Imagine a cruise with ample room around the pool because the ship's capacity is capped. The buffet line, a hallmark of cruising, displays an impressive spread, but servers scoop food onto plates to avoid shared serving spoons. Ports of call are limited to islands owned by cruise companies.
According to Ted Blank, a travel adviser and cruise expert in the Woodbury office of Travel Leaders, cruises will set sail from U.S. ports by the second quarter of 2021 — but the experience will be different.
Passengers and crew will be tested before boarding and at the end of the voyage. No-touch temperature checking devices and hand sanitation stations will be scattered around ships. Masks will be worn. Dining will require reservations for socially-distanced tables. Behind the scenes, the onboard medical staff will have bolstered testing capabilities.
Most cruise lines currently plan to relaunch in March, though dates have been pushed back before and could be again if COVID-19 worries persist.
To assure the public — and meet the demands of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the industry's new health and safety protocols — cruise lines are working to improve ships and adjust itineraries. Blank says there could be more regular sailings by April, though a return to a full slate of offerings in 2021 will depend on when restrictions ease and the public grows more confident.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Royal Caribbean Group created a Healthy Sail Panel. The committee of 11 experts, including Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota, created 74 best practices to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 on ships.
All cruise operators must receive a certificate from the CDC. The agency requires that ships take mock voyages to check safety practices. Cruise lines must apply for a certificate at least 60 days before venturing out with commercial passengers. Initial sailings must last no longer than seven days.
After ships in other markets recently returned to port with sick passengers, the CDC issued a Level 4 travel notice suggesting that everyone avoid traveling on cruise ships worldwide because the risk of contracting COVID-19 in such a setting is "very high."
Most of Blank's cruise clients are eager to go, but are booking a long way out. He said, "2022 looks to be a boom year."
His next cruise will be from New York to Hong Kong on Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2 — in January 2022.