It is crazy how much can change in a year. Just 365 days ago I was in Chile, halfway through my 30-day adventure around the coast of South America. Today, I spend my time dreaming and hoping for a swift return through 2021 cruise predictions of my favorite vacation style– cruising.
With the promising vaccine for COVID-19 beginning its widespread implementation, our once distant dreams of getting back on a cruise ship are now within reach. This is where you will find the next steps and hopefully predictions for this coming year getting you back on the seas by the end of 2021.
The biggest obstacle cruise lines face for 2021 cruises from or to the United States comes from the CDC’s 40-page Conditional Sailing Order. This document goes in-depth on the numerous steps all cruise lines must follow to get passengers back on the sea. These steps include:
- Testing and Additional Safeguards for Crew Members
- Construct Laboratory Capacity Needed to Test Crew and Future Passengers
- Simulated Voyages to Test Ability to Mitigate COVID-19 Risk
- Certification for Ships Meeting Specific Requirements
- Phased Return to Cruising with Passenger Voyages
While this list may seem impossible to complete within 2021, most cruise lines have already passed the first two steps and are looking to begin their simulated voyages.
To comply with the CDC guidelines, these simulated voyages must do exactly that, simulate a realistic voyage. This means the ships need passengers, crew, restaurants, and entertainment, all of which cruise lines plan on utilizing once they can sail.
While at first, you may think these cruise lines will have their crew act as passengers, however, as outlined in the CDC’s guidelines, these passengers must be volunteers. This means the passengers must be eighteen years or older with no pre-existing health conditions and have to be volunteering. In other words, they cannot volunteer as a condition of employment or in exchange for consideration or future reward.
Wow! Where do I sign up? Royal Caribbean is the only cruise line that has begun looking for volunteers in their program Volunteer of the Seas. If you are interested, look for the Facebook page Royal Caribbean has created. With over 60,000 members, you will know everything that is going on within the Royal Caribbean realm. Royal Caribbean Volunteers of the Seas program has garnered over 100,000 volunteers and they have since stated that they will be choosing the highest valued guests to volunteer first. So, if you are one of their Pinnacle members, make sure to join the list!
Something to note about these voyages is they will not be like a typical cruise. Many cruise lines have announced that they will either just be sitting at seas for the voyages with at most visiting their private island. In addition, everything done on the ships is up to the cruise line. Therefore, you will have to participate in numerous COVID-19 mitigation tests with simulated quarantine and evacuation procedures.
Also, cruise lines are taking these voyages very seriously as if they happen to have a COVID-19 outbreak, they will have to immediately return to shore and quarantine, eventually attempting another simulated voyage at a future time. Obviously, these simulated voyages are costing the cruise lines loads of money, therefore, they will be very careful in how they go forward in planning them.
Certification for Sailing
Once cruise lines can prove to the CDC that they can run a simulated voyage without a COVID-19 outbreak, cruise lines can apply for their certification for sailing the seas.
These certificates will be complete with signatures of the cruise ship operator’s responsible officials. They will include a completed statement of intent stating the name of the ship, carrying capacity for passengers and crew, itinerary, ports of call, length of the voyage, and expected onboard/offboard activities. All these items must be tested in a simulated voyage successfully for the CDC to consider certification of the vessel.
The certification process also includes having officials verify compliance in regards to crew protection requirements, current health and safety protocols, and adequate laboratory capabilities and staff, all of which were laid out before and implemented during the simulated voyages.
Return to Cruising
Finally, the return to cruising! The moment we have all been waiting for.
Don’t get too excited yet, while this return has been long anticipated, it needs to happen carefully to avoid any further delays or shutdowns.
As outlined in the CDC guidelines, cruise ships cannot be at sea for longer than 7 days. So if you were planning to go on a 30-day voyage like me, you are going to have to wait until this order expires on November 1st, 2021.
This phased return will include completely new experiences even for the most seasoned passengers. These will include the following:
- Signs and symptoms exposure contact tracing. Some cruise lines have begun creating ways to track their passengers on their ships. For example, MSC has designed a wristband for passengers to wear in order to determine which areas they are in throughout the day. Other cruise lines may utilize the ship key cards more often having passengers check into restaurants, events, and venues.
- Laboratory testing of all passengers and crew on the day of embarkation and the day of disembarkation. These laboratory tests are mandatory and must be available prior to passenger embarkation and prior to passengers and crew departure after disembarking the ship.
- New standards of cleanliness. Anyone who has gone on a cruise ship knows how clean they can be. Sounds of “washy washy” echoing down the hallways are just a glimpse of what cruising was. The new CDC guidelines require a revamped system including increased hand hygiene, face coverings, and social distancing for passengers and crew. This will undoubtedly affect meal service and entertainment facilities.
- Cruise line excursions only. To isolate the people on the ship, we will see the only way to get off of the ship is with a cruise line approved excursion. This is to create a bubble around the passengers and crew, however, can be detrimental to the cruising experience. In addition, countries may not allow ships to dock if they cannot rent taxis and shop their markets contributing to their economy.
With all these changes, we also have to acknowledge that if these cruise lines want to cruise to other countries with their own laws, they must also comply. This will lead to initially shorter itineraries visiting US states/territories and private islands. Once cruise lines discuss with other countries and comply with their version of the CDC orders, then we can go and visit our favorite cruise ports again.
With all the madness and chaos we have to get through this coming year in regards to cruising, I am hoping to see the complete return of cruising by the end of 2021.
With these CDC guidelines expiring on November 1st, 2021, we will most likely see most of the recommendations in place on the ships. However, we will see the return of my favorite type of cruise– ones that sail for longer than 7 days (given the CDC does not extend their order).
Overall, 2021 will be an interesting and industry-changing year for cruising. Cruise lines will need to prove they belong in the United States economy with grit and carefully chosen moves in order to bring the industry to its previous state.