5 Major Questions About The Return of Cruises

To say that there’s uncertainty in cruising? Well, that’s an understatement.

Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas in Nassau

When cruises suspended sailing in mid-March, it was supposed to be only for 30 days. Months later cruises still aren’t back sailing, the health crisis continues, and no one is exactly sure what comes next.

Even so, there are definite signs of opening up and cruise lines — along with many passengers — are looking to the future of sailing.

But there are still some major questions about returning, and it’s evident that cruising is going to look different when it does finally return.

As for those questions, some we are getting answers to. Others, however, are yet to be answered.

Question #1: When Will Cruises Return?

The most fundamental question about this crisis and cruising is one that doesn’t have a clear answer just yet.

Truth is that no one knows for certain when cruises will return. When lines first suspended new cruises back in March, the original date for returning was in April. That eventually was pushed to May, and then June. Now the major cruise lines have trips scheduled for the beginning of August and hope to be able to return then.

No one knows for sure, however, if that’s going to happen or if more cruises will need to be cancelled.

At least in the United States, the return decision isn’t entirely in the hands of the cruise lines. The CDC currently has a “No Sail Order” placed on cruise ships. At the latest the current order is scheduled to expire in late July, but it can be extended.

Meanwhile, the number of cases in the United States seems to have stubbornly flattened during the past month at around 20-25,000 new cases a day. Some states are still seeing increases in cases.

Bottom line, nobody knows for sure when cruises will return in the United States. At best, it would be in August for the major cruise lines, but that could easily be postponed.

Question #2: Will People Still Want to Cruise?

Pool deck lit on cruise ship

Given all the negative headlines surrounding cruises during this pandemic, it’s a legitimate question to ask if even if cruises do get back to sailing, will there be demand for trips?

At least so far, the answer seems to be yes. While specific numbers aren’t available, Royal Caribbean as an example recently said the following in a financial update:

“Although still early in the booking cycle, the booked position for 2021 is within historical ranges when compared to same time last year with 2021 prices up mid-single digits compared to 2020…”

Meanwhile, a recent TMZ report said that one major travel agency saw Carnival bookings spike 600% following the cruise line’s announcement of its return to sailing.

Perhaps the biggest sign that there is demand is that cruise lines have offered passengers on cancelled cruises the choice of either a full refund, or a future cruise credit valued at more than what they paid.

About half of passengers are opting for the credit, indicating they plan to put it toward another sailing.

Question #3: How Will Cruises Keep Passengers Healthy?

When cruises do set sail again, they are going to look different. That’s a certainty. What’s not known is every single step that every cruise line will take to keep passengers healthy on the cruise. It’s likely that some companies will have different policies compared to others.

But we have received some word from cruise lines on what will change. The bottom line is that you can expect more social distancing, more masks, and say goodbye to the traditional buffet.

Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line is a small line that sails two-day trips from Palm Beach to the Bahamas. They’ve announced they are reducing the capacity of their ships by 40% to have smaller crowds on board.

They will also no longer have internal air recirculated, instead opting to take in and filter outside air. There will also be lots of temperature checks for passengers and crew, and many crew members will be required to wear masks.

This is just a taste of the changes that the cruise line announced.

Norwegian Cruise Lines has also announced changes that include social distancing on the ship, more medical resources — including a larger medical team — and continual sanitation around the entire vessel.

Again, all the specifics will have to be worked out, but for now expect many of the steps you’ve seen around the country put in place on cruise ships.

Question #4: Will Passengers Be Required to Wear Masks?

Passengers in Port of Miami

Perhaps the most visible sign of the pandemic on the world is the emergence of facemasks being worn on a regular basis.

But you won’t have to wear a facemask on a cruise will you?

Well, the answer is not so clear, but there are some signs that you might be asked to do so. A recent article from Cruise Critic quoted the CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., Frank Del Rio as saying “My guess is early on there will be masks. “Early on, there will be an emphasis on washing your hands, on social distancing.”

Keep in mind there was no specific mention if Del Rio was alluding to masks for passengers, crew, or everyone.

Furthermore, back in April Royal Caribbean even applied for a trademark on something called “Seaface” which the application lists as “Sanitary masks for virus isolation purposes.”

Neither of these are a definitive sign you’ll have to wear a mask, and cruise lines haven’t officially announced one way or the other. Just don’t be surprised if it does happen that passengers are asked to cover up.

Question #5: What Happens If Someone Does Get Sick on Your Cruise?

The world saw the headlines and images of cruise ships with sick passengers being held up at the start of the crisis. Unless there is a vaccine or COVID-19 just disappears, it seems that cruise lines would eventually have to confront having an active case on a cruise ship.

If that happens, what will happen to all the other healthy passengers on the ship when the vessel comes home to port? Through social media channels, it’s clear that some passengers are worried about being stranded on a cruise ship if there is a case during their sailing.

The best answer at the moment is that no one knows for sure.

Presumably the cruise lines are working with the CDC to formulate a plan for handling cases if they should happen as it’s among the most basic questions for returning to sailing. We haven’t seen any official word, however.

Cruzely contacted the CDC and Norwegian Cruise Lines (the only major line to outline their safety and health plans) and asked what would happen to healthy passengers.

The CDC has yet to respond. Norwegian told us that “The safety and security of our guests and crew are at all times our first priority. The latest information regarding our enhanced health and safety measures can be found at www.ncl.com/PeaceOfMind. Additional details will be made available, as we finalize our plans and resume operations.”

At this point, however, it’s not clear exactly what would happen, but expect an answer soon.

Have another question about the return of cruises? Let us know in the comments below.

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