From the cruise industry’s point of view, the hits just keep on coming.
After months of frustrations and delays without any guidance or path forward to resume cruising from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a trickle of very restrictive guidance to cruise lines last month has become a flood of what can only be described as concessions.
In the last couple of weeks, guidance that was only issued last month has been reversed – all to the benefit of cruise lines anxious to provide safe cruising but worried that onerous restrictions and protocols were not only unnecessarily punitive, but cast a doubt on the practicalities of cruising under those conditions.
Most of the relaxed guidance that’s happened so far has been predicated on vaccinated pax, and so too, the latest round of CDC regulatory changes that come close to allowing vaccinated guests to enjoy a cruise experience very similar to pre-pandemic days.
Some of the biggest changes are masking requirements – for fully vaccinated persons on board. The CDC’s updated guidance says that cruise ship operators – at their discretion, may:
- Permit passengers and crew to gather or conduct activities outdoors, including engaging in extended meal service or beverage consumption, without wearing a mask.
- Allow crew to omit wearing a mask or maintaining physical distance in areas of the ship that are inaccessible to passengers.
- Designate areas as only accessible to fully vaccinated passengers and crew where masks and physical distancing are not required (e.g., casinos; bars; spas; entertainment venues; and dining areas, including self-serve buffets).
- Advise passengers and crew that they do not have to wear a mask or maintain physical distance in any areas.
Buffets are Back
The CDC also turned some requirements into just ‘recommendations’ – again, only for fully vaccinated passengers.
Making a piece of guidance ‘recommended’ but NOT required gives cruise lines, the discretion, freedom and power to cherry pick what makes the most sense for each line or ship’s situation and health and safety – and is least disruptive to the cruise experience. These points are now recommendations only:
- Change restaurant and bar layouts and limit seating to ensure that all customer parties remain at least 6 feet apart;
- Discourage crowded waiting areas by using phone app, text technology, or signs to alert patrons when their table is ready. Avoid using “buzzers” or other shared objects.
- Eliminate self-service food and drink options, such as self-service buffets, salad bars, and beverage stations.
- Provide eating utensils in a way that prevents handling by more than one person.
- Install physical barriers, such as sneeze guards and partitions in areas where it is difficult for individuals to maintain proper physical distance of at least 6 feet (2 meters), such as serving stations and food pick up areas.
- Provide physical guides, such as tape on decks and signage, to remind individuals to maintain physical distance of at least 6 feet (2 meters) where food and beverages are served.
- Provide and encourage outdoor dining and bar/beverage service options as well as in-room passenger dining service.
- Limit any sharing of food, tools, equipment, or supplies by food workers
- Ensure adequate supplies to minimize sharing of high-touch materials (e.g., serving spoons)
- Avoid using or sharing of items that are reusable, such as menus, condiments, and any other food containers. Instead, use disposable items or ones that can be disinfected or accessed on pax’ own phones or are no-touch like trash cans and doors.
Just Like the Good Ol’ Days?
The CDC’s most recent relaxation of guidance is a boon to the cruise industry, travel agents advising clients about cruising and to cruise guests themselves. Masking, social distancing, seating capacity and self-service food and beverage experiences on board ships when cruising resumes in the U.S. may be no more noticeable than what everyone is already used to on land – and permit a fully enjoyable cruise experience pax know and love.