Opinion: What the Future of Cruising Could Look Like

As we all wonder when and if we’ll get back on board a 2,000+ passenger cruise ship, my guess is the future of cruising is going to be quite different.  At least for me, an avid cruiser for decades, my list of what we might expect to see implemented keeps growing.  

will the future of cruising allow five ships in one port?

Future of cruising – what we might expect

When cruising does return this summer or later, cruise life will surely have to undergo some drastic sea changes, both operational and procedural.  I’m not trying to be a negative Nellie or Debbie Downer.  But it’s clear that changes throughout the entire cruise are inevitable, from curb to cabin and back again. 

Let’s start with the most obvious cruise ritual: Embarkation.

Embarkation procedures will need to change

When cruising resumes, I’m sure there will be a health questionnaire to complete.  And as always, passengers lie.  It’s nice that everyone’s temperature will be taken, but that won’t prevent pre- or asymptomatic passengers from boarding.  It’s a total unknown. 

As cruise lines look to amp up their revenue, it’s likely that cruise lines will require every passenger to purchase travel insurance.  You can bet that cruise lines will promote their own travel insurance, too.  

Port Everglades Cruise Terminal

Lately, I’ve read about how cruise lines are devising better ways to stagger embarkation times.  The point is so people aren’t clustered and queued inside the terminal while waiting for their turn at the embarkation desk.  But what about anxious and excited passengers that arrive before their stated arrival time?

This next procedure I think will be the most automated.  We’ve done online registration and adding our credit card info for nearly a decade, then print a paper with a bar code to hand over at the embarkation counter.  But you still need to present your passport. And usually still hand over your credit card to be swiped for on board expenses.  This will need to change.

While wristbands and various gadgets will give us access to our rooms and track our movement on the ship, it won’t be until every cruise line and every ship can implement our mobile devices as a one-off way to avoid paper, passport and credit card exchanges at check-in counters. 

What about Luggage handling

Maybe we’ll see the temporary elimination of shoreside luggage handlers.  Aside from the obvious of hand-to-hand luggage trade offs, even just giving your luggage handler a cash tip could be a source of contamination.  Packing lighter and smaller suitcases may be in the foreseeable future if we have to haul our own bags from curb to cabin. 

How Muster Drill Could Change

When thinking about the future of cruising, the traditional muster drill will have to change.  I can’t imagine everyone lined up on the promenade deck, lifeboats hanging overhead, waiting for 30 minutes to pass.  For sure that won’t happen.

Even though some cruise lines have rearranged the deck chairs, so to speak, and moved muster drill into various indoor spaces, the problem of overcrowding at muster isn’t alleviated.  And clustering indoors is not an option.

Maybe we’ll have a compulsory video to watch from the comfort of our staterooms.  I’m not sure that everyone would watch the video and put on a lifejacket if not under supervision.  Would SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) regulations need to be revamped for how muster is conducted?  

Can you imagine passengers lining up in columns and rows, inches apart from each other, on a hot summer day with no breeze? 

For years, I have tried to be the person at the back of the line.  I didn’t want six people standing behind me and six on either side of me coughing, belly laughing and sneezing in my air space.  At least that won’t be an immediate concern for me for awhile.

Stateroom sanitation and disinfection

Let’s start with turn-around day.  Our wonderful room attendants work very hard and very fast to prep the ship for the next load of guests.   For the near future, a quick wipe-down with the same wet rag from room to room isn’t going to work.  Wearing the same nitrile gloves from room to room will have to change, too.  

While I’ve never ever felt that my stateroom wasn’t clean, I still brought out my Clorox wipes for surfaces, remote controls, light switches, door handles and more.  My room steward would know after the first day not to put throw-pillows or bolsters back on my bed nor drape the scarf along the foot of the bed.  Maybe these items will disappear when cruising resumes. 

How will cruise lines be able to add the extra time needed for room attendants to thoroughly sanitize and disinfect every room to the new standards?

Is an inside stateroom still an option for you? 

I’ve had my share of inside staterooms, on long and short cruises, and if that was the only way I could afford to cruise, then I booked an inside stateroom.  That’s how I was able to do my first transatlantic crossing – aboard Celebrity Century in 2005. 

Not anymore for me.  If I can’t afford a balcony, I’m not going to go.  At least for the next two or three years.

Say good-bye to the traditional buffet

I expect that future of cruising won’t have the usual buffet.  No more exposed armpits over the potato salad or fingers fidgeting with picking up fried chicken.  Ugh. 

