Health is on everyone’s mind these days, and rightly so. It’s truly an unprecedented time, and the world has never seen anything quite like what has happened.
Obviously this has led to enormous uncertainty in cruising. From when cruises will sail again to what things are going to look like when they do return is still up in the air.
There are a couple of things that are certain. First, cruises will surely be different when they do return. Cruise lines are already laying out their plans to keep their passengers safer from COVID-19 when they do get back to sailing. Second, staying healthy is going to be high on the minds of passengers when they board cruise ships.
The good news is that not only are there major steps the cruise lines are taking to keep their ships safe, but there are steps you can take to potentially reduce the risk as well by following the guidelines that have been put out by health professionals.
Note: One thing to know is that the CDC currently has a no-sail order in place and recommends “that all people defer travel on cruise ships, including river cruises, worldwide.”
If you are worried about contracting COVID-19, public places like cruise ships, concerts, or sporting events are universally considered to be a bad idea at this time. Unless the virus is eradicated, there’s always a chance that you could contract it.
What Cruise Lines Are Doing to Keep Passengers Healthy
The good news is that while no passenger wants to get sick on their trip, cruise lines have a huge incentive to keep their passengers healthy as well. The road back for cruising looks to be long, and hurdles like an outbreak of COVID-19 on a ship would be an unwelcome obstacle.
That, combined with the desire to earn the CDC’s approval to sail again, has led to drastic steps from cruise lines to keep their ships as healthy as possible.
While we’ve gone into detail about the changes here, you should know that not every cruise lines has announced all the changes they will make. Still, some major lines like Norwegian Cruise Lines have laid out at least some of their plans. Here are just some of the things you can expect from cruise lines, although specifics will vary by line:
- Increased sanitation of public areas
- Higher air filtration and/or fresh air sourcing
- No self-serve food
- Temperature checks for passengers and crew
- Reduced capacity onboard to promote distancing
- Onboard COVID testing available
How to Lower Your Risk of Illness
To be sure, the steps taken by cruise lines are big, but as we said above, it seems that until the virus is completely gone, there will always be the chance that you might catch it. That’s why it’s important that you also take steps to stay healthy as well.
To be clear, we are not doctors, but there are a number of things you can do to follow the advice of medical experts to stay well while on a cruise ship.
Board Later in the Day
One of the big points of emphasis in staying healthy has been to maintain social distancing. Of course, that’s more difficult on a cruise ship, but you can make some moves to better keep space between you and others.
Cruise lines already plan to have online check-in and staggered boarding to reduce crowds in the terminal. By showing up later in the day to board, however, you can see even smaller crowds.
With the excitement of a cruise, larger crowds show up right when boarding opens. But later in the day the number of people falls dramatically. By waiting to board you’ll find smaller crowds that make it easier to distance.
Upgrade Your Cabin
Another way to distance from crowds? Have your room be as comfortable as possible. If you are spending time in your cabin, then you are avoiding public spots that would seem to carry more risk.
Of course, no one expects you to book a cruise and spend the entire time in your room. Even so, cabins can offer a refuge from the rest of the ship. Cabins or suites with balconies offer your own private space to take in the ocean views, have a nice breeze, and get some sun without having to be close to others. As well, larger rooms and those with balconies feel less cramped, making it more inviting to spend time there instead of out and about on the ship.
Eat Outdoors When Possible
During the health crisis, restaurants and bars have been a contentious issue. Indoor, enclosed areas are thought to help spread cases. In many states they are closed, or open only with reduced capacity.
If eating in a restaurant on a cruise has you worried, there is good news. You don’t have to do it. You can order room service and enjoy a private meal on your cabin balcony. You can also choose to dine outside. Ships often have tables setup outside, and you are also allowed to take food and eat pretty much wherever you like. In other words, if you don’t want to eat indoors, you don’t have to during your cruise.
Sunbathe Away From the Pool
Pool areas can get packed during the day as everyone wants to be where the action is. Expect cruise lines to promote distancing by having deck chairs more spread out around the ship.
