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14 Ways Cruises Could Change Forever After Coronavirus

Bye-bye, buffets? From the end of a beloved tradition to the beginning of stricter safety measures, here’s what you might encounter on your next trip.

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What to know before you book

For those who are fans of cruises, the pandemic has put quite a wrench into summer adventuring. This is especially true since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ordered a no-sail order that’s in effect until at least July. But cruises won’t be docked forever—or maybe even for much longer. Carnival has started allowing bookings for August, and Annie Scrivanich, senior vice president of Cruise Specialists, says she’s been seeing favorable bookings for 2021 and into 2022. The bottom line seems to be that people who love cruises will continue to take them even after coronavirus. But that experience may look a little different for the foreseeable future. “Cruise lines have stated that when they sail, they will promote social distancing,” says Scrivanich. And that’s likely just the beginning. Here’s how cruises may change forever, according to travel experts.

Cruise passengers return to cruise shipsMariakray/Getty Images

Boarding will become much more complicated

Travel expert Lisa Niver has spent plenty of time aboard cruise ships. Not only is she a former senior assistant cruise director for Renaissance Cruises, but she also worked as a youth activities manager for Princess Cruises and a loyalty ambassador for Royal Caribbean. As we all start to think about the “new normal” of vacations, Niver predicts that boarding a cruise will be a tad more complicated. For starters, the new process will likely include a health questionnaire similar to those previously used for SARS, MERS, and norovirus. Cruise lines will also do their best to make sure you’re healthy before you step on board. “[They] will take people’s temperature before boarding, as many airlines are doing,” she predicts. “They may also use swabs or blood tests like the airlines.” Here’s how else flying could change after coronavirus.

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Masks may be required in certain settings

In addition to protecting passengers, cruises will also be thinking about how to keep their employees healthy, says Scrivanich. This is why she predicts that many crew members will wear masks or protective shields. This will be true whether they are serving poolside drinks or bringing food to your table or guest room. Passengers will also likely be required to wear masks in large settings. Of course, face masks are only effective if you’re using them properly. Make sure to avoid these 11 mistakes with your face mask.

After the RainJeff R Clow/Getty Images

If you get sick, you may not be able to leave

There is no official rule in place from the CDC regarding what to do with a sick passenger aboard a cruise ship, but Niver says it’s a matter that won’t be taken lightly. In fact, she predicts that cruise officials may require them to stay on board, in their room, until the sail has finished. To stay as healthy as possible, good hand hygiene is essential. These are the 15 diseases you can prevent just by washing your hands.

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Some cruises may invest in onboard clinics

Many cruise ships already have onboard health clinics. However, they are usually small and meant for minor injuries and the rare emergency. As we look ahead, though, many cruises could expand these services to include more doctors and, potentially, quarantine areas, according to Niver. Having a designated area where vacationers can report to can provide peace of mind to all travelers. It also makes it much easier to contain and treat the potential spread of COVID-19 and other illnesses.

Travelling to BrazilAlessandraRC/Getty Images

You may have to carry an immunity passport

If you’ve ever traveled to parts of Central or South America, you likely got a yellow fever vaccination to protect you against this mosquito-borne illness. After you get your shot from a doctor or a clinic, you’re given a “yellow card” for your passport that proves you are protected and able to board a plane to the destination in question. This is also true if you’re on a cruise ship that includes excursions to land in these countries. Within the next two years, Niver expects the same will happen with the COVID-19 vaccination, once there is one widely available for the public. Cruise ships (and airlines, for that matter), may begin to require this immunization for passengers. Check out these 10 things flight attendants won’t be allowed to do anymore.

Docked Cruise Ship 2Education Images/Getty Images

Cruises will likely be shorter

If a weeklong cruise through Europe is on your bucket list, it may stay there for a bit longer. While, technically speaking, you’re exposing yourself to potential germ spread whether you’re on a cruise for one day or for 10, people may feel more comfortable with shorter excursions rather than long ones. Plus, with a record rate of unemployment, many Americans may only be able to afford a shorter trip. That’s why Kevin Sheehan Jr., president of Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line, predicts an uptick in pint-sized journeys. “I believe that short cruises will be the trend of the future,” he says. “Travelers will seek ways to ease into cruising and traveling again while being somewhat hesitant to commit to longer vacations.” He adds that he’s “almost certain” that micro-cations will be more popular than multi-week adventures.

Before you book, make sure you know these 28 secrets cruise lines won’t tell you.

Close-Up Side View Of BuffetKhwanchai Sukkon / EyeEm/Getty Images

Buffets may be a thing of the past

Talk to anyone who’s been on a cruise and they’ll rave about the unlimited access to the overflowing, delicious buffets that are available nearly 24/7. Carving stations, omelets made-to-order, and all the desserts you can imagine are part of the fun of the experience. Sadly, Niver says it may be a thing of the past since it’s hard to control germs in this type of setting. Ordering off of a menu or placing your order via an app may be the new standard. In fact, some cruise lines, like Royal Caribbean, are already removing their buffets, at least temporarily.

