How cruises will change after coronavirus

As cruises resume, Dave Monk looks at some of the ways cruising will change post-Covid

Thursday 22 October 2020 19:06 BST
Cruising will change in many ways post-Covid
Cruising will change in many ways post-Covid (Getty Images)

The multibillion pound cruise industry, which normally carries 30 million people a year on the world’s oceans and rivers, has been becalmed by the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 300 ships have been docked, or kept floating aimlessly at sea, after ports were shut, countries locked down and international travel frozen.

The US no-sail ban has recently been extended to 31 October, while the UK government still advises against travelling by ocean ship.

Shares in the major operators – Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings – have plummeted by up to 80 per cent during the crisis as they collectively burned through $1bn a month.

Despite all that, cruising is showing signs of coming back in countries such as France, Germany and now Italy, where MSC Cruises and Costa have restarted services. In Taiwan, Dream Cruises has already carried more than 25,000 locals.

But there are changes afoot.

Among the measures already announced, the industry body Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has pledged that all passengers and crew will be tested before boarding.

With ships taking years to plan and build, existing fleets will have to be adapted to ensure a safe environment, with new measures on board to maintain social distance and hygiene.

Here's a look at how coronavirus might affect the look and feel of cruising as well as future design.

Pre-boarding testing

A key factor in the safe resumption of cruising will be the availability of rapid and reliable testing for Covid-19 at embarkation.

MSC Cruises has implemented pre-boarding testing for MSC Grandiosa, which is now on its ninth voyage in Italy. Daily temperature checks are also carried out on board. 

It's carried a total of 16,000 passengers – at around half the ship’s capacity – without incident. Rick Sasso, the president of MSC Cruises (USA) said: “We’ve proved you'll be safer going on a cruise than to the supermarket.”

Masks and social distancing

Even half-full cruise ships can carry thousands of guests, so measures have been taken to ensure venues, such as theatres and lounges, have areas cordoned off to maintain social distancing. This in turn means more shows are being put on for smaller audiences. 

While passengers are being encouraged to spend more time in the open air on deck, tables, chairs and loungers are being moved further apart, and fewer people will be allowed in pools and hot tubs. 

Elsewhere, masks are worn in areas when social distancing can’t be assured. And boarding and leaving the ship is staggered.

Social bubbles

In port, the chance to go ashore on the likes of MSC Cruises is being restricted to official excursions where hygiene, distancing and masks can be enforced.

The Healthy Gateways interim advice on cruising, published by the European Union, also suggests that activities on cruise ships could be organised by age group to ensure older, more vulnerable people are separated from younger passengers.

Better ventilation

Royal Caribbean says its heating, ventilation and air conditioning system supplies 100 per cent fresh, filtered air from outside to all indoor spaces, with the atmosphere changed up to every six minutes in staterooms and every four in public spaces. Upgraded filters will be fine enough to capture coronavirus aerosols.

Qingyan Chen, a professor of mechanical engineering at Indiana’s Purdue University, has suggested that on future ships air should enter the room through the floor, then rise as it comes into contact with people and warms up, before being expelled from the ceiling, Fast Company reports.

Cruise virus risks: when to travel to minimise them

Improved hygiene

Cruising has always been known for having hand sanitisers at every restaurant. They will now be everywhere. Plus, UV-C light is being used to kill 99.7 per cent of microbes on MSC Grandiosa.

Robots may also be used to spray areas, according to research analyst Clare Lee of Euromonitor International.

Cabins should have fewer loose items such as magazines and kettles and may be changed less often, the Healthy Gateway proposals recommended. Laundrettes may also be closed, according to the Framework for UK Cruise Operations During Covid-19, drawn up by the UK Chamber of Shipping.

Changes in dining

The free-for-all buffet, a beloved part of many people’s cruise experience, is being replaced by table service to cut down the risk of contamination and opportunities for close contact. Passengers are asked to book in advance during longer dining times and only eat with their own household or travelling companions – a major disadvantage for solo cruisers.  

Erik Schobesberger, a vice president of Almaco ship contractors, said in a blog: “Cruise lines will have to redesign their old buffet restaurants and catering areas. It will not just be about serving food in a safe way, it will also be about conveying a sensation of safety to the customers.”

More use of technology

Cards to open cabin doors and pay for drinks on board were already being replaced on many lines with wearable technology. Now it’s being used to control the spread of contagious diseases such as coronavirus.

If a passenger were to test positive on MSC Grandiosa, for example, data from their electronic wristband could be used to trace anyone who has spent more than 15 minutes within a metre of them during the voyage.

Princess Cruises offers similar technology called Ocean Medallion. Tony Roberts, the line’s vice president for UK & Europe, said: "Truly touchless embarkation, payments and on-board food and beverage ordering are just some of the ways we are keeping our guests safe."

Wider trends in cruising

Despite innovations to appeal to younger holidaymakers, cruising still largely attracts older clientele who are more likely to be affected by – or worried about – coronavirus.

Jennifer Holland, a cruise researcher at the University of Brighton, said even loyal cruisers are anxious about boarding a ship. She added: “People will be cruising to what they see as 'safer' destinations closer to home for at least the next year.

“Although some research indicates holidaymakers want smaller ships at the moment I think long term they will return to the big ships with the wow factor. The big question is can cruise lines sustain financial viability if they only have 30 to 40 per cent capacity?”

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