It’s a question on everyone’s mind as they wait for the summer season, which begins in May and runs through October with peak travel seasons from July through September. With over 3 million people traveling abroad annually, cruise lines have been forced to take unprecedented measures to protect their guests.
These include limiting passengers to one per room, mandating that all meals be taken inside restaurants, banning food deliveries, requiring face coverings at every public entrance, no visitors allowed into cabins (except essential workers), and mandatory masking outside of your cabin.
While these may seem like extreme steps, they were necessary if we want to prevent further outbreaks of COVID-19 worldwide.
When Will Cruises Reopen?
In the U.S., Carnival Corporation recently announced plans to suspend operations for 30 days after deciding against sailing until June 1st due to current conditions and the possibility of spreading more cases of COVID-19 throughout states where there are low vaccination rates among residents. Other large cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean International have already suspended most land excursions including those in Mexico and Costa Rica, so it's likely other areas won't see any major changes soon.
However, some smaller cruise lines such as Windstar Cruises and Sailing Vacations USA are taking matters into their own hands. Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the trade association representing nearly 200 passenger capacity vessels operating under the flag of 46 different countries, issued guidelines to help cruise lines navigate the next few months while maintaining traveler safety and comfort levels. They recommend implementing several strategies to avoid the transmission of disease. Some examples include:
Deep cleanliness remains the best defense against infectious diseases such as viruses and bacteria. Deep cleaning involves removing bed linens, disinfecting surfaces within reach of customers, changing towels daily, washing dishes before returning them to storage, and thoroughly wiping down common use items such as tables, railings, doors, etc…with alcohol-based cleaners.
Sanitation refers to keeping germs away from foods, drinks, shared spaces, bathroom facilities, and medical care. One way to do this is to provide hand hygiene stations at each meal service area and restrooms. Hand sanitizers can also be found in various locations throughout the vessel. Additionally, disposable menus/food containers should always be used whenever possible and food delivery services should be avoided wherever possible. Food delivered onboard must come directly from vendors who bring products directly onto the boat and cannot arrive via truck, train, plane, or automobile. All dining venues should be required to serve food cooked fresh onboard using FDA-approved steam cooking systems. Passengers should never eat off trays in communal areas nor share utensils or cups.
Social distancing prevents the spread of virus infections by spacing individuals 6 feet apart when indoors. A safe distance between two persons outdoors would be about six times the length of someone’s arm extended. For example, if someone stood 5'10" tall, the recommended social distance would be approximately 15'-30'. Outdoor activities involving groups larger than 10 people should be canceled unless absolutely necessary.
When boarding passengers arriving from foreign ports, travelers should first complete online health screening forms provided by the country they traveled from. If symptoms consistent with coronavirus infection appear, then testing should follow CDC recommendations. Testing should be completed prior to disembarkation. Upon arrival back home, travelers should immediately report to local officials upon landing and present evidence of having tested positive for COVID-19. Travelers should self-isolate for 14 days following exposure once tests results return. Asymptomatic travelers should continue monitoring locally available information regarding potential exposures and reporting to local authorities when appropriate.
These measures aren't just meant to maintain guest safety, but also to support efforts to slow the pandemic. There are still roughly 4.5 million Americans living with covid-19 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, although hospitalizations and deaths have begun declining. By instituting strict policies, cruise lines hope to limit their losses and prepare for what comes next.
Dr. David Mowat, President & CEO of CLIA said in a statement: "The Covid-19 outbreak continues to evolve across the globe, making decisions difficult even for experts. That is why CLIA has put together clear guidance to assist our member cruise lines, both large and small, in managing risk effectively." He continued, "Cruising offers great value and benefits to millions of vacationers, and CLIA members understand how important it is to operate safely. We urge consumers to make informed choices about destination selection, accommodations, and itineraries, and to plan ahead for their trip well in advance of departure."
There are currently 12 active covid-19 related lawsuits filed around the world, mostly against cruise lines. Most involve claims for injuries resulting from pre-existing conditions caused by negligence. Only 2 suits specifically claim violations of international law brought by foreign nationals and 22 others allege personal injury claims.