In the early days of the pandemic, fears turned to reality as multiple cruise ships were quarantined. As media from around the globe covered the cases, it was clear that whenever the industry recovers, things would never be the same. Within a few weeks, every major cruise line in the world canceled their sailings.
Now more than six months on, the cruise industry is beginning to reopen with multiple cruise lines in Europe and Asia offering new cruises. Thanks to the significantly higher infection and death rates in the United States, however, it will still be some time before cruising returns to North America.
Stewart Chiron, better known as The Cruise Guy
, is the most quoted cruise industry expert. In an interview with the Orlando Weekly
, Chiron explained that part of the issue early on was the lack of knowledge regarding the virus and a lack of leadership in accepting responsibility in addressing it.
Image via CruiseGuy.com
The Cruise Guy, Stewart Chiron.
“Earlier this year, we didn't know much about coronavirus. Unfortunately, a lot of communities around the U.S. were experiencing communal outbreaks and either didn't know it or were deflecting responsibility for it. People that have taken a cruise are confident that their safety is paramount. The early news reports were conflicted or contradictory. What we know now, six months later, will ensure people continue to vacation in the safest environments possible.”
The closures that America’s cruise industry is still experiencing has far-reaching impacts. Chiron was quick to note that while some regions have seen a return of cruise lines, the picture is far different in America. While many parts of the world are returning to normal, the cruise industry won’t be able to breathe easily until the United States, where nearly 13 million cruise passengers
embark from annually, sees dramatic improvements in its transmission rates.
Image via Port Canaveral
Carnival new $163 million Terminal 3 at Port Canaveral
“At the moment, the cruise industry is essentially still shut-down but there is hope to restart before the end of 2020. There are a few cruise lines that have recently restarted with only a handful of ships in Europe but the major cruise lines and US passengers, are still side-lined. Coronavirus has had a devastating impact on the industry and specifically to the US and its economy. Almost 500,000 people directly or indirectly derive income from the cruise industry, which had over $24 billion in direct spending and almost $60 billion economic impact to the US economy. For now, it's shut-down.”
Some ports are still hesitant to welcome back cruise passengers causing cruise lines to adjust their itineraries. Other nations have also restricted where cruise passengers can go once they disembark.
“Italy has made cruise passengers take cruise line tours if they want to disembark ships. I assume one of the reasons is to minimize interactions with locals and other tourists, essentially created a "bubble." This may be a non-starter for some US passengers,” explained Chiron. “Reduced port calls or stops solely at cruise lines' private islands and beaches in the Bahamas and Caribbean might be OK to get sailing again in the very short term but not much longer. Uncooperative ports may have their countries by-passed altogether while other ports may be visited multiple times or have overnights.” Going on, he noted an example of how a cruise line made itinerary adjustments. “When there were issues at Mazatlan, Mexico, for example, cruise lines visited Cabo San Lucas twice. Cruise lines may do something similar with ports in the Caribbean, if necessary.”
He also thinks the cruise industry got a bad rap in the early days of the pandemic. “If hotels have COVID-19 outbreaks, the media doesn't really care, often omitting hotel names from stories. But if one cruise ship with one passenger has COVID, then it becomes global news.”
Image via Royal Caribbean
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd’s new Miami HQ campus
In late August, Royal Caribbean Group CEO Michael Bayley confirmed to investors the company was looking at the feasibility of using rapid testing
for its lines, which include Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Azamara, and Silversea. MSC has already unveiled a rapid-swab test as part of the health and safety embarkation requirements
, along with a secondary, more precise, molecular RT-PCR test for those guests coming from high-risk areas, such as the United States. Those tests require lab work, which can take multiple days to process.
Norwegian Cruise Lines has also expressed interest
in requiring rapid testing for all guests before boarding.
Chiron still believes cruising is safe.
“Many of what doctors and scientists are suggesting, which frequently changes, the cruise lines were already doing. Enhancements to the protocols would surely include temperature checks, increased secondary medical screenings, COVID-19 tests, reduced occupancies, social distancing to start. Cruise lines will utilize all of the latest technologies to ensure their ships, passengers, crews and destinations are as safe as possible.”
Cruise lines are also reviewing onboard safety measures to slow any possible infection rates. Buffets are switching to a full-service model where servers plate the food, new medical-grade air filters are being installed, and cleaning routines are becoming more frequent. Many of these changes are expected to outlast the current pandemic.
Popular U.K.-based cruise focused vloggers Ben and David
have expressed concerns regarding how the new safety protocols will impact the relaxation focus that has made cruising such a popular vacation option. Chiron seconds these concerns, “Cruise lines need to remember they are floating hotels and resorts, not floating hospitals. Their goal is to keep coronavirus completely off the ships. However, the reality is, coronavirus will get on board somehow. The cruise lines need to be prepared to minimize disruptions and inconveniences to passengers, and remember, cruising must also be fun!”
During an August 26 meeting
, Canaveral Port Authority CEO Capt. John Murray stated that he doesn’t see cruises returning to Florida port until January but says, “I hope to be wrong.”