Over the last eight months, the cruise industry has been turned onto its head. The CDC’s no sail order first issued in March of this year lasted longer than many expected it to while COVID-19 continued to spread like wildfire across the US. Slowly, the hopes of returning to sailing within a few months dropped away as the no sail order was extended until the end of October. As domestic travel within the US picked up over the summer, the regions and businesses dependent on the cruise industry continued to struggle.
At the end of October, a tiny light started to peek at the end of the tunnel as the CDC lifted its no sail order and provided guidance for returning to sail. The directions’ details are vast and realistically will take a few months to accomplish by the cruise lines, which would match the CDC’s original intent to keep the no sail order in place until February 2021. It didn’t take long for the major cruise lines to announce that they are reviewing the information and that all remaining sailings in 2020 would be canceled to give them time to get the ball rolling. While not entirely unexpected, the official cancellations felt like the final blow of 2020 being a banner year of bad years.
What does all this mean for the future of cruising in 2021? In the short term, very little will change for the traveling public. Personally, I expect cruises to resume mid to late January. The cruise lines are well underway to getting their first ships back into the routine, but it will still take time. They need to get crew back to their vessels, get the ship’s engines fired back up if they were in cold storage, resupply them after the fridges and freezers are cold again (they’re huge, and it will take a bit to get them to temp), train the crew in the new COVID-19 procedures, add the additional signage and such to areas of the ship, do mock sailings with the crew, do mock sailings with volunteers, and several other steps. Realistically, two months is going to tight to get the ships moving again.
The second hurdle will be the sailings themselves. If you’ve cruised pre-COVID, you will have experienced the awe-inspiring 12-hour turnaround that the ships go through as they flip from one set of guests to the next. I expect that in the first several months of cruising, we will see that timeline extended to allow for social distancing debarkation, more in-depth cleaning of the ship between sailings, and all-day embarkation of the next round. The CDC is limiting sailings to 7 days as they get started. Still, I personally expect to see the sailings be a max of 5 days to allow for the extended processes without having too large of an impact on the overall schedule. We have not yet received any official word from any cruise lines about the actual procedure. Once they announce their plans, I’ll post an update.
The third hurdle will be us, the guests. We have come to expect a specific experience while on a cruise, and COVID has undoubtedly changed that for the foreseeable future. For those that are ready to start cruising, we already know that there will be no self-serve buffet, social distancing will be required throughout the ship, masks will be required in public venues when not eating or drinking, and we’ll be limited to ship’s organized excursions. For many, I know these rules are deal-breakers, and they’re going to wait until things are a bit more normal before they sail again. But for others, we’re ready to get on the ships today if we could. Much like those going camping, traveling to all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean and Mexico, cruisers are prepared to travel again. It’s entirely possible to do it safely while minimizing the spread of COVID.
At the end of the day, it’s a personal choice about when you’re ready to take a vacation again. If you’re unsure where you can travel or what you can do, send me a message or schedule a free consultation. I’m happy to discuss what destinations are available based on your current travel preferences and have no problem speaking plainly about your options.
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