NOTE: Updated September 8, 2020. We’re all curious to learn what the future of cruising will be like, especially in North America. One thing is for sure, when cruises resume, the experience will be a lot different.
Future of cruising – what we might expect when cruises resume
From curb to cabin to shore and back onboard, the experience is bound to be strange. Some changes will be noticeable. Other changes will happen behind the scenes, especially for sanitation and virus prevention.
Cruising begins in Italy
Some cruising has already begun. MSC Grandiosa is cruising the Mediterranean, with only European passengers allowed.
Costa Cruises, in the Carnival Corporation family, has also returned to service with their first ship, Costa Deliziosa.
On September 6, Costa Deliziosa departed from Trieste, Italy with the Italian port of Bari as its first port. The seven-night all-Italy cruise includes port calls in Brindisi, Corigliano-Rossano, Syracuse and Catania before returning to Trieste. You must be an Italian resident to cruise.
Fewer passengers will be onboard, anywhere from 60% to 70% passenger capacity. MSC Grandiosa capped the amount of passengers at 70% capacity. Costa Deliziosa sailed with only 350 guests.
New: What cruise lines might require at Embarkation
When cruising resumes, some cruise lines have already said it is possible that on embarkation day, all passengers will be tested for COVID-19. Costa Cruises requires a COVID-19 swab test at the port.
Boarding will be slower as passengers wait for a negative result before they are allowed to board. Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean Group have also stated the possibility for pre-board testing.
As cruise lines look to amp up their revenue and avoid passenger repatriation expenses, it’s likely that cruise lines will require every passenger to purchase travel insurance. You can bet that cruise lines will promote if not require their own travel insurance.
Cruise lines need to devise better ways to stagger embarkation times. Anxious and excited passengers always arrive before their stated embarkation time. Cruise terminals will have to figure out a way to make this work so people are clustered at the doorways.
This next procedure will probably become the most automated. We’ve done online registration including our credit card info for nearly a decade. We printed a paper with a bar code to present at the embarkation counter. However, you still needed to present your passport. And your credit card still needed to be scanned at check-in. This will need to change.
Electronic wristbands for touch-less transactions
The good news is that many ships now have wristbands or medallion-type devices for passengers to use to unlock their stateroom door and pay for everything on board. There’s a need for this to become standard with all cruise lines and make on board transactions touch-less.
These wristbands and various gadgets will give us access to our rooms, track our movement and transactions on the ship. Our mobile devices will be needed as a way to avoid paper, passport and credit card exchanges at check-in counters. The future of cruising will include a ton of plexiglass, both onboard and at check-in.
How your luggage will get to your stateroom
Aside from moving mountains of luggage and hard-working luggage handlers, even tipping the man who takes your bags can pass along unwanted germs.
Next, all those suitcases get passed along to crew members who have to sort and deliver it to the rooms. Cruise lines are devising way to disinfect luggage before it reaches your stateroom.
Packing lighter and using smaller suitcases may be in the foreseeable future if we have to haul our own bags from curb to cabin.
Even the check in process will change. If you’ve ever arrived at a terminal during prime time, you know that the check in line can have hundreds of people crammed together. How the check in staff will handle all the passports and documents is anyone’s guess, except to assume lots of plexiglass, hand sanitizer, masks and gloves.
The good news is that many ships now have wristbands or medallion-type devices for passengers to use to unlock their stateroom door and pay for everything on board. This could become standard with all cruise lines. Make transactions touchless so no one has to use the traditional room key card for buying drinks, shopping or entering their room.
How Muster Drill Will 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.
Most likely there will be 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.
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 when cruises resume.
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. When cruises resume, 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.
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? Room attendants are already always stressed on turn-around days.
Your stateroom might look different
As I alluded to above, decorative pillows and bed drapes may disappear for a while. Towel animals may also take a break. Honor bar items may be gone or the bar locked altogether. TV remotes and other loose items will probably be encased in plastic bags. Magazines and all the sales pitch flyers will be removed.
Say goodbye to the nightly cruise planner delivery. These will either be accessible on your stateroom TV or through the ship’s app on your phone or tablet.
There could be a supply of hand sanitizer, gloves, wipes and even masks in every stateroom. A complimentary logo mask would be a great idea. Or at least sold in the shops. I’d buy it.
Would you book an inside stateroom?
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 probably not going to go. If the ship was quarantined and I was stuck in an inside room without fresh air or daylight, it wouldn’t be pretty. Some inside staterooms might be used for isolation when someone is sick.
Cruise lines have some pretty sweet low rates for inside staterooms right now, but I’m not buying it.
When cruises resume, good-bye traditional buffet
When cruises first resume, they won’t have the traditional buffet. No more exposed armpits over the potato salad or fingers fidgeting to pick up greasy fried chicken. Ugh.
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 and keep the line moving. Will everyone receive a designated buffet time or reservation?
Port visits will be a totally different experience
If you’ve ever had to take a tender (lifeboat) into port, passengers can be packed in, elbow to elbow. Except for Celebrity Edge…that ship has the most awesome tenders.
Will the ship need to use more tenders to avoid over-crowding? What about the long stairway queues? Even with a designated tender departure time, people still clog the stairwells ahead of time. When cruises resume, don’t expect to visit ports that require a tender to get there.
Shore excursions and riding on a bus
How’s this going to work…seating in every other row? More buses to lighten the load? They’ll need to be sanitized, too. Certain close-quarters shore excursions will probably be put on hold. Think of shore excursions like indoor folkloric shows or cooking tours.
Any shore excursion where people are packed into a conveyance as part of the tour will change. Think about the enclosed encapsulated tram cars like Mt. Roberts Tram in Juneau or the funicular in Quebec City. Not immediately when cruises resume.
MSC Grandiosa resumed cruising in August but only for Europeans. In port, everyone who wanted to go ashore was required to purchase and stay with their shore excursion group the entire time. One family thought they were special and veered off on their own. When it was time to re-board the ship, they were not allowed back on board and had to make their own travel arrangements home.
On board activities will definitely change
Galley tours, expensive behind-the-scenes tours or even private Bridge tours won’t resume 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.
The future of cruising in the short term will affect so many on board activities. Those pesky art auctions, lively music venues with a packed dance floor, even ice skating performances on Royal Caribbean with stadium seating will be different. Some cruise lines have already announced moving their main theater performances to various outdoor venues.
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 and Jacuzzi whirlpools) or steam rooms. Cruise lines are trying to figure out how to safely reopen these areas. In the meantime, expect steam, sauna and whirlpools to be closed. When they do open, capacity will be limited at first.
Because casinos used to be a huge source of revenue for cruise lines, you can bet that these areas will be open. Limited seating at tables will be needed as well as restraining crowds that line two-people deep at winning craps tables.
Fitness centers will also limit the amount of users as well as periodic closures throughout the day so staff can sanitize the equipment.
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 really 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. When these floating day care centers finally reopen, it will be with new health protocols in place. Parents…you may have to just keep your kids with you when you cruise.
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 cruises to resume and to be how they used to be, it just isn’t going to happen for a while.
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. You dined with your travel companions.
Maybe, just maybe, when cruising resumes, the next couple of years will be more like a throw-back to how cruising was 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 for now.
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.
Changes made to lessen the chance of passengers to get 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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I’m the editor and creator of CruiseMaven.com, a solo traveler cruising the world on waves and wheels, collecting recipes along the way. I hope my articles and photos entertain, advise and inspire you to travel the world without flying. Take a breath…stop for a local meal and a glass of wine along the way.