What the future of the cruise industry looks like: NPR

Carnival Cruise Line ships docked at the Port of Tampa in Tampa, Florida in March 2020 following the CDC No Sail Order coronavirus. A Celebrity Cruises ship has received CDC clearance for the first cruise from a US port since No Sail Order.

Chris O’Meara/AP

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Chris O’Meara/AP

Carnival Cruise Line ships docked at the Port of Tampa in Tampa, Florida in March 2020 following the CDC No Sail Order coronavirus. A Celebrity Cruises ship has received CDC clearance for the first cruise from a US port since No Sail Order.

Chris O’Meara/AP

The first cruise from US ports in more than 15 months is heading to the Caribbean this summer.

Celebrity Cruises has won approval from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to bring passengers on board for the seven-night cruise on June 26, the company announced this week.

“The CDC and the cruise industry agree that the industry has what it needs to move forward and that there are no additional barriers to resuming sailing by mid-summer” , CDC spokeswoman Caitlin Shockey confirmed in an email.

This is good news for an industry that has come to a standstill during the pandemic. Now, emboldened by the CDC’s green light and pent-up demand, the industry has high hopes for a quick recovery.

Companies will need to find the right balance between delivering on their promises of a comfortable and relaxing experience, while adhering to the rules set out by the CDC.

But Stewart Chiron, an industry expert doing business as The Cruise Guy, says a “surge in demand” suggests eager would-be passengers are willing to jump a few hurdles just to get back on board.

“If they could have sailed in May or June of last year, there are people who would have,” he said. “There were loads of people who were so desperate to go, they didn’t care where they were going, or if they were going anywhere. The itinerary was secondary to just cruising and being on the ocean, and doing something normal again was a huge factor.”

But what will “normal” mean for passengers, exactly?

Vaccination will bring you closer to a pre-pandemic cruise

For the most part, individual cruise experiences will depend on vaccination status.

The Celebrity cruise’s clearance to sail is contingent on 95% of its crew and passengers being fully vaccinated before boarding the ship in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The CDC also offers cruise lines an alternative to meet this threshold. Companies can organize test cruises with limited capacity to test the effectiveness of their sanitary measures.

However, cruise ships that meet the vaccination threshold will have more relaxed mask and social distancing rules.

The adoption of vaccination will probably appeal to most passengers. In an April survey of its readership, the Cruise Critic website said 81% of respondents would board a cruise if vaccines were needed.

“The buffet is not dead”

The CDC banned cruise ships from leaving U.S. ports on March 14, 2020, under a no-sailing order due to the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Proximity, shared meals and activities among international passengers led to some of the earliest known superspreading events of COVID-19, such as the outbreaks aboard the Diamond Princess and Grand Princess ships, which sickened more than 800 passengers and crew members.

In March 2020, cruise ship-related cases accounted for approximately 17% of reported cases in the United States

That said, self-service buffets felt like a thing of the past even before the coronavirus. Many cruise ships had long opted for staff to serve buffets to diners instead, to contain the spread of the common flu.

But under new CDC guidelines, fully vaccinated passengers are free to fill their own plate.

“We were surprised by this because it seems cruise lines were moving more towards a served buffet and that kind of option,” said Chris Gray Faust, the website’s editor. cruise review. “But the buffet is not dead.”

While vaccinated guests can ditch social distancing for quiet dining, cruise lines are still required to encourage al fresco dining and room service.

In ports, cruise lines are asked, but not required, to prohibit independent exploration to unvaccinated passengers.

“It seems like if you’re vaccinated and you’re on a ship where most people are vaccinated, your experience…will be more like what we would have thought before the pandemic,” Gray Faust said.

“All the things that people have enjoyed — you know, socializing with other people, eating and drinking, going to the pool, going to shows — all of that will still be available and open.”

Don’t expect a digital detox

But the pandemic signs will remain. If cruise lines follow CDC recommendations, travelers will see a lot more gimmicks.

Cruise lines are encouraged to provide wearable contact tracing technology. For some of its ships, Royal Caribbean International has already rolled out mandatory guest waterproof wristbands that will make it easier to determine who has been exposed to the coronavirus in the event of an outbreak.

According to CEO Michael Bayley, the company has implemented surveillance technology, in the form of facial and body recognition, to verify contact tracing cases.

“Those kinds of things have been really effective, at least what we’ve seen in Europe and Singapore,” said Gray Faust of cruise review.

And the secular gathering exercise? It has become virtual for certain lines.

The Cruise Guy, Stewart Chiron, will be on this first Caribbean cruise next month.

He sees the introduction of new warranties less as a hindrance to carefree vacations than as a smart move that will turn the industry around.

“So far it’s changing for the better. They’re not just based on convenience, but on the science that we have today,” he said, unlike “the confusion there was.” three or four months old.

But he’s always ready to put up with additional nuisance if it means he can navigate. Ahead of his trip at the end of June, he is ending his cruise drought next week for another trip to the Caribbean outside US waters which will take off from St Maarten.

For him, it’s the airline’s outbound flight – the long lines and vaccination paperwork – that stands between him and smooth navigation.

“When I travel next week, I’ll take an extra bag full with a little extra patience,” he said.

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