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Will the cruise industry (of all people) lead us back to safe travel?

I know there is a strong bias against cruising on this board, and I’m not looking to change that (although most of the negativity comes from folks who have not cruised). But, as an industry, they have been pretty much shut down. They have everything to gain by doing it right when reopening. The same thing that makes a cruise ship a ripe environment fo the spread of a contagion might actually work in their favor-a closed environment, limited interaction with the “outside world”, etc. So, several competing lines have gotten together and drafted guidelines and procedures. You can find them online but the main points are:
Taking aggressive measures to prevent SARS-CoV-2 from entering a ship through robust education, screening and testing of both crew and passengers before embarkation;
Reducing transmission via air management strategies and enhanced sanitation practices;
Implementing detailed plans to address positive infection on board, including contingencies for onboard treatment, isolation and rapid evacuation and repatriation;
Closely controlling shore excursions;
Enhanced protection for crew members.

A great emphasis on pre-board testing. The idea (obviously) if you have COVID you are not sailing, passenger or crew member. Once you are on board further mitigation including excursions in a “bubble” of sorts.

We enjoy cruising. I won’t be the first on board but I’ll be watching this with great interest.

Posted by
203 posts

My small ship cruise to Greenland (from Iceland) was cancelled with the option to re-book for early August, 2021. I did, since otherwise I would have lost my $1,000 deposit. Assuming vaccines become available and there are no longer Covid19 cases anywhere in the world by next summer, the question becomes would I feel safe in an enclosed bubble of a ship or, for that matter, a RS tour bus. I don't know yet. I just want to see my family in the US!
With a cruise ship (I sailed with Hurtigruten a couple years ago in Norway ) my concern was norovirus, and at that time there were a number of highly publicized cases on larger ships. I was hyper- vigilante at the buffets (not touching serving utensil handles, etc) and I have been obsessive about not touching door handles and railings forever. The ship also had ubiquitous bottles of hand sanitizer and you were required to take a squirt upon re- entering the ship and prior to entering the dining room.
I think once it is deemed "safe" to travel I will start to do so- but each form of travel brings it own risk. I wouldn't stay in a hotel or air b&b now, without knowing what kinds of ventilation systems/issues there might be. I am not a fan of testing as a guarantee of my fellow traveler's- it's only a snapshot of that moment in time they took the test. I think it's going to take me awhile to travel as I was once so blithely fortunate to do, and just hope I am not too old by then!

Posted by
2982 posts

I don't think the cruising industry will be the poster child for a return to general leisure travel. Their efforts are aimed at mitigation, certainly, but all the testing and restrictions on activities they say they will introduce won't prevent cases of COVID on board. The recent European cruise that ended with 8 positive pax and one positive crew is a case in point.
Rapid tests, even the newest ones, still have too high false negative rates. And allowing tests up to 5 days before boarding is ludicrous (and useless) as far as preventing infected pax from boarding. Also, these cruises, at least at first will come with a lot of restrictions which will turn off all but the most rabid cruisers.

I enjoy cruising very much. But I have no desire to sail again until the pandemic is under control through vaccines and effective treatments, and the rate of spread has significantly decreased. I'll be doing land vacations to carefully selected locations long before that happens.

Posted by
3789 posts

These measures discussed by the 'big 5' of the cruising companies are based on the currently successful cruising framework of MSC which is a private shipping and cruise line. They only have a few ships sailing, but after starting with one there are now 2 or 3 making weekly cruises successfully in the Med.
I like it when success comes from independents, but hate it when the louder voice of the big guys make you think its all their idea. Give the credit where it is due.
There are laos several small ship cruise companies that are out there sailing successfully, but as they are too small to be called 'cruises', they also are not credited.

Posted by
12596 posts

While admittedly not a cruiser (or not yet, anyway) I'm in Cjeans camp. All the precautions listed can't keep COVID off a ship if it has been brought abroad by an asymptomatic passenger: no fever, cough or other detectable symptoms and/or a false negative testing. A single infected passenger could ruin the cruise for a host of others (isolation, rapid evacuation and repatriation) they may spread the virus to while being able to enjoy their own holiday without interruption.

But "a closed environment, limited interaction with the “outside world” would be another huge deterrent for us personally. By NO means do I mean to knock the enthusiastic cruisers on our forums - IMHO, their money; their trip - but travel in a controlled, sterile bubble, if that's even possible, doesn't sound like a whole lot of fun? For the majority of leisure travelers, isn't exposure to, and interaction with, a bigger world the whole point of packing the bag?