Even so, you can do one better. If you walk forward or aft of the pool, you’ll usually find lots of empty chairs. These spots aren’t as popular since they aren’t near the pool where there is more people watching, music, and energy.
Away from the pool is quieter and there are smaller crowds. It gives you a chance to get some sun without having so many people around if you are worried about catching something.
Take the Stairs
Elevators are the lifeblood of a cruise ship. With some ships measuring 20 decks, the elevators stay busy throughout the day. But elevators also mean being in a small space where social distancing is next to impossible.
For that reason, it is smart to take the stairs when going from deck to deck, if possible. Cruise lines already have plans in place for increased sanitation in public places like elevators, but avoiding them when possible seems like a smarter bet if you’re worried about illness.
Carry Your Own Hand Sanitizer
One of the biggest recommendations from health experts to avoid getting sick is to wash your hands frequently. If running water isn’t available, then hand sanitizer is considered the next best thing.
On a cruise ship you’ll find hand sanitizer stations frequently throughout the ship — especially in dining venues. Even so, it’s a good idea to bring your own hand sanitizer. That way it’s always available, and you also don’t have to use the public stations where others have put their hands.
Wait Until Off Hours to Do Things on the Ship
If you go out to eat at 7 p.m. on a Friday night, then you expect a crowd. Same principle on a cruise ship. Peak hours can mean big crowds or long lines. Hitting the pool on a sunny afternoon, or heading to Guest Services the day before a trip ends (and everyone is settling their bill) means you’re going to be around lots of others.
Instead, look to do things at off-peak times. Restaurants are least busy right when they open and before closing. The Guest Services desk is available 24 hours per day, and there are usually few people in line early in the morning. Pools have smaller crowds in the late afternoon or earlier in the morning.
You can still have your fun, but you don’t have to do things when everyone else is doing them.
Bring Sanitizing Wipes
Cruise lines are making big moves to increase sanitation on cruise ships This includes more frequent disinfecting of public areas, but also changes to how rooms are cleaned. Several lines are using cabin fogging with disinfectant to better deep clean the room.
Even so, bringing your own sanitizing wipes isn’t a bad idea. This gives you the peace of mind of wiping down the surfaces of your cabin yourself so that you know it’s been disinfected.
Spots like door handles, remote controls, light switches and more can all be wiped down in a few minutes to be sure they are clean. While health experts say that the risk of COVID-19 seems to be driven by person-to-person contact and not from surfaces, it still can’t hurt.
Wear a Mask
No one wants to go on a vacation and wear a mask. But in the coronavirus world, it is a way to help yourself or others stay healthy. There’s no word on if masks will be required on cruises, although there have been some statements suggesting it’s possible.
Even if it isn’t required, there could be times that wearing a mask can make you feel more comfortable. Crowded areas inside the ship like the casino or theater may have social distancing rules in place, but having a mask is a good additional layer of protection.
We’re not saying that you have to wear a mask the entire trip. Hanging out on the lido deck and working on your tan? It’s unlikely you’ll want to wear a mask. But it could help you stay healthy when lining up with others on disembarkation day to get off the ship.
Avoid Handrails and Other Surfaces
First things first, if you need to use a handrail, then by all means, use it. It’s much better to use the rail and get down the steps than to risk a fall simply because you want to avoid getting sick.
But there are many surfaces like railings that we touch without realizing it… and without really needing to do so. Cruise lines will increase their sanitation standards on the ships, but there is no harm in being careful about the surfaces you touch.
Be cognizant of where you put your hands during your cruise, doing your best to avoid any unnecessary touching of heavily used surfaces. And when you do touch them? Wash your hands or make use of the hand sanitizer that you brought.
While cruise lines will do all that they can to keep passengers healthy, until there is a vaccine or this virus disappears, it’s a good idea to continue to be diligent as possible.
For some with health risks, that might mean waiting to set sail again. But for those looking forward to getting back to seas when cruises do resume, some simple steps and common sense can help you better follow the advice of health experts and hopefully lower your risk of getting sick.