As many countries start lifting coronavirus-related lockdown restrictions and move toward what is being described as a new normal, some industries may take longer to recover than others.
Travel is one of those industries. In particular, the cruise industry has been heavily impacted by the worldwide coronavirus outbreak.
There are so many reasons for this.
First, cruise ships like Carnival’s Grand Princess brought the pandemic to the forefront of American consciousness, really for the first time. There were several ships quarantined off the coasts of the U.S. and Japan as passengers and crew became infected with coronavirus, and now many cruise lines including Carnival are facing legal questions about their handling of the situation.
It’s not just coronavirus that has created negative publicity for cruise lines. In recent years there have been a number of high-profile events that have led some to be wary of cruises in general, but for the most part, there are still cruise loyalists.
Cruises offer a relatively economical way to travel, and a level of convenience you can’t get otherwise, and that leaves some travelers wondering when they might be able to travel on these ships again, and what it could look like in the future.
Cruise Lines and the CDC
In early April, cruise lines got some difficult news from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There was an order issued by the CDC that cruise lines including the major ones—Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Norwegian Cruise Line—had to keep their ships in port for another 100 days.
This was an adjustment to an existing No Sail Order signed by the director of the CDC on March 14, 2020.
That left cruise lines reeling financially with no way to make money, but some said that it was a positive thing because it gave more a sense of certainty for the industry to recover, and there was the potential that it would also allow cruisers to feel more comfortable when they did return.
Now that we’re around a month out from that CDC order, Carnival Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line have announced their plans to resume operations, at least on a limited basis, as early as this summer.
Norwegian has tentatively said they plan to start sailing sometime between July and September.
Carnival has said they will sail again starting August 1, as it stands now.
Carnival said they estimated eight of their ships would be eligible to start sailing August 1, which will be about a week after the CDC’s order expires. The ships that will likely sail first will depart from Galveston, Miami, and Port Canaveral.
Carnival was careful to point out that it would only be a partial reopening, and their timeline could change.
Royal Caribbean hasn’t set a date yet for when they plan to sail again.
How Will Cruise Lines Keep Passengers Safe and Healthy?
For cruise lines, the challenges are enormous right now.
Cruise lines can be somewhat of a hotbed for infectious disease activity even when there isn’t a global pandemic going on. Passengers stay close together, dine together, and nearly every activity involves gathering in a large group.
The same is true of the crew.
Cruise lines are going to have to find a way to make people feel safe and comfortable and reduce the potential for disease spread, regardless of when they sail again.
One way they might do this is by reducing the number of passengers on board. That of course, can help in all areas, but it might mean cruise lines have to charge more for trips to make up for lost revenue.
At the same time, cruises are going to have to attract people back, and as part of that they may need to offer deep discounts, so it’s tough to know how they tackle the complexities of the situation right now.
Most ships will probably have health screenings at the port before passengers get on board.
Ships will need to have more in-depth plans for how they quarantine sick crew or passengers because their lack of plans or follow-through with quarantining was one of the original issues when the coronavirus outbreak started in February.
Self-service buffets may come to an end, and instead, there may be more table service and also more serving stations that are monitored by members of the crew. There could be more of a push for reservations for things like entertainment and dining.
Preparing the Fleet
As well as creating health guidelines, such as reducing the number of passengers on board and doing things like temperature checks, there are other issues for cruise lines to tackle.
Right now, there are more than 300 cruise ships worldwide, and they are tied at the port or anchored near a port for the most part, with just a few sailing.
Some ships are still trying to find places they can let their passengers off.
Some ships may need to be completely cleaned and prepared to return to the sea, and then there would need to be hiring of new crew members in some cases.
As part of their PR efforts to attract customers, cruise ships will have to show that they’ve thoroughly cleaned all ships and their facilities.
They’ll also potentially need to have crew members take an antibody test, and that will be part of marketing too.
Some brands are saying they will prevent guests with chronic illnesses from boarding, but the list of chronic illnesses can be long, and many people have these underlying conditions. Some cruise lines also say they are going to make passengers who are 70 and above provide a doctor’s note, clearing them as being well and healthy enough to cruise.
None of us really know what the next few months might bring for the world and especially cruise lines. If cruising does return, it may look quite a bit different, and it will take a lot on the part of cruise lines to convince even their die-hard customers to return in some cases.