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13 Things You Won’t Be Able to Do on Cruises Anymore

As cruises do their utmost to avoid a repeat of early 2020, the world of cruising will look quite a bit different as ships set sail again.

cruise ship LOIC VENANCE/Getty Images

Get on board with these changes

The harrowing stories coming out of quarantined cruise ships last year made many people wonder when, or even if they would want to take a cruise again. However, since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “no-sail order” was altered in November of 2020 to a “Conditional Sailing Order,” (requiring that cruise ship operators take adequate safeguard), cruises have seen an uptick in interest once again.

As COVID-19 numbers drop across the country in line with the vaccine roll-out, most major cruise lines are gearing up to start test sailings in June or July. June 30, 2021, is a popular date that many cruise lines, including Celebrity Cruises, and Norwegian, are currently planning on restarting. Others are starting a little earlier in June, like Disney’s Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy and Windstar, or planning sailings for early July, like Royal Caribbean. As summer approaches, some smaller cruise lines have started to sail again, especially European lines and others that don’t operate in U.S. waters. Whenever, if ever, you choose to go on a cruise again, here are some things you and your fellow passengers won’t be able to do. Of course, these will vary quite a bit by cruise line and individual ship, but these are the general things experts think you’re likely to see change. Plus, check out these things polite people never do on cruises.

Mature couple on lounge chair on cruise shipDavid Sacks/Getty Images

Go maskless (unless you’re vaccinated)

As we inch toward herd immunity (70-85 percent vaccinated) it seems likely that face coverings, at least in some circumstances, are most likely going to be a reality for a long time. But the latest CDC guidelines indicate that on cruise ships and under certain circumstances, fully vaccinated guests and crew members may not be required to wear one. The recommendation states that on ships where at least 95 percent of both crew and guests are fully vaccinated, the cruise ship operators may not require masks, or even social distancing measures. On the other hand, if you’re on a ship that doesn’t meet that 95 percent minimum, cruise ship operators might designate vaccinated sections of the ship, where masks are not required. As we are finding with more and more activities that involve other people, getting vaccinated (if you’re able to) isn’t just an important step to curb the spread of the virus, it’s also the easiest way to fully enjoy yourself in public again. Here’s why you should get the COVID-19 vaccine, even if you’ve recovered from the virus.

Cruise ship cabin...John Greim/Getty Images

Enter your cabin right away

The boarding process will likely be a little different than cruisers remember. For one thing, boarding will probably be staggered so that all passengers aren’t boarding, or exiting, the ship at the same time. And Dr. Terika Haynes, owner of Dynamite Travel adds that once you get on the ship, you might not be able to go to your room immediately. “Staterooms will probably undergo more of a thorough cleaning between sailings, including steaming of mattresses, sanitation tablets, etc.,” she explains. Consider taking a trip on the most trusted cruise line in America.

Beach sun loungers and sunshadesonfilm/Getty Images

Go on full shore excursions

For many cruisers, the shore excursions are the best part of the vacation. But unfortunately, they will likely be seriously limited for the foreseeable future—if they happen at all. After all, the last thing cruise companies want to do is infect the population of a port that’s hosting them—and some ports, which don’t want that either, might not allow cruise ships to dock. And on the flip side, someone living there could infect a ship passenger, rendering all of the ship’s safety protocols irrelevant. Some destinations are already proposing measures to limit cruise traffic when the industry is up and running again. Some cruise lines, for their part, are requiring passengers to stay with a group of passengers, “keeping the ship’s safety “bubble” intact,” rather than going off on their own, according to travel journalist David Yeskel, aka The Cruise Guru.

“There may be reduced options for tours at ports, and passengers will likely have to practice safety measures at the locations they visit,” says Edgar Arroyo, president of travel rental company SJD Taxi. “It’s likely that requirements will vary widely between ports, and passengers may find themselves having to comply with differing guidelines in different locations.”

It’s possible that at some destinations, only fully vaccinated passengers will be able to disembark. In addition, “cruise lines may start out with sailings that only go to their private islands,” Dr. Haynes says. “I also predict that stays at the private island may be longer. Instead of just staying for hours or for the day, more itineraries may feature overnight stays at the private islands until the world fully opens back up.” Here’s what you need to know about how not to get sick on a cruise ship.

PANAMA-HEALTH-VIRUS-CRUISEMAURICIO VALENZUELA/Getty Images

Board without a health screening

Yes, you’re usually required to provide some health information before boarding a cruise. But during and after COVID, health and safety check-ins will likely be dialed up to 11. Passengers will have to answer detailed health questionnaires, undergo temperature screenings, and even get a COVID test on some cruise lines—and if they don’t meet the health requirements, they won’t be allowed to board. Dr. Haynes even suggests that some aspects of check-in or check-out could go virtual to ensure an easier, less crowded process. Cruise ship crew members are already being required to undergo routine screenings and testing. These are 14 things that could stay virtual forever.

man getting vaccinated before going on a cruiseGeber86/Getty Images

Board without being vaccinated

For the majority of cruise providers, vaccine mandates are now a reality. They may not affect every cruise line, but several lines (including big hitters like Norwegian Cruise Lines and Celebrity Cruises) have announced that they require both passengers and crew to be fully vaccinated at least two weeks before the departure date.

