By Simon & Susan Veness
Now, where were we when we were so rudely interrupted by COVID-19? Ah yes – cruise memories and the best of all things sea-going. That seems like a lifetime ago.
Amazingly, it is only just over a month since we were reporting on cruising’s struggles to avoid the worst effects of the coronavirus, an unwitting punchbag in a media firestorm of stories that seemed to make ships out to be the villains of the piece.
But, to coin a phrase, that was then and this is now. And now is where we start to look ahead and try to figure out what the cruise world will look like once we can start travelling again. And we WILL be able to venture forth once more; it’s just a question of when.
The more pressing matter will be the ‘how’ of what our favourite holiday pursuit will have to do to regain its former glories.
Just as the business of taking a flight changed irrevocably in the wake of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, so taking a cruise is highly likely to look extremely different in the post-COVID landscape. And you know what? That’s probably a good thing.
Already, with every ship currently laid up by health concerns, the cruise companies of the world are actively investigating new procedures, practices and equipment for regaining their position as the glamour option of the travel industry.
The bottom line is that any closed system like a ship (or a school, cinema or hotel) is at risk from an infection becoming an endemic problem. It simply has a higher chance of taking hold and spreading in that kind of environment.
This is nothing new to the cruise world. It has fought a long and largely valiant battle against the recurring norovirus during cold and flu season each year, and it has already upped the ante in terms of attempting to forestall outbreaks and treating them efficiently when they occur.
But our maritime institutions have never faced anything quite like this current pandemic and its seeming ever-present assault on our way of life. It was no surprise when the cruise lines all announced a widespread cessation of operations in mid-March, unable to stem this particular tide.
There was no way to sugar-coat it – anywhere that put large numbers of people in close proximity was liable to a high incidence of this particular infection, and there was no immediate way to wipe it out.
So, the health and safety gurus at Royal Caribbean and Carnival; Cunard and P&O; Silversea and Seabourn; all the lines larger than your average pontoon boat, have each gone back to the metaphorical drawing board and are actively re-evaluating their boarding procedures and onboard hygiene practices.
And, with an industry that prides itself on being ahead of the curve, you can be sure they will be looking not just at equipping themselves to deal with the current situation but also against future outbreaks and other situations that might exploit our mighty floating palaces.
What this new reality is likely to be we can only guess at for the moment, but it is almost certain to include more stringent pre-boarding health screening, fewer – if any – buffets on board, and more efficient hand-washing stations (like the superb Meritech automated systems that Disney Cruise Line has in its kid’s clubs). Reduced capacity is also possible in some instances.
Just as some countries of the world require certificates of vaccination for you to be able to visit them, so cruise lines may well demand inoculations against the current scourge, and its ilk.
Our friend and veteran cruise writer Gary Buchanan has also detailed this – and more – in an excellent long-form report for the Telegraph, which you can see on this link.
Of course, all this is merely speculation at the moment, albeit informed conjecture, based on what we are already hearing in other parts of the tourist-related world, such as the Disney theme parks, where they acknowledge changes will have to be made. Airlines, too, will have to face this basic fact of future travel, but it is one they are well equipped to handle in this modern, mobile world.
What it all boils down to is that the future of cruising (and flying, and travelling by train, etc) is going to be a much more health-conscious and empathetic one. We have seen some wonderful gestures of support and community spirit from the likes of P&O, Carnival and others, despite their lifeblood having been switched off.
They have also dealt with immense challenges of logistics and port operations, with some ships having to contend with major diplomatic channels in order to either get back to port or be able to disembark passengers (see this story of the Azamara Pursuit for an amazing tale of dogged determination and triumph).
In the meantime, Fred. Olsen, Hurtigruten and Windstar have all donated large amounts of foodstuffs to various charities in recent weeks, while Carnival and Saga have offered ships as floating hospitals, and American Queen Steamboat Company and Victory Cruise Lines have proposed housing quarantined US military personnel.
Cruise lines have also played their part in sending out uplifting messages in creative ways, notably by presenting light-up displays of support and hope on their vessels. Fred. Olsen even created a special socially-distanced version of the song Heal The World by various individual members of their entertainment staff (you can watch it here) and other lines have created ‘virtual’ cruises to keep their visitors amused and entertained while we sit under stay-at-home orders.
The fact is, cruising is a wonderfully proactive and homogenous business. It knows how much it relies on the safety of its crew and passengers, and it is anxious to up the ante in that respect, providing a caring, thoughtful and, above all, positive setting in which to enjoy a memorable holiday.
Things will certainly be changing, but the basic idea of a cruise as a truly memorable experience, one that cossets its guests in high style and service, will remain. And we will ALL be able to enjoy that experience again in future.
What is your take on the current COVID-19 situation as it has affected cruising? Give us your thoughts in the Comments section below.