If buffets do stick around, it’ll look different than before. “Perhaps there will still be a buffet, but each part will have a server so that there is no contamination of the food,” Niver says. “[Or] it will be individual servings at the buffet—more like a grab-and-go at a coffee shop.” On land, here are 10 ways your favorite restaurant might change after coronavirus.

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Advance reservations for dinner and entertainment will become the norm

For most cruise lines, advance reservations for dinners and shows are already part of the process. But looking ahead to the cruising industry in late 2020, 2021, and beyond, Scrivanich predicts this will become a more significant part of the experience. After all, to maintain social-distancing recommendations, there are only so many people who can be in one room at a time. This means limited capacity in every area of the ship. Though this may be a pain for those who want to see a specific performance on a specific night at a specific time, it’s a healthy way to have fun—but remain safe, too.

cruise Colin Anderson Productions pty ltd/Getty Images

“Knock and drop” will be more common

Already, Niver says hotels are doing contactless room service called “Knock and Drop.” As you can guess from the nickname, this is when you order food to your room, the hotel staff brings it, knocks at the door, and skedaddles. Niver says that those same tactics will likely be used on cruise ships, too. Though part of the luxury of staying away from your home is being waited on night and day, the pandemic may require a different type of distant hospitality. While we’re on the topic, these are the 10 things you probably won’t see in hotels anymore.

Couple Sitting on a Cruise Ship DeckSteve Mason/Getty Images

They will sail at 60 percent capacity

Many cruise lines are already announcing limited capacity when they do start sailing again. Niver predicts it will be around 60 percent or less across the board. If you read the CDC’s lengthy recommendations, it could easily be 50 percent if ships comply. And some passengers may be prohibited from booking a trip. Royal Caribbean recently announced that people over the age of 70 would not be allowed to buy a ticket unless they had a doctor’s note saying they were fit to travel and did not have “a severe, chronic medical condition.” This policy doesn’t look like it will change anytime soon.

Guest cabin suite interior aboard cruiseship Silver Spirit (Silversea Cruises).Holger Leue/Getty Images

More travelers will opt for family-sized suites

Whomever you board the ship with is part of your party, and therefore, you can be closer than six feet away from them. Thus, Niver predicts that couples, families, and friend groups will be more likely to opt for a family-sized suite to accommodate larger parties—and to have the ability to enjoy a private balcony without worrying about infection. Plus, your cabin will likely be one of the few places you won’t be required to wear a mask, so folks may spend more time inside than usual. By the way, these are the 6 times you have to wear a face mask—and the 3 times you don’t.

Cruise ship on hudson river new yorkImage Source/Getty Images

Domestic travel options will rise

Since many borders remain closed, international sailing isn’t an option yet. Other countries will likely be hesitant to let in new sets of tourists every few days for excursions and other activities. This requires additional screening every time you get off the ship (and back onto it), and some nations aren’t prepared for the influx of visitors or the accompanying risk. As a result, Niver predicts domestic options will become much more common. And since people will be hesitant to hop on a flight to then hop on a cruise ship, she says the cruise lines may stick to hubs like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Miami, and New York City. Not quite ready to get on a cruise but still want to get away? Check out 13 of the safest vacations you can take this summer.

Aerial View Of Cruise Ship Sailing On SeaDaniel Piraino / EyeEm/Getty Images

There will be fewer ships

According to a media conference call held in April, the CEO of Carnival Corporation, Arnold Donald, said that while cruises will bounce back, there will be far fewer options to choose from in the beginning. Much like airlines operating on a severely limited schedule, not all ships and not all time slots will return. This means fleets will be slow to ramp up and will likely test the waters in other countries that are ahead of the United States (like China) before sailing stateside.

Close-up of woman at home using laptop on tableWestend61/Getty Images

Cancellation and refund policies will be more flexible

More than ever, travelers want options. And they don’t want to be responsible for a full ticket if they are suddenly diagnosed with COVID-19. Scrivanich predicts that cruise lines will provide more flexible cancellation and refund policies to create greater ease in bookings. “Travel advisors will be extremely important as a traveler’s source for cruise education and during the booking process, explaining the new guidelines and making sure clients are properly prepared with their personal travel documentation,” she adds. In general, here’s when it actually pays off to use a travel agent.

For more on this developing situation, including how life might change post-lockdown, see our comprehensive Coronavirus Guide.

Lindsay Tigar
Lindsay Aurora Tigar is an experienced digital editor and blogger in NYC. Her blog, Confessions of a Love Addict, has a large following around the world, thousands of subscribers and hundreds of thousands of unique visitors a year. A book project based on her blog is under development and represented by theJames Fitzgerald Agency.The New York Post named her New York City's most eligible single in January 2014. She was also selected as one of New York's most desirable singles by the lifestyle dating website, Rachel & Chris, and has partnered with several popular dating blogs to create viral content. She is part of the HerCampus Blogger Network and spoke at their summer conference in New York on "How to Be a Powerhouse Blogger." She's a social media and digital media guru with big followings on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.She freelances for several sites, including Shape.com, eHarmony.com,AskMen.com, Engagement 101 and more. She's also the resident dater forWomen'sHealthMag.com, writing weekly about her dating adventures in her 'Dater Diary' column.