For those of us ready to cruise again when things settle down, we’ve created a list of some changes we’d like to see implemented across the cruise industry before ships resume operations.
There’s no doubt that the current situation across the globe has had a major impact on people, daily routines and many industries. Hospitality and travel companies, including airlines, hotels, resorts, theme parks and of course cruise lines have essentially halted their operations. While we do see a strong rebound in the future for all sectors, I think the unique elements of cruise ship travel, pose particular problems going forward if cruising as a whole does not make some operational and policy changes before resuming service. In this post, we’ll share our thoughts on changes we feel will make cruising better in the long term and give both new and experienced cruisers reassurance that cruise travel is a safe and wonderful way to spend a vacation.
Also Read: 5 Useful Tips When Your Cruise is Canceled
Continued Friendly Cancelation Policies
When covid-19 first started impacting cruises, many cruise lines relaxed their cancelation polices to allow guests to cancel within a day or two of departure. While most guests would normally be in a 100% penalty window, this temporary measure provides guests with a future cruise credit. Even though these programs were meant to be for a limited time, I believe the idea should be continued for the foreseeable future. The main reason would be to reduce the number of people willing to travel while they are unwell, simply because they don’t want to lose all of their money. We can’t tell you the number of times we’ve been on cruises with people that were obviously sick and we’ve heard many say that they were going on their cruise no matter what, even after not purchasing any form of insurance.
Enhanced Pre-Cruise Screening
Just before the complete shutdown, cruise lines were performing enhanced health screenings at terminals. While this is a great idea, having guests arrive at a crowded terminal could set off a chain reaction of potential spread, if even just one person is contagious. More effort needs to take place to have people preliminarily screened before they even leave home. It may even be likely cruise lines continue to include some variations to policies including “fit to travel” guidelines for those at higher risk. Certainly, there would be no absolute method to completely stop anyone from traveling to their cruise departure port, but at a minimum providing guests with an “at home” pre-cruise health questionnaire will hopefully have them more aware. I think combining the pre-screen with more lenient last-minute cancelation policies would go a long way to combat the arrival of sick guests.
Staggered Arrival Process
Continuing on the idea of keeping guests safe when they arrive at their port of embarkation, staggering the arrival, check-in and boarding process, can serve two purposes. Firstly, having less people in the terminal buildings will reduce the overall exposure if there are any affected individuals. Also, this could hopefully allow for a more thorough screening process with small groups at any one time. The idea of staggering arrival times is not new to the cruise industry, many cruise lines have either initiated such programs over the last several years or at least guided guests to arriving at pre-set intervals. While this concept will inevitably make the entire boarding process longer, new onboard cleaning procedures following each cruise, will likely be in place pushing boarding times to later in the afternoon.
Stricter Onboard Cleaning Processes
While I’ve always marveled at how much cleaning occurs on cruise ships, especially during turnaround days, a much more stringent approach will be necessary in the future. Aside from making things look shiny and new, rigorous disinfecting protocols need to be put in place with regular frequency. Such efforts to make public spaces, staterooms and especially large gathering areas like dining rooms and entertainment venues safer for guests, will keep the spread of not only coronavirus, but many other illnesses in check. Aside from what the cruise lines do to mitigate the spread of illness, each guest must do their part as well. This includes regular handwashing, confining oneself to their stateroom when not feeling well and reporting illnesses to ships personnel. Finally, the generally laxed efforts in the past to get all guests to washy washy, should be enforced 100% of the time, with more sanitizing stations throughout the ship.
No More Self-Service Food Venues
I know it’s always been easy to walk into a cruise ship buffet, grab a plate and help yourself to whatever you want. Truth is, while you certainly washed your hands before grabbing that spoonful of eggs, you might not be able to say the same for that man, woman or child who came before you. With new ships offering more and more dining options, it’s not just the buffet either. Have you seen what the self-serve ice cream stations look like on a busy sea day? Going forward, cruise lines should have staff ready to serve you whatever you want. This will be one of the easier changes to implement and while it might take longer to get that second or third piece of chicken, it will be a better way to control who touches utensils and handles food and serving dishes in general.
Increase in Regulatory Inspections
Cruise lines ships that sail into U.S. waters are inspected on a regular basis through the Vessel Sanitation Program conducted by a branch of the CDC. Their goal is to inspect ships and ascertain if they are following recommend guidelines for the safe handling of food and general ship sanitation processes outlined by the World Health Organization. Ships are inspected twice yearly, and cruise lines are not given prior notice when they are to be conducted. Ships must reach a minimum of 86 out of 100 to pass. While providing additional inspections for every ship under jurisdiction may not be feasible, perhaps new testing procedures could be put in place during the inspections to look for signs of or unsafe practices relating to viral contamination.
We hope at least some of these changes and perhaps others are considered before ships return to service. Stay healthy, happy and #KeepOnCruising