However, due to both Florida and Texas (both prime cruise port locations) recently banning companies from requiring proof of vaccination to provide service, some cruise lines (like Norwegian) have indicated they may skip those states altogether, and others have walked back their vaccine requirements. Although Royal Caribbean still strongly recommends passengers get vaccinated before cruising, guests are now no longer required to show proof of vaccination to board. Of course, unvaccinated guests will still have to undergo COVID-19 testing and follow other safety procedures, such as masking up and adhering to distancing guidelines. The only exception to the new policy is for those boarding a ship to Alaska. If our most northerly state is your destination, Royal Caribbean still requires guests over 16 to be fully vaccinated, and after August 1, guests older than 12 must be fully vaccinated too. The majority of cruise lines are still operating only with mandatory vaccine requirements. The decisions were not only based on public health responsibility and customer feedback (as more people felt safer cruising with vaccinated passengers and crew), but also on requirements from countries that cruises routinely visit. Many destinations on popular sailing itineraries are requiring vaccinations to disembark, which is an extra incentive to get the jab. Here are more things vaccinated people will be able to do.

Suitcases prepared next to a pier at sea to board a passenger shipJose A. Bernat Bacete/Getty Images

Bring your luggage on board

Of course, you’ll still be able to take luggage on board with you. You just might have to part ways with it before you board the ship, similar to the way you do on a plane, so that it can undergo a sanitation process. “Travelers’ luggage may be immediately disinfected at check-in/embarkation,” Dr. Haynes says. There’s even been rumblings that passengers will have to hand over the clothes that they boarded in for a deep cleaning on some ships!

empty cruise ship dining roomView Pictures/Getty Images

Pack bars and restaurants

You’re advised against doing this on land, either, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Ships, in general, will be less crowded than usual; Arroyo predicts that ships will operate at 60 to 70 percent capacity. “This means that cruises will be less crowded, so that passengers can practice safe distancing measures,” he says. Even on ships that reach the 95 percent vaccine threshold who decide to relax regulations for guests and crew, it’s likely that capacity will still be reduced. “You may not be able to enjoy restaurants, theaters, bars, kids’ areas, etc., with the same amount of people as done in the past,” Dr. Haynes says. “[These spaces] will have a reduced maximum occupancy to allow for social distancing.” Here are some more ways restaurants will be different in the future.

Dining Room Buffet aboard the luxury abstract cruise shipMarina113/Getty Images

Eat at buffets

It’s no secret that buffets, a hallmark of cruises, aren’t the most hygienic. Cruise passengers for the foreseeable future won’t be able to serve their own food, to reduce potential germ spread. “Some companies will completely eliminate the buffet concept,” Dr. Haynes says. “Others will still offer buffet options where the staff will serve you the food instead of you serving yourself.” Arroyo adds that mealtimes might be staggered, so you won’t be able to eat whenever you want. Plus, find out some things you won’t be able to do on airplanes anymore.

modern toilet signcezars/Getty Images

Use public bathrooms

Cruise lines will likely encourage you to stick to using the bathrooms in your rooms, Arroyo says. He says that “whenever possible,” passengers will be encouraged not to use bathrooms in public areas. Crew members will be required to use private bathrooms as well. However, “there may be more sinks made available so that passengers can regularly wash their hands,” and hand sanitizer will be widely available. Washing your hands is definitely one of the best ways to stay healthy on a cruise.

Comedian standing on stage pointing towards audience, rear viewMike Powell/Getty Images

Attend packed indoor shows

Sadly, concerts and live theater will be one of the last things to return as we adjust to a post-COVID-19 world. While Yeskel asserts that “indoor shows will go on” on cruise ships, the theaters will likely have a vastly reduced capacity and spaced seating. That means that you may not be able to just pop into one. “For entertainment shows, cruise lines may move to a lottery type of system or one where passengers have to make reservations rather than just being able to walk up,” Dr. Haynes elaborates. Here’s why one cruise lover won’t stop taking cruises despite the virus.

chefs in the galley on a cruise shipJames D. Morgan/Getty Images

Attend galley tours

Now galley tours are a cruise activity that might be gone for good (or at least the foreseeable future), says Yeskel. “For many cruise guests, touring the ship’s galley (kitchen) has always been a free and fascinating view into the logistics, equipment, and methods used to produce all the delicious cuisine served aboard,” he says. But around COVID times, he says you’ll likely have to forego this experience: “The galley will be off-limits to all but necessary personnel.”

Low angle view of girl climbing steps in cruise ship against skyCavan Images/Getty Images

Grab whatever equipment you want

Amenities on cruise ships will not be widely available the way they used to, especially when it comes to items that multiple people might touch over the course of the cruise. Arroyo predicts that shared equipment, like for activities, will “only be available on request instead of being made freely available. For example, passengers may have to request gym mats or tennis rackets that have to be sanitized before.”

Handshakewebphotographeer/Getty Images

Shake hands

Gone are the days of shaking hands with your cruise’s captain or any crew members, at least for the time being. However, that doesn’t mean you won’t still be able to meet them! Yeskel has found that Windstar Cruises in particular has come up with a cool alternative to hand-shaking. On this cruise line, which has suspended all sailings through June 2021, “crew will use a new ‘Windstar Wave’ hand signal:  a ‘W’ made with thumbs and index fingers,” he says. “Guests, of course, will be encouraged to respond in kind.” Next, find out more ways cruises will change after coronavirus.

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Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a Staff Writer for RD.com who has been writing since before she could write. She graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English and has been writing for Reader's Digest since 2017. In spring 2017, her creative nonfiction piece "Anticipation" was published in Angles literary magazine.