As cruise lines are increasingly being given the green light to resume sailing once again around the world, excitement is undoubtedly high. But there's no denying the COVID-19 pandemic has brought on countless changes and ripple effects throughout the industry, even after some restrictions have eased. Thankfully, hope is on the horizon.
In a landmark sailing in late June, Celebrity Edge became the first cruise ship to sail from a U.S. port in 15 months.
"For too long, we've had to encourage one another with dreams of 'someday' returning to being together again," Brian Abel, Senior Vice President of Hotel Operations for Celebrity Cruises, said in a statement. "Now, as the world opens up, and we can gather and enjoy our families and friends on an amazing cruise vacation, 'someday' is here."
From capacity limits and vaccination requirements to continued health and safety measures, we've got a roundup of what groups could expect a return to cruising to look like—at least for now.
DEMAND IS HIGH
Now that the number of people returning to travel has been on a steady uphill climb, it's vital to remember that you may have to adjust how (and when) you plan a cruise for your groups. Anticipate demand to remain high and make plans to build in extra time to book groups on their desired cruises. "The early bird gets the worm" has never been more relevant, especially with capacity aboard most ships still being limited in some way. The good news? Deals and discounts abound, so your groups could be in for a real treat.
VACCINES ARE TOP OF MIND
Many cruise lines are requiring crew members to be fully inoculated against COVID-19, offering safety for those staff members in addition to peace of mind for those traveling onboard, especially as the Delta variant spreads. Almost every cruise line has also required U.S. passengers to show proof of vaccination (with the exception of ships departing from Florida ports at the time of this article). Embarking on a cruise with a fully vaccinated status is recommended, as it's likely to afford more flexibility and opportunity in terms of areas of the ship groups could access and which excursions they're able to enjoy (and how). Those who are permitted to travel unvaccinated are likely to still be met with requirements related to masks, testing and social distancing.
KEEPING IT CLEAN
Though some more aggressive cleaning procedures have been streamlined, many cruise lines are still prioritizing keeping things squeaky clean. Royal Caribbean, for example, touts ships with a robust HVAC system which continuously supplies 100% fresh, filtered air from outdoors to all indoor spaces, in addition to the utilization of evolved sanitization protocols using EPA-certified disinfectants and techniques like electrostatic fogging. Celebrity has said even though hand sanitizer stations have always been available throughout their ships, they've now increased that number by 75%.
Access to medical professionals onboard most ships has increased, offering guests adequate care in the event that they need medical attention. Anticipate groups needing to do some extra due diligence before their trip, such as completing a health questionnaire prior to boarding.
CONTACTLESS IS STILL KEY
Cruise line mobile apps are more robust than ever, providing groups with varying capabilities like expedited boarding, the ability to skip lines, book excursions, order food and beverage, get the latest must-know information and even access their rooms. However, groups could now expect some services that were initially put on hold to minimize contact—room service, spa treatments, dining, entertainment, etc.—to return. Anyone ready for a margarita?
Keep in mind that most cruise lines are complying with requirements where local government regulations differ. Of course, it's also important to remember that restrictions and regulations are still changing rapidly and vary per cruise line and even per ship. For the most up-to-date information, connect directly with your chosen cruise operator.
Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for Groups Today.
This article originally appeared in the Sept/Oct 2021 issue of Groups Today.