In the last few days, there have been a lot of guidelines released for resuming cruises! For those of us who are waiting not so patiently to get back on a cruise, it’s super exciting to see progress being made. For those of us who are not comfortable cruising yet, that’s okay! You need to wait until you are ready. I personally passed ready a while ago, but that’s just me–I’m ready to safely sail again. I never dreamed cruises would stop for this long. If I had known my cruise in February was going to be my last cruise for several months, I would have cruised so much harder. No sleep!
Right now, the CDC has a No Sail order in effect for cruise ships in U.S. waters, which runs through September 30, 2020. In addition, CLIA, the Cruise Lines International Association, which Disney Cruise Line is a member of, has agreed to voluntarily suspend cruises through October 31, 2020. Either of those could be extended at any point, but I’m cautiously optimistic that we are getting close to sailing, and we won’t see many more extensions, if any!
Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines collaborated on a Healthy Sail Panel, and they released their recommendations on Monday, September 21t. They’ve made 74 recommendations for every cruise operator to address to reduce the risk of infection and the spread of COVID-19 on cruise ships. CLIA also released a strong set of health protocols which cruise lines must agree to in writing before sailing.
Here are 10 things these new procedures could mean for Disney!
1. Testing and Temperature Checks – Testing is going to become the new norm. The new protocols all include 100% testing for both crew members and guests before embarkation. If anyone in a party tests positive, everyone in their party will likely be denied boarding. It’s possible that additional testing will be required during the cruise, and they also recommend daily temperature checks. According to CLIA research, over 85% of cruisers support testing before embarkation, as well as temperature checks.
2. Masks – Masks will also probably be around for a while. That is not to say guests will be expected to wear a mask their entire time onboard! Masks certainly won’t be required in staterooms, and when guests are eating and drinking. The guidelines also indicate that guests won’t have to wear them when they are outside and socially distanced. They may, however, be required on excursions when social distancing can’t be maintained. CLIA’s research also indicates masks aren’t a dealbreaker for most people, and 93% of cruisers are willing to wear masks if that’s what it takes to get back to cruising.
3. Physical Distancing – Physical distancing is going to be important. The protocols require that ship occupancy is limited so that physical distancing can be maintained. They also want ships to modify onboard facilities, terminals, and cruise-owned islands to promote physical distancing. The protocols want lots of new signage which should help. Restaurants will be modified to spread people out as well. Some activities like sail-away parties, indoor dance parties, and even muster drills will need to be cancelled, or “significantly altered”. In the case of the muster drill, they are recommending innovative solutions to alter the flow of guests. They also want cruise lines to implement touchless boarding and debarkation procedures, as well as schedule arrivals by appointments at the port. I suspect Disney will be both spreading out and enforcing those port arrival times from now on!
4. Ventilation and Sanitation – I’ve always been impressed by the amount of cleaning that happens on cruise ships, and indeed, the CDC had strict guidelines that the cruise lines were already following. Well, we are about to see that taken to an even higher level! Cruise lines are now being asked to reevaluate their cleaning procedures and concentrate on high-touch areas. They want to encourage single-use items like disposable menus instead of reusing the same ones. They also recommend the cruise lines communicate to guests what they can expect in terms of cleaning. The protocols aim to reduce transmission via air management and ventilation strategies as well. They want, where feasible, to use “enhanced filters and other technologies to mitigate risk”. That means upgrading HVAC systems and filters and things like that. I suspect many cruise lines are working on that now, while no guests are onboard.
5. Medical Response Plans – If a guest or crew member should become infected with COVID-19, the new protocols want to make sure that there is a detailed response plan. These would include onboard treatment, isolation, and evacuation. The cruise lines would need to leave some staterooms open for isolation rooms, as well as make “advance arrangements with private providers for shoreside quarantine, medical facilities, and transportation.”
6. Modified Shore Excursions – Cruise Lines will only permit shore excursions that follow the prescribed protocols. Indoor excursions are discouraged unless physical distancing and masks are possible. The rules on excursions will be strict! Any passengers that break the rules can be denied re-boarding. This is a big deal, and a big change! Here’s the exact wording:
“Prior to COVID-19, cruise operators allowed for both fully curated excursions and self-guided excursions and independent exploration at destinations of interest. However, the risk of exposure for the people in communities that are visited, and for cruise ship guests and crew, increase as more mixing between these groups occurs. Therefore, the Panel recommends that cruise operators initially prohibit self-guided tours and independent exploration and only allow certain curated indoor activities until further notice.”
7. Modified Itineraries – While we have suspected for a while that itineraries would be modified, the protocols confirm it. It says: “Cruise operators should initially return to service with shorter length trips.” It also says that, to begin with, itineraries should be as simple as possible, visiting private islands or ports where the cruise line can have more control of the onshore experience. They also released some guidelines to determine if a port should be considered as a possible stop. These guidelines include the local testing capacity and response, as well as the port agreeing to safe passage home for infected individuals and their travel party. This means that when Disney does start sailing, they’ll have to modify some things, and work with passengers already booked who aren’t satisfied with a modified itinerary.
8. Enhanced Protection for Crew Members – I was especially happy to see the safety of crew members addressed! While the safety procedures for guests will help crew members as well, the crew members are in a more unique situation than guests. The guidelines recommend single-occupancy rooms when possible. Downtime, and time ashore is important for crew members who are working long days and nights. They recommend, “providing transportation for crew to certain destinations (e.g., a private beach or designated shopping area with appropriate controls in place) so that crew can take part in activities they enjoy during shore leave time, while limiting riskier exposures.” They also recommend the cruise lines analyze why the crew is going ashore, and if the reason is something the ship can help with onboard (e.g. better internet, phone calls, buying toiletries, etc.), the cruise line should help.
9. Things Can Change – Most of these changes aren’t permanent. CLIA has said the protocols “will be continuously evaluated and adjusted against the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic.” As conditions improve, more normalcy will return!
10. Each Cruise Line Could Do More – CLIA also made a critical point of saying that these are the minimum requirements to sail again. And every cruise line can decide they need to take bigger steps to ensure safe cruising whenever they so choose.
I think the most important thing to note here, is how much work has gone into planning a safe return to cruising. After months of studies led by medical, health, and science experts, the return will be a highly controlled resumption (hopefully) of normal operations in the near future. A limited amount of cruising has begun already in Europe, to great success. The cruise lines believe they can duplicate that success here in the States, and they believe it’s almost time. Some cruise lines have stated cruises could resume in 30 days. 30 days! How exciting would that be?
How do you feel about these new guidelines? Are you ready to cruise again?
Tammy Whiting is the owner of Storybook Destinations. Did you know Storybook Destinations offers a complimentary subscription to TouringPlans with qualified Disney and Universal bookings? Click here for a no-obligation quote on your next vacation.