Bye-bye buffet… ciao cancellation penalties.
Those are just two big things that could disappear from cruising when it finally does return, whenever that may be.
Everyone knows about the major impact that the recent health crisis has had on the cruise industry. It’s been in all the newspapers, websites, and social media. What we don’t know for sure is how long it will last or exactly what things will look like when cruises do resume.
But it’s a near certainty that cruising is going to have some major changes in store for passengers.
Truth is that no matter what is done, cruise lines won’t be able to enforce complete social distancing at all times ore reduce the risk of illness to zero.
But there are some moves that can be made to lower the risk of the virus on a cruise ship. And that may mean some things in cruising will have to change, including many things that could disappear, at least until the world is more confident it can handle COVID-19.
The buffet is a staple of cruising. It’s open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But the idea of guests serving themselves is likely to go away for a while. Instead, expect the cruise staff to serve food — more like cafeteria style.
Instead of having guest after guest picking up tongs and other utensils to serve themselves, gloved and masked staff members serving food would reduce a touch point for other guests.
In fact, this is already the plan at MGM properties in Las Vegas and other places. They recently announced a plan to suspend self-serve buffets, instead opting for employees to serve guests.
The old way of cruising meant showing up at the terminal, going through security and then standing in line to meet with an agent. From there, you would hand over your travel documents, ID, and get your room keys to board the ship. Obviously lines and crowds waiting to check-in are something that cruise lines will want to avoid.
For some time now cruise lines have moved toward early check-in where passengers enter their information online ahead of time. After ID checks, room keys are waiting in a sealed envelope at the cabin. It’s much faster and involves less interaction with others.
Obviously there would still need to be some form of traditional check-in for those who have issues checking in online. But expect cruise lines to reduce the traditional standing and waiting to get on the ship as much as possible. They were already heading in that direction. This crisis should accelerate the trend.
Traditional Key Cards
When it comes to reducing the spread of coronavirus, one of the big pushes is to cut the number of touch points. One major thing you touch constantly on a cruise without realizing it is your room key card.
On a ship, this card not just opens your cabin door, but it also checks you in for dinner… is your player’s card in the casino… is your credit card for spending on the ship… and even checks you in and out when you go to port. Over the course of a cruise you will touch it dozens, if not hundreds, of times.
For several years now cruise lines have experimented with alternatives, most notably cards that use RFID technology to provide contactless payment and opening of your door. We expect the regular swiping of your card to be phased out in the future.
If you’ve ever been on a cruise before, you know that real estate around the pool is at a premium. Deck chair after deck chair are lined up right next to each other. During days at sea, they can all be full.
Meanwhile, places forward and aft of the pool also have lots of deck chairs but aren’t nearly as crowded. Expect those packed pool areas to be thinned out by having fewer deck chairs and more spacing. Instead of chair after chair, it will likely be a couple of chairs, several feet of space, and then another couple of loungers.
It’s already being done by Vegas resorts like MGM in order to promote social distancing. It’s a no-brainer that you’re going to see something similar on cruise ships assuming they begin sailing before there is a vaccine or highly effective treatment for COVID-19.
Huge Cancellation Penalties
One of the big benefits to cruise passengers during this entire crisis is that cruise lines have rolled out some very friendly cancellation policies. It used to be that if you cancelled within 30 days of your sail date, then your entire fare was lost. For many trips, cancelling anytime less than 90 days before led to some stiff penalties.
Now many cruise lines are offering plans that allow you to cancel many trips up to 48 hours before sailing and get a credit for what you paid.
This isn’t just good for your pocketbook, it’s good for people’s health. One of the big arguments is that with so much money at stake, some people — even if they might be sick — will instead decide to cruise anyway. By having a more lenient policy, if someone isn’t feeling well, they can cancel without being out a lot of money.
Head to a casino on a night at sea before all of this happened and you would find it bustling with people packed shoulder to shoulder around craps tables, at slot machines, and playing blackjack.
Expect that sort of atmosphere to disappear until the COVID-19 issue is behind us. There will likely be fewer seats available at tables, fewer operating slot machines and limits on the number of people playing craps.
In fact, a recent plan released by MGM in Las Vegas explains they are doing this exact thing, with slot machines out of operation to create six feet of space, and asking players not to stand beside or behind players. Expect the cruise lines to take a page from this practice.
Strolling Into Shows
One of the nice things about cruising is that it’s relaxed. That will continue to be the case, but you might have to plan ahead a little more.
Take the evening shows in the theater, for example. Usually there are two showings — an early and a late. On most ships you simply show up and find a seat. If social distancing is in place, however, don’t expect it to be that easy.
More distance means smaller crowds in place. So expect staff to keep careful about the number of people who come in the doors. The idea of strolling into a show last-minute may no longer be possible. Instead, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a reservation system put into place that better manages crowds instead of having people line up to get into the theater.
More articles you might like:
- Is Now the Best Time to Book a Cruise?
- 8 Simple Reasons Cruising Will Be Back After the Crisis
- No Buffet, Fewer Passengers & Lots of Masks: New Policies to Return to Sailing