Although hotels around the world are struggling to keep the lights on, in a couple of weeks the cruise industry is preparing initial trips. This, however, would be significantly different from what daily travelers expect in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Pre-shipment safety checks and face masks will be conducted, among other adjustments, and the self-service buffets will leave the scene. Most importantly, the first few routes do not fly every day to another country. Navigation post-pandemic should be held closer to shore, or at least to home port.
But first, despite COVID-19 ‘s early spread among passengers and crew on some ships, any line restarting cruises will have a daunting task to reassure customers that their health and safety will be adequately covered.
Currently, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC) has a no-sail order in US waters directed to ships carrying more than 250 passengers and crew, in effect until July 24 at least. That means smaller boutique ship companies can blaze a trail ahead of the big players.
“The fact that we only navigate domestic rivers has definitely provided a greater opportunity to resume our operations responsibly, safely and promptly,” says John Wagoner, founder and CEO of American Queen Steamboat Co., whose Mississippi American Duchess has only 166 passengers and 70 crew. In announcing the company’s intentions to return with “Antebellum South” itineraries in late June, Wagoner outlined new security measures including pre-shipping temperature controls, shore excursions with restricted availability and the end of self-service buffets.
Such adjustments are likely to resonate with large ship cruise companies whose plans have yet to be announced. Yet visitors will have an added advantage on American Queen’s riverboats: free, easy access to America’s regional healthcare systems. Passengers who get sick or have a fever while they fly will be removed from the ship and relocated to a nearby hospital to ensure proper medical treatment and reduce the risk to other passengers.