In an interview with Cruise Critic, Carnival Corporation CEO Arnie Donald said, “It’s too soon to tell when ships will return to service. If we let the science community and the medical community do their thing in the coming weeks, there’ll be more alignment around what the most effective protocols are to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”
Here’s my take, that’s based on what we already know. Among the most useful sources of information that are already available is the May issue of Wired magazine that published the story, “27 Days in Tokyo Bay: What Happened on the Diamond Princess?”(https://www.wired.com/story/diamond-princess-coronavirus-covid-19-tokyo-bay/). This is must reading for any cruise enthusiasts trying to decide what it will take for them to resume cruising.
Upgrading their ships and health practices is probably the ONLY way to induce sizable numbers of experienced cruisers to resume cruising until vaccines are widely available. It is these upgrades to which Carnival’s CEO was referring. With what we already know about screening, social distancing, ventilation, dining, staffing, contact-tracing and insurance, we can predict many of the health and safety mitigations that cruise lines should meet before experienced cruisers return.
Here is my take on what the data relating to some popular ships tell us.
All the data in this article come from the Berlitz Cruising & Cruise Ships (Douglas Ward, 2020 Edition). Sometimes called the cruise advisor’s bible, this book is published annually in hardcopy and eBook formats, and is available on Amazon for less than $20. It tells you all you want to know about the ships serving the U.S. cruise market.
These ships represent a broad swath of the cruise market. All the ships have been awarded at least 3+ Berlitz Stars© and were built within the past decade. In the sections that follow the table, we discuss the mitigations the cruise lines probably need to do to protect their guests and crew from Covid-19.
WHICH SHIPS WILL BE THE FIRST TO CRUISE?
If you go to a first-class hospital emergency room for any ailment today, you are immediately given a test for Covid-19, your temperature and vitals are recorded, and you’re asked to complete a brief questionnaire on Covid-19 symptoms and contacts you have had. When the test results are in (usually in less than 30 minutes), a doctor or RN determines whether you should be admitted to a regular hospital ward, sent home, or treated for Covid-19.
Since the consequences of Covid-19 are so dire for those over 60 (which includes most cruisers), an increasing number of health authorities are suggesting that all cruise ships emulate hospital emergency room screenings for all passengers and crew. They favor both guests and crew being required to present proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken within 72-hours of the ship’s departure; or that all traveling on the ship have a Covid-19 test administered on-the-spot before they’re admitted to the cruise terminal. The tests would be offered at no cost at a kiosk outside the terminal with the results being available in less than an hour. Persons could also show up the day before sailing to get their Covid-19 clearance or get them before they leave home. No guests, crew, vendors or talent will be permitted inside the terminal until the results are in. The health certificates, which are being called Medical Passports in some jurisdictions, are already being required by some airlines and airports for all international travelers.
When guests, crew and others stay on the ship for multiple or lengthy voyages, the ship’s medical officer should be responsible for repeat tests and screenings. These activities will be more complex on the larger ships, but they are not nearly as complicated with as the immigration procedures that all cruise ships have been following for years.
Social distancing is affected by the numbers of guests and crew onboard, and the Passenger Space Ratio. This ratio is calculated by dividing the number of guests on the ship by the ship’s total tonnage. Not surprisingly, the highest ratios are on the ships with the most expensive fares. The Seabourn Encore luxury small ship has a Passenger Space Ratio of 67.2, which Berlitz says makes it among the most spacious ships afloat, and Premium small ship Oceania Marina, and the premium midsize ship, the Disney Wonder have not-too-shabby ratios of 52.1 and 48.5. The least expensive ships have much lower ratios of 41.3 and 41.1. To make these numbers more meaningful, the Seabourn Encore is close to being twice as spacious as the Symphony of the Seas and Niew Amsterdam. You’ll be reminded of this fact every time you’re in a line to leave the ship, you seek a decent spot on the pool deck, or you enter one of the main dining rooms.
The easiest way to increase the Passenger Space Ratio is not to fill the ship. This permits mass-market ships (the trade name for Large Resort Ships and Mid-Size Ships) to enjoy the same ratios as their more prestigious kin, but revenues will suffer. This will inevitably lead to fare increases or charging for amenities (the trade name for free wine and cocktails, free internet, butler service, etc.) that may previously have been provided free of charge.
(To be continued next week when we’ll discuss Ventilation, Dining, Staffing, Contact Tracing, and Insurance).
Steven Frankel, Ed. D, is a Signature Travel Expert, a Trip Designer with Trip Advisor’s new $199 RECO consulting service, and the owner of Cruises & Cameras, LLC. He specializes in planning cruises on small ships. He and his wife have enjoyed 40 cruises on ships that carry fewer than 1300 guests. Having spent 13 years as a travel consultant, Dr. Frankel is now enrolled in a sequence of epidemiology courses taught (remotely) by the Bloomberg School of Public Health at The Johns Hopkins University. He looks forward to consulting with to both cruisers and cruise lines on how best to deal with the realities of Covid-19. He’s the author of 13 books, the newest of which is How to Plan Your Next & BEST Cruise (Amazon, 2019).