(edited)

Posted by
1909 posts

Closely controlling shore excursions;

For me the beauty of a cruise isn't the onboard activities but a new port everyday. I've only taken a cruiseline's excursion once, so as long as their are restrictions hampering my ability to explore each port on my own, I have no interest in a cruise. For that matter, I'm perfectly willing to be patient on all forms of travel until it can be done mask free, social distancing free, etc.

Posted by
21243 posts

The other issue is whether the ports wants the cruise ships depositing thousand of passengers on their land. I think that will be a major problem especially for areas like the Caribbean.

Posted by
2080 posts

The shore excursion part is the issue. If you cannot interact with a country on shore excursions, what is the point?
Also, remember it is not just the cruise company in control--watch the report from last night's 60 Minutes about how an evacuation of a cruise ship was handled--news flash, it was shockingly bungled.

Posted by
2486 posts

Lots of good thoughts, thanks. Testing will be crucial and it has to be real time-when you are boarding not days prior-and has to be reliable. The current tests have an unacceptable false negative rate. But, the demand is there and companies continue to work on getting this better. Remember, tests like these usually take years to develop and we’ve gotten this far in 7 months. Excursions-there have been cruises that kept passengers from disembarking except on specific Cruise Ship organized excursions. One family that violated this were not permitted to re-board. We are among many veteran cruisers who love just staying on board for the most part. Sitting on my balcony reading as I look at the scenery in Alaska, working out or taking a spa treatment when the ship is largely empty-those are great days for me. This is a large industry facing an existential crisis. The demand for cruising was growing rapidly before the pandemic and many people are still wanting to cruise. If the industry gets this right it will help travel in general so I’m following this closely and dismayed that the airline industry does not seem to have a similar plan.

Posted by
267 posts

I have been on one one cruise and while I found it delightful, it certainly had its limitations. We chose to take a Mediterranean Cruise on our first trip to Europe. We felt it would be a good way to be exposed to different cultures while not having to be concerned with travel between destinations. That cruise served that purpose as well as giving us not only the desire to see more of Europe, but also the confidence we needed to head out on our own. For us the big down side was the time constraints in each port. We had to be back on board at a predetermined time, usually 6pm, which did not allow as much time as we would have liked. This meant that we did not have the chance to see the cities in much depth and certainly not after dark. As far as relying on cruise line exertions, we found exploring the cities on our own more satisfying than the couple of exertions that we did take. We had decided that if we were to take another cruise we would go the more independent route when on land. Just my thoughts, but I commend the cruise lines for thinking outside the box in order to bring travel back safely.

Posted by
4770 posts

We've cruised a lot and enjoyed it, lucky to have finished a long one last winter just before the virus hit hard. Like Alan, we enjoy a lot about the ships and being at sea. And I agree that a cruise isn't a great way to "see" a country or major city, though it can whet the appetite for longer land-based trips.

But I also agree with CJean and others, the cruise lines will have a very hard time implementing truly effective anti-infection measures without undoing a lot of what makes this an enjoyable way to travel. They have spent decades dealing with norovirus, colds, and flu, with enough success to fill their ships. But the risk/reward calculation changes with Covid which can be so much more serious and even deadly. We don't see cruising again until we and enough others have received a reasonably effective vaccine. I doubt if that will be sooner than 2022.

Meanwhile, if the cruise lines jump the gun they'll be risking much more negative publicity than they got even this past winter and spring. Some of them may not be able to stay afloat (so to speak) until it's really safe to cruise again.

Posted by
3789 posts

The Sea Dream is under the minimum 250 passengers that are controlled as 'cruise ships', and some, like river cruise ships have been sailing for some time. MSC cruise ships started back in the Med in July or August, and set the standards for most of the plans for the rest of the cruise lines, but despite their efforts, there have been occasional reports of positive covid results.
One has to remember that the incubation time can be up to and sometimes over 2 weeks, so it is unsurprising that these turn positive on board though contracted numerous days prior to boarding.
I have cancelled my April and May cruise bookings - not because of on board issues, but that April was due to be 3 weeks and also in the Middle East where numbers are too high for my liking. Add a lengthy flight to Dubai, and it just no longer seems a good idea. Fingers crossed for a Baltic 10day in September.

