions still in place around the world.
A large cruise ship may have crew members representing dozens of nationalities, and each one must be coordinated to arrive at the ship to fulfill their duties. Furthermore, the correct crew members must be on board to offer a variety of services to passengers, including specialists such as musicians, photographers, and spa treatment professionals. Different cruise lines may also need to adjust crew members’ contracts to account for the disruption of service and changes to contract dates as operations resume.
At this time, not all cruise ships are where they are supposed to be if operations were to resume more quickly. Several cruise lines have used their own vessels to take crew members back to their home countries, and other ships are temporarily docked at ports they wouldn’t normally visit while voyages are suspended.
Before normal operations can resume, those ships need to return to their planned embarkation ports, which includes scheduling difficulties to ensure the right ships are in the right positions to set sail with passengers again. Alternatively, cruise lines might adjust which ships are located at which home ports, which can cause more scheduling difficulties and itinerary changes.
Permission at Ports
A cruise ship cannot dock at an embarkation or debarkation port, or even a port of call, if it does not have permission to do so from that port’s authorities. Different countries – and one cruise may call on several countries during a single itinerary – may have different requirements for visiting cruise ships, and each country needs to do what it feels is best to protect its citizens.
Cruise ships need to respect those decisions and abide by different regulations, which may include health screenings for visiting passengers, restrictions on visiting vessel size, changes to how long a ship may be docked, and other requirements. If a port’s requirements are too stringent, different cruise ships may not be able to visit or days in port could be severely curtailed, which will impact passenger experiences and cause itinerary adjustments.
Are Port Attractions Open?
Even if a port of call is open and welcoming to cruise ships, the cruise line needs to consider the experience passengers are likely to have while visiting that port. If the port community is still under a variety of restrictions, restaurants, shopping centers, and attractions could be closed, and shore tours may not be able to operate at full capacity or could be closed completely.
This can severely restrict what passengers are able to do in port, creating an unpleasant experience that passengers won’t want to repeat on future cruises and casting a negative image on the cruise line.
A cruise cannot run if its passengers cannot get to the embarkation port, and cruise lines need to consider all types of passenger travel before they resume normal operations. With fewer flights operating at this time and many hotels closed, cruise passengers will have more difficulty arriving at ports to begin their cruise, or flying to embarkation ports a day or two before they set sail.
Furthermore, passengers who may have underlying health concerns or could be more vulnerable to infections may be reconsidering their travel plans altogether, which can impact a cruise ship’s overall capacity.
With the disastrous COVID-19 outbreak on the Diamond Princess and similar outbreaks on other cruise ships that were highly publicized earlier in the pandemic, it is certain that cruise ships will be heavily scrutinized by the news media when they do resume operations.
Even small missteps unrelated to coronavirus are sure to make headlines. Cruise lines need to ensure they are operating safely and can be a focus for positive, encouraging news stories when voyages set sail.
Cruising Is a Business
Ultimately, a cruise line is a business. While cruise lines are dedicated to providing their passengers with safe, enjoyable travel experiences, the overall company does need to consider its bottom line, not just for total profits and shareholders, but also to ensure that it is providing a good value to its customers – the passengers it services.
The coronavirus pandemic is a continually evolving situation, with new studies and statistics being noted every day. As more is learned about this disease and how to safeguard both passengers and crew against infection, cruise lines will continue to adjust their operations in the best ways possible.
They must create a delicate balance among many factors, but passengers can be assured that cruises will return as soon as they are able to do so, and there will be many safe and enjoyable sailings to come.