Fewer subsets of the travel industry have been harder hit by the coronavirus pandemic than cruise lines. While the halt in travel has kept ships moored for months now, the cruise industry suffered a black-eye early on when massive outbreaks occurred across several ships, leaving passengers stranded at sea, unable to disembark.
Alas, the lure of free-flowing piña coladas and all-you-can-eat king crab legs is irresistible to some travelers, as a new survey shows. According to data released by Cruzely, more than 83 percent of past cruise passengers said they plan to sail again once they are able.
However, even those who are eager for the return of formal nights and shore excursions are cautiously optimistic about when they might set sail again. Due to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "no sail" order, enacted on March 14, cruises are banned from U.S. waters through Oct. 1, 2020, a prediction that most surveyed find optimistic. Fewer than 10 percent of respondents believe ships will sail this fall, with most expecting embarkments in the first half of 2021. (Some cruise lines have extended their self-imposed pause; Norwegian Cruise Lines has suspended its operations through Oct. 31.)
Questions remain, however, about what cruising will look like once it returns. After all, social distancing is tough to come by on a floating city where most activities are social and in close quarters.
Mask-wearing on board is one proposed option for mitigating the risk of COVID-19. According to the CDC, "there is increasing evidence that cloth face coverings help prevent people who have COVID-19 from spreading the virus to others."
Nearly half of survey respondents—45 percent—said they would agree to go on a cruise with a mask requirement, while 32 percent said mask-wearing aboard is a no-go. The fledging Virgin Voyages, who was forced to shelve most of its inaugural sailings this year, has announced that if masks are required on land where it is cruising, they'll be required onboard.
For Kristen Walsh, a New Jersey pediatrician, cruising safely is something she believes is possible—and is something she looks forward to, provided that the social element of cruising still exists.
"We would definitely want hand sanitizer in our stateroom and our kids', and I think daily temperature checks for all passengers make sense, as well as health screening questions before boarding," she told TripSavvy. "It would also be nice if they could come up with a way to space the lines at the buffet. But we likely wouldn't go if we couldn't hang out at the bars and stuff, because we like to do that at night."
Other suggestions from passengers Cruzely surveyed include improved air-filtration systems, additional medical services onboard, and tactics for minimizing crowing in high-traffic areas, such as elevators, lifeboats, theaters, and shopping.
Walsh, who was scheduled to sail to Nova Scotia on Royal Caribbean back in March, is hoping to set sail on a similar cruise sometime in 2021. "As a doctor, you're trained to respect pathogens but not have a paralyzing fear of them," she explained. "We know how to protect ourselves, and we don't have a lot of extra fear lying around, so we're hoping for next year."
Centers for Disease Control. "CDC Calls on Americans to Wear Masks to Prevent COVID-19 Spread." July 14, 2020