13 Changes To Cruising Due To The Pandemic That Will Be Permanent
Has the pandemic taken the “fun” out of cruising forever?
In this article, I explore which of the changes cruise lines have made to resume cruising around the world, are here to stay. And which changes will be dropped as the risks from the pandemic eases., and answer the question – will the changes being made to cruising take the fun out of cruising for ever
You can watch my Changes To Cruises video on my YouTube Channel
First of all, what changes will be staying long term?
Staggered Check-In Times
Before the pandemic, many cruise lines allocated passengers different arrival times for check in, often giving the earlier and more attractive times to higher cabin category or loyalty level travellers. This was to make the check in and boarding process less crowded and frantic.
As very few lines enforced them, many cruisers (including me) ignored these times and came to the port early anyway, hoping to get on board as soon as possible.
Designated and staggered arrival times will be essential for post pandemic cruising, as lines have to conduct a more intensive health screenings which makes the check in process much more time consuming.
These designated arrival times will be more strictly enforced, going forward. On the plus side, many lines will be offering the chance to book check in times moving forwards, so we can better align them with our travel plans.
Thorough Health Screenings
Before the pandemic, there was the token tick box health questionnaire – that no-one really paid much attention to on both sides. This relied on passengers self-certifying they were fit and well, and had not been suffering from things like vomiting, Diarrhea and so on.
New enhanced self-completion questionnaires still have to be completed and temperature checks have been added, but the big change is there is now some form of official medical certification.
Currently this is either undergoing a Covid-19 test in the cruise terminal, or supplying a negative test from a cruise line approved clinic taken 48 hours before check in. Which approach depends on the country you are sailing from.
Enhanced health screening with some form of medical certification will remain as part of the pre-boarding process, even as this pandemic subsides. Of course, the testing may be replaced by some form of agreed vaccine certificate.
Some of the lines, like the Norwegian group have gone public confirmed they are looking at the legalities of requiring proof of vaccine for passengers.
Don’t expect a return to only self-certifying questionnaires for your health screening in the future.
Once on board there is a great change made that I think we will all welcome staying. The safety muster drill has been reinvented.
There is now a three-step process. First, you watch the safety briefing video on your cabin TV or the cruise line App. 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 to scan your cruise card there to prove you know where to go in case of an emergency.
One change that will be staying, and very welcome too.
Use Of Technology
Another change ramped up due to the pandemic, and here to stay, is the use of technology, and specifically linked to your mobile phone or a wearable smart device unique to each cruise line.
Cruise lines have turbo-charged their Apps to create a more touchless and less paper-based cruise experience.
So now apps like Carnival’s HUB, Royal Caribbean’s Royal app, Viking’s Viking Voyager and MSC Cruises’ MSC for Me and so on you will have to use to check in, complete health questionnaires, pre-book and book excursions, dining, shows and spa treatments, make purchases, review your on-board account and also use to access things that used to be printed and handed out.
So, the Daily Program will be accessed on the App and QR codes will bring up menus in the restaurants.
Of course, not only does the replacement of paper daily programs, accounts and menus mean a more touchless experience, there is also an environmental benefit to this ongoing change through using less paper, ink and creating less waste.
Many lines are also rolling out wearable devices, these are large coin-sized discs that are wearable as pendants, wristbands and so on.
They include Princess Ocean Medallion, which other Carnival Corporation lines are adopting, MSC’s MSC For Me wristband, Virgin Voyages Band and Royal Caribbean’s new “Tracelet”. These smart devices can open your cabin door, access information around the ship on interactive screens, check you in and off the ship.
They also act as a track and trace device to help identify which guests have been in contact with anyone testing positive, enabling ships to potentially identify and only have to quarantine those guests and not entire ships if there is any outbreak.
These technology changes are here to stay for sure.
Buffets have been reimagined and now are served by the crew rather than being self served. This change was underway on some ships already, like Holland America, and looks to be a permanent change as it is seen as a positive and better public health option on going.
Changes That Will Be Dropped
What changes will be going as soon as the lines can phase them out ?
Reduced Capacity and Distancing
Ships will eventually return back to sailing at full capacity, as and when the need for physical distancing diminishes.
Depending on the region, ships are returning to service at between 50% and 70% capacity to enable the distancing required by the various government health authorities, and of course to ensure guests feel confident coming back on board.
Having fewer guests on board as cruising returns means more space, less lines and more attention from the crew. So, something to enjoy while it lasts, as it will be going over time.
Venue Closures, Capacity Limits And Party Bans
As cruises resume some venues (like nightclubs and spa saunas) are closed, they are restricting numbers in other venues (like theatres, restaurants, bars, pools, Kids’ clubs, the casino) and have scrapped some events, like deck parties.
As most ships return, you have book to attend many of the open venues and to attend activities so they can control numbers.
Over time all of this should change, venues will open, caps on numbers will go and you can go back being free to be more spontaneous and less restricted. How soon we don’t know!
Limited Country-Only Passengers
Many cruises returning are limited to either their embarkation country residents only, or groups of residents.
For example, in Europe Costa Cruises were only for Italian residents, MSC Cruises were for EU Schengen zone country residents only, the German lines like Mein Schiff and Hapag Lloyd were open to German, Swiss and Austrians only, and in Singapore, Japan and Taiwan only local residents could go on each of those cruises. Australia is reported to be looking at Australian resident only cruises, as is the UK.
Over time, this change will be scrapped as international travel opens and frees up with greater use of testing, vaccines and so on.
7-Night Only Cruises
In the USA the CDC requires all cruises out of US ports to be no longer than 7 nights until at least November 2021.
Also around the world most cruises returning have been short – lasting a few days to a week at the lines choice
Over time, cruising will almost certainly return to variable lengths, including 3 month World Cruises. The shorter cruise only length will not be a change that endures. Although much of 2021 looks like it may be shorter cruises, certainly out of the USA.
Cruise line Only Excursions
To be able to call into many ports, and to try to minimise risk of bringing Covid onto the ship, the lines require passengers to do cruise line excursions if they want to get off the ship in ports as cruises restart. There is no self exploring allowed at all. It’s a tightly controlled cruise line excursion or nothing.
This largely unpopular change will have a limited life. How quickly it gets lifted will vary as countries and ports balance the public health risks and economics of having guests out self touring, drinking , eating and shopping.
Compulsory Mask Wearing
As cruising resumes, compulsory mask wearing at embarkation, disembarkation, inside the ship when not seated eating and drinking and when 6-foot physical distancing is required.
Once the mask advice changes by country health authorities, like the US and EU CDCs, the requirement for compulsory wearing on ships will change in line with that. However, as we have seen in Asia, who have been through SARS and now Covid, I think we will see people choosing to wear masks on ships even when not compulsory any longer.
Changes Not Sure About
There are some changes that it is too early to say if they will stay or go
Crew Single Cabins
One great change for crew out of the pandemic, is the requirement in some regions to stop having crew sharing cabins. This has been easier with ships sailing at lower capacity, as lines have been using inside and oceanview cabins to enable crew to have their own cabin, and selling and placing passengers in balcony and above cabins.
It is unknown at this stage if the move to crew having their own cabins be a permanent change in the industry.
Flexibility On Bookings
The pandemic led to cruise lines introducing much more flexibility on changing and cancelling cruises, even at really short notice in some cases. They also cut the time before paying final balances to 60 or even 30 days depending on the line.
Many travel industry people believe across travel greater flexibility is here to stay. I am sceptical, but one to watch. I hope it will be a change that stays.
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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