The cruise industry is still very much frozen in place, as the world begins to slowly emerge from the largest lockdown in human history. Cruise lines are hoping new health standards help convince travelers, many of whom are still processing the horrific pandemic-related stories that have rocked the industry, that it is now safer than ever to vacation at sea.
Together, Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian make up 70 percent of the cruise industry. All three are now facing a mountain of lawsuits ranging from upset crew members, investors and the families of those who lost their lives on sickened ships. Multiple government investigations into the role cruise lines played in spreading the virus are now also underway.
Port Canaveral's CEO has spoken out against the negative attention that the CDC and U.S. government have placed on the industry, noting that cruise lines have received more focus than others, that may have had a more considerable contribution to the introduction and spread of the virus within the U.S. This negative attention, from both the government and media, has meant the cruise industry must work exceptionally hard at shifting the narrative and convincing the public that cruising is a safe vacation option.
All three major cruise lines, and many smaller ones, have announced significant shifts in the onboard operations and safety protocols. Norwegian was one of the first to announce their new initiatives with the focus being on a Public Health Officer onboard every single ship.
Norwegian's plan, known as "Sail Safe," will see the Public Health Officer oversee all health-focused safety procedures, including both the sanitation and the outbreak prevention programs. Pre-embarkation passengers will undergo enhanced health screenings. Online check-in and staggered embarkation will help allow for smaller crowds. Once onboard, guests will notice an increase in handwashing stations and many crewmembers wearing masks.
New medical-grade H13 HEPA air filters will help remove airborne pathogens from indoor spaces. Non-toxic HOCI fogging will take place in all staterooms and public areas. This electric charged natural oxidant helps kills bacteria, spores, and viruses. It should help address health issues cruise ships have faced prior coronavirus, though most, like norovirus, are far less frequent on cruise ships than many realize.
The survival of the self-service buffet, in general, is still uncertain. Some buffets are removing the stations altogether, opting instead for tablets at each table where diners order their food. Norwegian, like what's expected at most cruise lines, is staffing buffet stations. Norwegian's staffed full-service, cafeteria-style buffet is already standard practice on some ships, and most cruise lines switch to something like it during previous onboard virus outbreaks. Self-service snacks and beverage stations are also being staffed for a full-service experience.Vaccinations, medical oxygen equipment, on-site rapid diagnostic testing kits for COVID-19, and mediations that have proven effective in helping to treat COVID-19 will all be available in the onboard medical center.
The safety measures extended beyond the ship with Norwegian, and most of the other major cruise lines, working with the local destinations and tour operators to ensure safe open ports where health and sanitation protocols are in place.
a recent video on what they're doing, Chairman and CEO Richard Fain announced that the company will convene a "blue-ribbon panel" but otherwise challenged the idea of a "new normal," saying he's "begun to hate" that term.
"The only constant is change," said Fain. "We don't know how the future is going to unfold. We don't know how long it will take to get beyond this epidemic and the traumatic changes that we are enduring to deal with it. We do know that things will be different."
"Most importantly, there won't be a new normal for selling cruises, or taking cruises, or operating cruises. Change is coming to cruising," Fain continued. "Some suggest the cruising in the future will be unrecognizable from what we are used to. That we will go from one constant, unchanging cruise experience before, to a radically different, totally changed cruise experience after. Horse pucky."
Fain further explained, "we will raise the bar even higher on health, safety, sanitation, and medical care. We will soon be announcing a blue-ribbon panel working to ensure our health safety protocols are unparalleled. We will proceed cautiously, and we will learn from our experiences. And unquestionably, we will invest in all these areas more than most of our guests will ever fully see or know."
It's unclear how long many of the new safety procedures will remain in place, but many of them will likely stay indefinitely. The "new normal" seems to be slowly forming, no matter how much Royal Caribbean’s Fain hates the term.
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