One of things that I love(d) about Holland America’s buffet is on the first two or three days of a cruise.  All the utensils (tongs, spoons etc) are placed away from hungry guests so only crew could do the serving.  

I can’t imagine the chaos of social/physical distancing at any breakfast buffet on any ship.  It will be interesting to see how the cruise lines manage to figure out the buffet challenge.  

Shore excursions revamped 

If you’ve ever had to take a tender (lifeboat) into port, until the first few waves of anxious passengers have left the ship, tenders are usually packed elbow to elbow, hot, and on occasion, smelly.  Except for Celebrity Edge…that ship has the most awesome tenders. 

Celebrity Edge Lifeboat

Will the ship have to run more than two or three tenders back and forth to avoid over-crowding?  And the stairway queues?  Even with a designated tender departure time, people still clog the stairwells.  

Shore excursions and riding on a bus 

How’s this going to work…seating in every other row?  More buses to lighten the load?  I guess so.  Or maybe certain close-quarters shore excursions will be put on hold.  Thinking of excursions or tours like indoor folkloric shows or music venues in Italy, or any shore excursion where people are packed into a conveyance as part of the tour.  

Half Moon Cay Bahamas Entrance crowds

Don’t forget the over-crowded, enclosed encapsulated tram cars like in St. Thomas or even Juneau.  

On board activities will definitely change

Galley tours, expensive behind-the-scenes tours or even private Bridge tours will be put on hold for awhile.  No one will want a galley where passengers walk through with even the most remote chance of contaminating anything, mask or no mask.

Onboard activities like art auctions, music venues with a packed dance floor, even ice skating performances on Royal Caribbean with stadium seating.  Some cruise lines have already announced moving their main theater performances to outdoor venues. 

A tradition on Royal Caribbean’s older ships…atrium performances with guests packed in, lining the railings and stairs.

I don’t think Royal Caribbean’s adults-only Quest participation challenge game will be able to happen for a while, either. 

Spa, Casino and Gym

I’m not a fan of community bathtubs (thalassotherapy pools) or steam rooms anyway, but I think there will need to be some thought as to how to put a dozen people into a small indoor pool.  Steam and sauna rooms may be closed or with a very limited capacity, too.

Outdoor athletic attractions

These are all so much fun but how can the supervising crew disinfect those super-tight fitting helmets that must worn to ride in Norwegian’s race cars.   The outdoor equipment like pedaling around on Carnival’s SkyRide or zip-lining touch points will need to be sanitized after each person.  It just seems more complicated. 

Cruise Lines’ Kids Clubs

One of the great things about cruising with small children is the Kids Club or whatever name you want to call it.  I would probably think twice about the amount of time one of my kids would spend there.   Maybe a kid activity could be mask-making. 

Be patient, cruising as we knew it will return someday

It just won’t be any time soon.  What will be soon, I would bet, is that each cruise line will market their own logo face mask, washable and can be worn with or without a filter.  Or a Caribbean-theme mask.  I’d buy one.  

Adjusting to a brave new world of cruising

I know I sound pretty cynical.  The sad reality is that this pandemic has touched all of us in so many ways.  As much as I want a return to what used to be, it just isn’t going to happen, at least not for awhile.  So many tragedies, so many lives touched and so many who will never travel again.

When I first started to cruise, there weren’t kids clubs.  I had to spend time with my parents.  We played bingo and shuffleboard, cheered on goofy wooden horses that were moved around a painted track.  Everyone played cards.   

I had to sit with my parents in the only dining venue on the ship.  No tables for 10, either, packed in like sardines.  

Aboard S.S. Matsonia with my parents in 1961, on a one-way cruise from Los Angeles to Honolulu.

Maybe, just maybe, when cruising resumes, the next couple of years will be more like a throw-back to how cruising used to be a decade or two ago.  Ships held fewer passengers, had one dining room and there was always a library on board.  On the few ships that still have a library, the book cases will surely be locked. 

A ray of hope for future cruises

While not all gloom and doom, the future of cruising is dependent upon what the cruise lines can do to prevent another outbreak and shed whatever tarnished image they’ve acquired.  People who say they “hate” cruises probably have never been on one.  Or maybe only one.  

The good news, and there has to be some ray of hope, is whatever changes are made to lessen the chance of getting sick, will probably become new industry standards.  This means a brighter outlook for the cruise lines and for the millions of cruise passengers who know how fabulous it is to take a cruise vacation.  

Where will you go on your next cruise and what ship? 

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