Cruise ships will simply have to operate differently in 2021 due to COVID-19 restrictions. Here are some ways cruising will likely change.
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Whether COVID-19 is Gone or Not
Regardless of whether COVID-19 is a bad, painful, but distant memory in 2021 or not, passengers and travel providers will remain skittish. The travelling community has recognized key areas for which health and safety standards simply needed to elevate. Despite best efforts in the past, public spaces were simply not as sanitary as they could or should be.
But even in the unlikely event that not one more COVID-19 case is reported from January 1st, 2021 onward, most will be cognizant of the risks of spreading contagious diseases and avoid high-risk situations going forward.
Elements That Will Change
Cruises were different than other forms of travel for a few reasons. Here are some elements that will have to change in order to set sail in the new year and how services can be altered:
- Buffets – Instead of large self-serve buffets with shared utensils. A barrier can be placed in front of the food and the guest with servers behind the plastic plating food for guests.
- Large Dining Halls – Instead of crammed dining halls with tables of strangers, reduced capacity dining could mean that some nights are dedicated room service evenings.
- Packed ships – Instead of sailing at capacity, cruise ships will likely sail at less than full (50-75%) and guests could be assigned pool/deck days.
- Ports of Call – Offering longer stays in port may alleviate some of the concerns for hosting a shipload of people. That transfers the obligation to island Ports of Call, but many would welcome earlier arrivals and later departures.
- Embarkation/Disembarkation – Cruises did their best to get guests on and off the ship in a timely manner, but they will likely need to revisit their protocol and leave more time for guests to board so not to log jam the hallways with guests.
- Cruises to Nowhere – Airlines have offered “flights to nowhere” allowing aviation enthusiasts an opportunity to sightsee from above but taking off and landing at the same airport. Cruises have offered this in the past and will likely offer them now more often and from more ports.
- Itineraries – Not every nation will welcome ships back initially. I imagine that itineraries will adjust longer, not shorter than they were last year to account for new routes, distances, and potentially longer stays in port.
- Entertainment – With reduced passenger loads, big shows on the ship will likely be assigned, further reducing the number of guests in an auditorium to allow for maximum safety without eliminating the ability to offer them altogether.
What Will Be The Same
Not everything will change and not everything has to, some aspects are crucial to the cruise experience. Here are the pieces I don’t think will change:
- Food will remain a focus – Whether it’s room service or the aforementioned buffet alternative, food will remain a focus for cruise lines and cruisers.
- Multi-port itineraries – One draw of cruising is the ability to see a bunch of countries on one trip and experience what they have to offer, This will remain. The Dominican Republic and some Mexican cities have already re-opened and will be featured on cruise itineraries going forward.
- Pricing – Perhaps my boldest prediction is that pricing will remain largely unchanged. Why? Because even though cruises will have reduced capacity, they will also face headwinds from the travelling public willing to accept new service adjustments. They can’t, therefore, increase prices to offset smaller passenger loads, but they won’t need to significantly reduce the price because there will be high levels of interest.
- Themed Cruises – Themed cruises around a band or interest will continue as it is a near-certain way to fill a boat.
Cruising may not be the same when it returns, likely in 2021, but it won’t be unrecognizable. Hotels and airlines have demonstrated safe ways to return to service and while cruise lines have different challenges they aren’t necessarily unique to the rest of the industry. They can overcome them and will.
What do you think? What changes do you think cruise lines will make when they begin sailing again? What will stay the same?