Posted by
3789 posts

Thanks Kathy. I will admit, however, that I am willing to walk away from the cruise credit I am trying to 'spend' and just accept it as not meant to be. It is a small covid price to pay.

Posted by
12550 posts

FROM THE CDC

The incubation period for COVID-19 is thought to extend to 14 days, with a median time of 4-5 days from exposure to symptoms onset. One study reported that 97.5% of persons with COVID-19 who develop symptoms will do so within 11.5 days of SARS-CoV-2 infection

Which is why its a good idea to get multiple tests when you have been in a higher risk situation; and wear a mask and keep your distance.

And here is some information on the tests which sort of says testing has its limitations:
https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/coronavirus-disease-2019-testing-basics

Might explain why the testing sites in my city sit empty most of the time. We have tons of capacity but no one is using them (other than those with symptoms that go the doctor or the hospital).

Posted by
4937 posts

I think vaccines will be what saves the cruise industry. Most likely once vaccines are available to significant numbers of our population, the cruise lines will likely require a vaccination cert in order to cruise. We are read to take a vaccine. Both Pfizer and Moderna have announced their vaccines will be available soon, once the government completes the final review.

Posted by
3789 posts

Given part of my weekly work, it does reinforce the need to take multiple tests; and sometimes even 14 days after the first, patient reports to be asymptomatic but positive by PCR...and often not able to state where they had contact. I expect the positives on board ship is not from avoiding due diligence.
I suspect the issue of a vaccine certificate will be like the cruisers who don't want to cruise while having to wear masks. Enough said. The certificate will also require some sort of currency date and many are stating the requirement of either 2 injections within a short period of time or a booster.
I may benefit from it as an essential hospital worker, but for all I know it may not be accessible to Canada in sufficient supply until late next year. I am not holding my breath.

Posted by
12550 posts

geovagriffith, I guess that means the Russian cruise ships will be first back in business

Posted by
4937 posts

Diane,
I don't believe it would be illegal for a cruise line to require proof of a vaccine. I believe they are now requiring a recent COVID-19 negative test to board.

I wonder if the airlines will require the vaccine, once it becomes widely available to the public. Ticketmaster is planning to require the vaccine prior to attending public events.

Posted by
12596 posts

I believe they are now requiring a recent COVID-19 negative test to
board.

But as evidenced from the article linked, even multiple tests weren't enough? The SeaDream 1 passengers were tested, "in advance of traveling to the ship and also before boarding the ship" as well as 4 days into the cruise, and were scheduled for yet another test that may or may not have occurred, depending on when virus infection was determined.

Based on countries which currently require yellow fever vaccinations for entry (usually depending on which country one is traveling from) I would guess that a COVID vaccination might easily become a legal requirement for boarding.

https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2020/preparing-international-travelers/yellow-fever-vaccine-and-malaria-prophylaxis-information-by-country

Posted by
4770 posts

Cruise lines certainly can require vaccines, and I can't imagine why they wouldn't if and when a vaccine is widely available. It would be the most basic precaution, far more effective than a negative test.

Posted by
246 posts

It’s going to be a slow painful process for the big ships. In the Carribean we have heard you can only leave the ship on a tour-yuk! They want testing, mask wearing and who knows how ship board entertainment will be handled. Viewing the soso shows on the tv is out of the question. We go on these sailing trips for affordable R and R since we live in Florida. No more cruising for us till life is normal. We have never taken European river cruises. They have small number of passengers and give tours at each stop. It may be a smoother transition proving each country let’s them stop.

Posted by
8 posts

I don't think so that Cruise trips will ever come back, or at least 5-7 years, to its glory days, all Thanks to Mr COVID 19. I have some travel agent friends in India, Hong Kong & Singapore and they all deal in Cruise Packages. All of them are now exploring other fields, in countries like UAE, more like desert tourism (and other segments), as even they feel that cruise tourism has taken a hit. I hope they are all wrong and after a successful vaccination, people might feel more confident, but still the road ahead is very dark :(

Posted by
2836 posts

There's no way we would get on one of these floating petri dishes, except maybe a river cruise. Definitely not a large ship.

Posted by
2982 posts

Yes, it was a false alarm, but the cruise was still cut short and the pax were still negatively impacted.

Posted by
12596 posts

Yep, that one false positive ruined the trip for everyone else. It's just one of any number of issues that have arisen with using testing and isolation "bubbles" to try and keep the industry operating.