Many cruisers are desperately hoping that cruising will return to how it was. Unfortunately, we are not going to be able to enjoy everything that we may have loved as cruising returns.
But, it is not all bad news! Some of the more annoying cruising traditions are also being swept away. I explore a bunch of long-established cruise traditions that are ending due to the pandemic. Some of which I am celebrating their demise, and think you will too.
Watch my Cruise Traditions Being Swept Away Video
#1 SHIPS FILLED TO OVER CAPACITY
One tradition being swept aside, at least for a while, is filling to ships to over capacity.
If you’ve wondered why ships can feel so full, here is why.
The capacity of cruise ships that you see published in things like brochures or online is based on double occupancy of cabins. So, just two people in each cabin.
However, many ships have sofa beds or pull out beds that can hold additional passengers in most of their cabins. So, ships can (and do) sail in peak times way over that published capacity, making things pretty crowded on board.
For example, Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas has an advertised capacity of just over 5,500 guests (based on double occupancy), but can take an additional 1,100 passengers on sofa or pull out beds. That’s up to 20% more. MSC Grandisoa, already sailing in Europe, has an advertised double capacity of around 4,800 but can sail with 30% more passengers, that’s 1,500 more people.
The new protocols say ships should sail at up to 60% of the double occupancy capacity. So ships are going to be dramatically less busy. MSC Grandiosa has been sailing at around 50% only so far.
Of course, the business model for cruising is built on sailing with full ships, and if they have to keep sailing with lower capacity we could see fares rise. But meantime, this is a tradition that I am excited to see set aside.
#2 GETTING ON BOARD
A tradition for many of us was getting to the port as early as we could, so we could board the ship as soon as it was ready.
We would explore, have lunch, get in early to secure dining, show or spa reservations, settle into our cabin, jump into the pool or hot tubs and get that rush from kicking off our cruise vacation early. That tradition has been taken out of our control. Due to the more intensive check in and screening process, we will be allocated a check in time staggered across the day.
So, I suspect higher grade cabins and high cruise loyalty tier members will get the earlier slots.
This change is to ensure physical distancing by guaranteeing fewer people in the terminal at all times, and allowing time to perform any Covid-19 testing. This can take up to 70 minutes per passenger to get results when pier-side PCR swab testing is used.
Then more time is needed to undergo more intensive face-to-face screening, including discussion of the health questionnaire, and then finally for carry-on bags to be sterilised.
Choosing when we get on board is, unfortunately, is a tradition that is disappearing. One to mourn in my view.
#3 MUSTER DRILL
The next tradition to be scrapped is one to celebrate. This is the one requiring everyone assembling in person to do the safety muster drill.
This tradition is being replaced with a three-step process. First, you watch the safety briefing video on your cabin TV. It ends with a unique code that you call into a dedicated line to prove you have seen the whole video.
Then finally, you have around 2 hours to go to your designated muster station and scan your cruise card there to prove you know where to go in case of an emergency.
Maybe one really good tradition changing out of the Covid protocols is this new muster drill approach. I really like it.
#4 DINING WITH STRANGERS
One tradition which is being done away with, for a while anyway, is dining with strangers or people you have met on the cruise. I suspect there will be equal amounts of people celebrating as mourning this tradition going.
Many of the protocols require cruisers to dine with their own household only, or travel group linked though their bookings.
The thinking is that as dining, and drinking for that matter, is a mask-free activity, and so even with physically distanced tables, guests would be in close proximity and for some time if they dine together. And so lines want to, and need to, minimise close sustained mingling by scrapping this tradition.
While for some of us, this may be a good change, you may be one of those who are dismayed, especially if you are a solo traveller.
Meeting new people on a cruise by being allocated a table with strangers is a long-established cruise tradition, and many long-lasting and strong friendships have been forged. Therefore, I am sure it is a tradition that is likely to be reinstated as soon as it can be.
#5 BUFFETS REINVENTED
Some of the early leaks on possible protocol changes, hinted that the popular buffet restaurants would disappear, and be replaced by table service only venues.
Passengers generally were up in arms, and the good news for those of you who are fans of the buffet is that this cruise tradition looks to be reinvented not replaced.
Self service will go, but the buffet will remain basically the same, but with crew members at every station serving passengers the food. This was already mostly the case pre Covid on some lines, including Silversea, Oceania and Holland America.
While some may mourn the inability to load up your plate, I think most will celebrate the survival of the informal buffet dining option tradition.
#6 SHORE EXCURSION LIMITS
One tradition that I think we will all mourn is the ability to do whatever we want to do in a port.
Be that going on a line excursion, using an independent tour provider, self-exploring or just nipping off the ship to do some shopping or hang out in a local bar or restaurant. Some of my most memorable ports have been when I have wandered off the ship, and stumbled across something unexpected or different.
For the immediate future, passengers will only be allowed off the ship on cruise line excursions, and have to stay with the group at all times.
This is the approach agreed with lines and ports. It means the line can keep control over who passengers come into contact with, and control how that happens by ensuring the protocols followed by tour providers.
And for the ports it means that they also have visibility and control over where and how cruise passengers interact with their local population.
The removal of the tradition of being free to do what ever you want to do in a port Is definitely something to mourn.
However, we can also celebrate that this new approach does mean that cruises are starting to be welcome again at ports and guests can get off and do some exploring at least. Admittedly it is not as liberating and flexible as cruising pre pandemic. And hopefully the old tradition will be able to return sooner rather than later.
#7 MEDICAL COSTS
Cruise lines have a tradition of charging a lot if you need to make use of the medical facility. The cost for seeing the doctor or nurse has been high, as have associated costs for drugs and so on. Even relatively minor illnesses could leave you with a hefty bill.
Medical centres were there for emergencies. This tradition is changing, and should be cause for celebration.
Medical provision and facilities are being increased, and changed, as a result of the pandemic. The lines are going to now be encouraging passengers to access the medical team, encouraging guests to contact them with minor symptoms and early on.
And to encourage passengers to contact the team, a wider range of illnesses will not have charges associated with them when they do. Including any respiratory related symptoms and Covid-19 testing.
The medical centre is shifting from a profit centre to play more of a public health role on board, with focus on monitoring and prevention.
Making accessing medical care easier and having a more proactive public health role for them to monitor and prevent illness on board is a new tradition to celebrate.
Cruise traditions are changing as cruising reopens, and finds its way to safely navigate the world we now live in. Even the changes happening are likely to evolve and adapt constantly. As cruisers, we should not expect cruising to return exactly how it was, but among the changes are some good moves. So, let’s celebrate the good ones as much as we mourn those going.
ABOUT TIPS FOR TRAVELLERS
Gary Bembridge’s Tips For Travellers aims to help you make more of your precious travel time and money on land and when cruising the oceans or rivers of the world. To help you, in every video I draw on my first-hand tips and advice from travelling every month for over 20 years and average of 10 cruises a year.
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