While the Omicron variant spreads rapidly around the world, it has not dampened the excitement and planning for the mighty return of cruising. The cruise industry’s outlook and safety measures will continue to evolve in 2022 and beyond. As vaccination rates continue to rise, Australia lifts its travel restrictions, and new technologies and scrupulous safety procedures are implemented, the upcoming cruise seasons look set to be sensational.
Take Oceania's world cruise for 2023 as an example of things to come. It sold out in less than 24 hours. Cruisers who have had their trips cancelled or delayed because of the pandemic are driving this resurgence, alongside new bookings from travellers keen to take a bucket list trip after such a long period of border restrictions.
As cruise lines prepare for a careful return to sea, detailed health protocols have been outlined by the industry’s governing body Cruise Lines International Association and by the cruise lines themselves.
The cruise industry’s new health measures go beyond those of any other area of tourism and include vaccination and testing requirements for passengers and crew before boarding, as well as extensive protocols covering crew quarantine, distancing, sanitation, ventilation, health monitoring and response procedures.
So what are cruise lines requiring of passengers? How have boarding, dining and other activities on board changed? We talked to our trusted cruise suppliers, our cruise experts and consulted CLIA, the industry’s leading governing body, for the latest information on cruising safely in 2022 and beyond.
Crowd control and social distancing measures
Australians and New Zealanders are actively planning their next cruise, with international travel finally a possibility again in 2022. River cruises and smaller boutique ships that hold less passengers and offer more space than ocean liners are proving popular, and this limited capacity means that they are selling out faster than ever before.
Big changes to the embarkation process are currently in place with cruise lines that have already restarted sailing overseas. In addition to proof of vaccination or negative COVID test results, many cruise companies have implemented strictly fixed and enforced boarding times to avoid large crowds, fully automated touchless check-in and more comprehensive health screenings including PCR testing 72 hours before departure and temperature checks at boarding. Cruise lines and our Travel Advisors are here to help you navigate the new rules and all the logistics that will come with cruising in the post-pandemic era.
Vaccine passports will become the norm to travel around the world and most cruise lines will require all travellers to show proof of vaccination in the same way certain countries already require proof of inoculations, like the yellow fever inoculation requirement to visit South America and Africa. The Australian Government began issuing these from October 2021 and will be available to vaccinated holders of Australian passports either on your phone or in printed form.
The contactless experience moves beyond walletless purchases
Technology features like using your phone as a keycard or to turn off your lights in your cabin were once a novelty but are now the norm. Tech is and will be at the forefront of the cruise experience, the torchbearer for the rest of the tourism industry to follow.
Almost all aspects of the pre-embarkation process will be contactless from checking-in online and requiring the use of boarding passes on phone wallets. Then on board, the phone, RFID wristband or similar device will act as an access card and to pay for drinks and services. A welcome additional feature of RFID wristbands is that they can be adapted for use as a tracker and contact tracing device which some cruise companies have already enabled, to give guests added peace of mind.
The ship's mobile app will become more important than ever to navigate, track kids whereabouts, monitor onboard spending, book meals, spa treatments, shore excursions and shows - limiting contact with staff and other passengers where possible. An in-cabin voice-activated concierge is on the cards for some cruise lines to answer frequently asked questions that once would have required a call or walk to the reception desk to ask.
In-person muster drills will be replaced by an e-muster process for a number of cruise lines to avoid congregating. Instead, the safety procedure will take place in the comfort of your suite or cabin.
Limited Touch Dining
From booking to ‘self-serve’ cruises, cruise lines will take every precaution to ensure the safety of guests is priority number one. QR codes are already being used to display menus on phones instead of using paper or shared menus (which also reduces waste). This will also mean the familiar ‘paper’ version of daily cruising planners once left on your bed in the evening will also be replaced by access from the onboard app.
In buffet bar dining areas, passengers will be served by the wait staff rather than self-serve to limit shared utensils. Most luxury lines already offered a version of this as befits the high service standards, with some ocean liners implementing this practice pre-pandemic. Passengers will also have casual options, but with a focus on premade ready-to-go snacks and beverages.
Relaxed Booking Policies
Cruise lines have reacted to the pandemic by relaxing their cancellation and postponement policies, allowing concerned passengers to cancel in some cases up to 24 hours before departure. Our Travel Associates Advisors are well versed in helping our customers understand the cancellation policies of our trusted cruise partners and will ensure you choose the booking option that best suits you.
Stringent Health Regulations
Many of the changes made on ships across the industry in the wake of the pandemic have influenced and now follow the recommendations outlined by the COVID-19 Member Policy created by governing body, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).
Following close collaboration and consultation with expert health advisors and other industry-initiated expert groups around the world, CLIA's COVID-19 Member Policy sets a high bar for initial resumption of cruising. After all, it’s in everyone’s best interests to get this completely right to reassure all passengers.
The policy outlines a phased approach to a return to sailing, and a comprehensive layered prevention, detection and response strategy from the time of booking to disembarkation, designed to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 in a cruise setting. Each enhanced protocol and procedure outlined has been informed by the recommendations of leading outside health experts, local and regional governments.
It covers everything from enforcing a combination of 100% testing and vaccinations for passengers and crew prior to embarkation, physical distancing, mask-wearing, enhanced ventilation measures and strict guidelines for passengers who engage in shore excursions.
The full list of measures outlined in the policy is accessible here. As a condition of membership with CLIA, all ocean-going cruise line members with the capacity to carry 100 or more persons onboard are required to implement the COVID-19 Member Policy. The Policy is applicable worldwide, wherever there are not more stringent requirements in place from governments and health authorities. River cruise operators are subject to different regulations to Ocean vessels, and they may choose to use this policy as guidance to establish COVID-19 public health protocols that are specific to the river environment. See the full list of CLIA members here.
Most importantly, the cruising industry is keen to re-establish itself as one of the safest and most relaxing ways to holiday after what has been a tough few years. Nary a cruise ship exists that doesn't have passenger health and safety at the top of it’s list and Travel Associates cruise experts certainly use their deep knowledge and connections to recommend the very best option for every single client.