From cruisers to crew workers, everyone is wondering what will the future of cruising look like. Some changes will happen behind the scenes, while others will be more noticeable—especially the ones regarding sanitation. One thing is for sure, the experience will be quite different once cruises resume in full.
Cruising Begins in Italy
For some cruise ships and cruisers, the future has already begun. In September, Costa Cruises returned to service. However, they only accept Italian passengers at the moment. Currently, the company is consolidating its cruise itineraries in Italy, but the second-wave of coronavirus across Europe has put them in a precarious situation.
It’s likely that cruise lines will test passengers for COVID-19 on embarkation day. As passengers will have to wait for the results to come in, boarding will be slower.
Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line are contemplating requiring pre-board testing for passengers. Costa Cruises already requires passengers to take a coronavirus swab test at the port.
Moreover, it’s possible that cruise companies will require passengers to have travel insurance. This will help them avoid passenger repatriation. We can even expect cruise liners to promote their own travel insurance to passengers in order to amp up their revenue.
Touchless Transactions and Interactions
According to Priti Patel, UK’s Secretary of State for the Home Department, social distancing is here to stay, and businesses across the board have already started preparing for that reality. Luckily, many cruise companies already have some useful protocols and systems from the pre-COVID-19 era that can be built upon to make infection prevention and control easier.
For instance, they have online registration, contactless payment systems, and devices such as electronic wristbands that guests can use to unlock stateroom doors and access certain facilities.
Some even employ AI travel chatbots as virtual concierges which can answer passengers’ questions about their destinations, voyage, and how they can spend time on board. Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. is one such example.
Features that make physical distancing on a ship easier will become standard, and not a rarity, as cruise companies will work even harder to reduce queues and crowds.
Passengers will have to use their mobile phones to avoid cash, passport, and paper exchanges. To ensure that venue capacity numbers will be respected, the aforementioned wristbands may be used to track the movement of passengers.
As for the check-in process itself, we can only make speculations. However, there’s no doubt there will be lots of gloves, masks, hand sanitizers, and plexiglass involved.
Cruise lines will have to take a lot of extra precautions when handling passengers’ luggage. Just the sheer act of tipping the person who takes your baggage puts you at risk of COVID-19 transmission if you are not careful. Not to mention the fact that your bags have to pass through the hands of quite a few hard-working baggage handlers before they end up back in your hands.
Obviously, the way cruise liners deal with baggage will change drastically. So that your baggage will reach your cabin germ-free, handlers will have to disinfect it carefully.
This may not be possible without turning baggage handling into a logistical nightmare. Because of this, cruise liners may require passengers to haul their own bags from the curb to their stateroom. So, using smaller suitcases and packing lighter could become the norm.
The traditional muster drill will also go through some changes. Clustering indoors is not an option, and neither is overcrowding the deck. Instead of having to attend the muster drill physically, there will be a compulsory video that passengers will watch from their cabins.
Turnaround days are a race against time. As we can assume, the ongoing pandemic will take stateroom disinfection and sanitation to a whole new level. Room attendants won’t be able to wear the same nitrile gloves from cabin to cabin, and swift wipe-downs with the same rag in every cabin won’t suffice anymore.
To make it possible for room attendants to thoroughly disinfect and sanitize every cabin, cruise lines need to find ways to give their crew some extra time.
They can buy that extra time by removing decorative drapes and pillows. Passengers will definitely have to say goodbye to towel animals as well. Sales pitch flyers and magazines will only come in digital forms.
Cabinets packed with complimentary masks, wipes, gloves, and hand sanitizers will replace honor bars filled with snacks and sweets.
There’s also the issue of inside rooms and ventilation. Not many people will be willing to stay in a cabin without fresh air. We can expect cruise lines to lower the rates for inside cabins.
But, now that we know what can happen when a whole ship gets quarantined, not many people will be willing to risk getting stuck inside a windowless room for weeks just to save some money.
On every cruise, there will be quite a few unbooked inside cabins. But this doesn’t mean that they will be empty. Cruise liners will use inside cabins as isolation rooms for passengers that get sick.
Since tenders can get really crowded, to the point that passengers have to sit elbow to elbow, liners will have to use more tenders to avoid overcrowding. However, there will still be the issue of long stairway queues. Because of this, many cruise lines will choose to entirely avoid ports that can only be accessed via tenders.
We can expect cruise liners to put certain close-quarter shore excursions on hold. As for other shore excursions, they will use more buses to lighten the load. One thing is for sure: rules regarding shore excursions will be stricter.
We can already see examples of this taking place. In August, MSC Cruises resumed services in the Mediterranean. And, they made it very clear to passengers that they won’t be allowed to board if they don’t abide by the new rules. The new protocols applied to shore excursions as well.
Every passenger that wanted to go on a shore excursion was required to stay with their group the entire time. The rule was put in place to prevent passengers from coming in contact with members of the public who haven’t been tested for coronavirus.
During one of their shore excursions, one family had wandered away. Because they had broken the rule, they were denied boarding-mid cruise and had to make their own travel arrangements home.
A Ray of Hope For the Future of Cruising
Even though it won’t happen any time soon, cruising as we know it will be back. Admittedly, some of the new rules we will have to abide by will be a nuisance, but they shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. When cruising resumes in full, it will still be a great way to ward off the gloom brought upon by the pandemic.
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