Here is a look at what to expect aboard a trial sailing based on the CDC’s Conditional Framework and Cruise Industry News’ own analysis, along with input from industry sources.
Trial cruises could start as soon as December, according to industry executives, and Royal Caribbean has already put out a call for volunteers.
The CDC has made it clear cruises leaving from U.S. ports won’t be more than seven days, and with cruise lines looking to create a bubble, cruises are expected to be short, and only visiting private islands to start.
This would mean any early sailings will be in the three- to four-day range, most likely leaving from Miami, Port Everglades or Port Canaveral and featuring a single call at a private Bahamian destination.
As the cruise industry stages a phased-in return to service, ships won’t be anywhere near full to promote health and safety protocols and new social distancing requirements.
Industry executives have targeted a 50 percent load factor, meaning ships will be eerily quiet.
Royal Caribbean’s Navigator and Mariner of the Seas, for instance, have roughly 3,100 berths each at 100 percent occupancy (two guests in each cabin). These ships would frequently sail at well above a 100 percent load factor with families aboard. For the return, occupancy will be slimmed down to the 1,500-guest range.
Volunteer sailings may feature an adjusted bar program.
The CDC has said simulated sailings will need volunteers, but has not commented publicly on if a cruise line can generate revenue on a simulated sailing.
Cruise lines, however, will need to test new bar protocols for drink order and delivery.
Will there will be an open bar? Unlikely, but that brings back the revenue question, with industry executives telling Cruise Industry News they don’t expect to be able to “accept any sort of revenue.”
A compromise would be open bar with no premium brands.
Slow Embark and Debark
Embarkation day will have an entirely new look with staggered arrival times, COVID-19 testing in the cruise terminal, and various zones for guests to pass through for health and safety reasons, plus an isolation area.
Disembarkation day is also expected to have a new look with potential testing requirements the day of debark, which would slow down the process significantly even at reduced load factors.
Be patient, this may take a while until the cruise lines find their way to keep the CDC happy.
A Very Changed Cruise Program
The cruise program of entertainment and activities is subject to CDC approval, and will most likely feature venues with strictly controlled capacity with regular cleaning intervals.
Other cruise lines in operation are closing bars early, spacing out tables in venues and also adding duplicate entertainment programs so all guests have the opportunity to attend.
Limited But Excellent Dining
It’s unclear whether the full slate of alternative restaurants would be open for trial sailings, with a limited number of guests and questions regarding whether the cruise line can accept onboard revenue.
Police State in Buffet
The self-serve cruise ship buffet looks to be gone at least for now. Expect a one-way buffet line with crew serving guests, or food that is individually plated and handed to passengers.
“We are not taking out the buffet it; will be assisted,” said one industry executive. “There will be no touch points. It will be regulated, it’s a one-way system and it will be well policed.”
Sun Deck and more
Will guests be able to find a chair and sun themselves or jump in the pool? Not likely, much less the hot tub. What about dancing and the disco?
It may be a nice cruise experience, but perhaps going back 40 years to the way it used to be.
Testing – Pre, During, Post
Beyond pre-boarding testing and testing prior to disembarkation, cruise lines are expected to have a mid-sailing testing program in place. Whether all guests will be tested or if it will be based randomly is yet to be determined.
Past Guests First
All indications are volunteers will be selected on a basis of their past loyalty to a particular cruise line. Operators may rank volunteer candidates based on previous business and their current standing in the cruise line’s rewards program.
Will there be simulated ship emergencies, medical emergencies and potential evacuations?
Other testing may include guests being placed into isolation zones following simulated positive tests, and proper responses from crew involving contract tracing.
You Are Being Watched
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings said third party sailings would be audited not only by company officials, but a third-party class society as well as the CDC.