If you book one of the December Australian cruises we featured a few weeks ago, your cruise experience may take a few different twists. Here are how things may go.
Before You Leave
- When you place your deposit, your confirmation will notify you that a Health Passport number will be required, and the fare will include an inexpensive COVID-19 insurance policy. MSC has been charging about $25 a day for theirs.
- When you make the final payment in August, you will be sent a scannable Health Passport QR code. The first part of your ID code will always identify you; the last few characters will be added in real-time after your vaccination record is checked and verified with a selfie, fingerprint and State Department passport. Health Passport QR codes are able to be generated by a smartphone and in kiosks that will be similar to those used in airports for Global Entry.
- 3-5 days before leaving, you will be asked to take one of the new Rapid Tests which will use your saliva or your breath to see if you’re infected. The results will be available in a few minutes and automatically entered into your Health Passport record.
- When you go to the airport or the ship, you will once again take a Rapid Test. A kiosk will be used to verify all your test and vaccination data, confirm your identity, and issue your boarding card. All this will happen in less time than it takes to read this.
On the Ship
- Every morning, you will leave a signed and dated test strip in one of the public areas on the ship with the results of your latest saliva test. These data will be added to your Health Passport. If a result is missing or you test Positive, your keycard will be disabled, and the Medical Office will give you a more sensitive swab test within 30 minutes that will be processed in the ship’s onboard test laboratory.
- If you, or any other guest or crew member, test Positive on the second test, you’ll immediately be moved to an isolation cabin until you can be quarantined or treated onshore. Your medical insurance will compensate you for the days of the trip that you miss and any medical, quarantine, or emergency evacuation costs that you incur.
- If you’re visiting ports where the infection rates are low, you will be free to explore on your own and take private tours. When you disembark, you’ll take a breathalyzer or saliva test to confirm that you are not a danger to port inhabitants.
- It’s too early to know the rules that will determine masking and social distancing. It may be required for several days at the beginning of the cruise or after visiting a port, but these rules may be relaxed after all the guests and crew members have tested Negative for several days.
- All staterooms and crew quarters on the ship will have to be compliant with the latest U.S. and European ventilation requirements. On older ships especially, this may mean that all interior cabins may have to be kept vacant; and window-view staterooms may have to be modified so that they can be ventilated with air coming directly from outside the ship.
- In the late evening hours, expect to see cleaning robots doing “deep cleanings of public areas and hallways.” Some cruise lines may opt to keep some balcony staterooms and suites vacant so that they can deep clean the empty ones when they’re not being used.
- We have probably seen the end of buffets and self-service in dining areas for a while. Wait staff and kitchen workers will probably be masked for several years, unless an improvement in vaccinations makes them close to 100% effective.
- Behind the scene, staff from the ship’s testing lab will sample the wastewater flowing through the lines connecting toilets in the rooms to the ship’s water purification facility. This “survey testing” will allow them to identify sewage that includes traces of coronavirus and trace these to specific decks on the ship.
Before & After the Cruise
- Expect to see charter flights replace scheduled flights from many gateway cities and destinations. Right now, scheduled flights don’t provide the levels of service and safety that cruise lines can offer if they book entire flights. They can augment the airline crew with additional staff and come close to replicating the cruise line experience on the flights. Guests from several cruise lines may be offered the same flights when schedules coincide.
- Expect to see more pre-and post-cruise extensions being offered by the cruise lines that provide the same level of service and safeguards that guests enjoy on the cruise.
What If Guests or Crew Members Refuse Vaccinations?
Judging from what is happening, the simple answer is that guests and crew members won’t be permitted anywhere near cruise ships or aircraft if they’re not vaccinated.
- Claims that mandatory vaccinations are infringing on our freedom will receive short shrift. Teachers in most states are required to have current TB vaccinations, motorists must meet vision standards, and no children can attend public schools unless they have been vaccinated for smallpox and other diseases.
- Many travel businesses cannot survive another round of closures. Also, who in the travel industry will be able to afford liability insurance premiums, if unvaccinated people are permitted to board ships and planes?
- For that matter, how long will taxpayers fund free COVID-19 care to people who remain unvaccinated?
Recent surveys have shown that there are more people who won’t cruise unless safeguards are implemented and all people on board the ship are vaccinated – than there are people who will refuse to cruise if these safeguards are in place.
If you think of it, the shift from formalwear to country club casual, and from hard suitcases to roll-away duffels, may be more disturbing to many cruise veterans than these changes that will permit the cruise industry to prosper.
Dr Steve Frankel and his wife have sailed on most of the Seabourn, Silversea, Crystal, Azamara, Oceania, Regent, and Windstar ships on more than 40 cruises. For the past six months, he has been writing a weekly column, Point-to-Point, for Travel Research Online (TRO) that’s shared with more than 70,000 travel advisors and industry leaders. Steve is the CEO of two companies: Travel Intelligence Associates (TIA), and Cruises & Cameras, LLC (C&C). TIA provides writing, consulting and White Box services. C&C specializes in small ship cruises and is associated with LUXE Travel (a FROSCH company) and the Signature Travel Network. Steve has a doctorate in Educational Research and Marketing from Indiana University, He is one of the first travel advisors to complete a five- course sequence of courses in epidemiology from Johns Hopkins University. In his former life, he was the director of several organizations specializing in public policy studies. He’s the author of 13 books and a former Contributing Editor of The Washingtonian magazine. His email address is Steve@CruisesAndCameras.com.