Changes to cruise travel after the pandemic

The Global Cruise Industry In Crisis was the heading we were seeing just 2 years ago.

From cruise passengers being evacuated from cruise ships to crew members being isolated on board, the shock of the pandemic affected cruise operations on a scale never seen before.

So now that we are seeing signs of recovery, what are the changes to cruise travel and what can you expect when cruising as we slowly ease ourselves out of the pandemic?

Travel Restrictions affecting your cruise experience

Experienced cruise guests know that an itinerary can change once you are on board for a variety of reasons. For example, if there is bad weather or if someone needs to be medically evacuated the cruise ship captain has the right to change course.

This means you could miss out on a highly anticipated port of call and you may end up with an extra sea day on board your cruise ship instead. It happens. Not often, but it can.

But never before did we expect that a port or country would close its doors to a cruise ship carrying thousands of passengers bringing tourist dollars into their community. But the pandemic saw this happen as a means of virus control. It was a bid by countries and islands to manage the effects of the pandemic. The borders were suddenly closed to visitors.

Now we are happy to say the world has opened up again, for the most part. So the risk of being turned away is less likely, but still more of a factor than ever before and one of the changes to cruise travel that we did not expect.

New health protocols to protect you and your fellow passengers

If you have not cruised since before the pandemic, you will notice changes regarding health protocols. Changes have been implemented by almost all cruise lines, especially at boarding. From temperature checks, hand sanitizing stations, and regular testing, to the wearing of face masks, a negative test result and perhaps proof you are fully vaccinated.

If you are booking back-to-back cruises, at the end of your first cruise covid testing will be done on board your cruise ship before you board the next ship. Check with your cruise company before you travel that this is the case, as procedures can change at any time. But this certainly helps as you do not need to book a separate appointment to get a new covid test when you change cruise ships or continue on the next cruise on the same ship.

Each cruise line has made its own changes to cruise travel which include specifics of what is now required within their safety protocols. So read your booking carefully, check the small print and keep up to date on changes at any time to these rules.

Cruise ship’s indoor areas and physical distancing

Keeping your distance from others in public areas on board a cruise is often easier said than done. In reality, with thousands of passengers and crew on board, it will get crowded. Unless of course, you choose to book a luxury cruise with much fewer passengers.

So be prepared for it to be busy, especially on board the bigger cruise ships. Most social distancing rules have now been lifted on board and as bookings pick up the capacity on each sailing continues to increase.

Following isolation rules if necessary

In the event that you do test positive during your cruise then there are rules you are obliged to follow. If you are not seriously ill and do not need to be evacuated, then cruisers will find that they may be isolated in their cabin. Or if at a hotel prior to returning home until a negative test can be shown.

Be prepared and ask all these questions to your cruise line before you book, so you understand the procedure if the worst happens and you get that positive test result. The safety of onboard passengers is the priority of all cruise operators.

The wearing of onboard face masks and on-shore excursions – or not

We recommend you take face masks with you in your hand luggage. Even though most cruise lines have now lifted the rule about the wearing of masks in public areas (excluding restaurants), we all know that rules change often, you may find you are required to wear one.

This rule can vary from cruise line to cruise line, between cruise ships, and depending on your itinerary and destinations. Some countries require it if you go on shore, others do not. So bring a face mask – just in case.

Higher cruise prices

Indeed, the price of cruises generally has gone up. This is to be expected considering how hard-hit the cruise industry has suffered during the pandemic. The road to recovery can be long and recouping income will come down to increasing prices. At the same time, cruise lines must remain competitive as they all want your business. So keep looking out for those special deals and campaign prices – they are there!

Our best advice is to actively track prices. Look for campaign prices. Search for extras being included for free. And once you have booked, continue to monitor the price of your cruise. If it goes down, call the cruise line and ask for a credit for the difference in price.

The on-board experience

As with anything starting up again after a long period of uncertainty, teething problems arise. Crew shortages can result in service not being quite up to the standards you were perhaps used to on your previous sailings. However, we are confident this will improve with time.

You may find your cruise ship cruising at a lower-than-expected capacity. And this is one of the changes to cruise travel that is most noticeable. It’s hard to know whether the reason is lower booking numbers due to hesitant cruise travelers, or if the cruise line itself has chosen to accept fewer passengers.

But this can be a positive for many. Fewer crowds on board mean facilities are less crowded and shore excursion groups are smaller.

The competitive cruise industry has a positive effect

Since the cruise industry was really brought to its knees during the pandemic, to get going again means all cruise lines want you back on board. And during the time when some ships were in dry dock, cruise lines took the opportunity to upgrade older ships.

And that’s good news for cruise guests. Better cabins, enhanced public spaces, and new exciting onboard specialty restaurants can now be seen.

Are you ready to cruise again?

Here’s our best advice to those of you who are considering a first cruise or a new cruise which is your first one since the pandemic began:

  • Be flexible and be prepared for changes. By that, we mean changes to itineraries or rules and regulations concerning life both on board and onshore (for example the wearing of masks).
  • Accept that if itinerary changes are made and you miss a port of call that was on your bucket list, you will not be compensated. If you cannot accept this risk then perhaps now is not the time to cruise again.
  • Keep ahead of all changes before you set sail, by checking your email regularly for updates from your cruise line and your airline. Follow check-in protocols in detail before you leave home so you do not miss anything.
  • Know the customer service contact numbers and email addresses for your cruise, flight, hotel, and transfer. If you need help whilst traveling you can get in touch easily.
  • Be happy and comfortable with any and all protocols that the cruise line imposed or remove at any time before or on board your cruise. The difficulty here is knowing exactly which protocols are here to stay and which will be removed. Vaccinations are a good example here. Many want only vaccinated passengers on board, and some are now requiring booster shots too. Check the requirements of your cruise line before you book and be prepared to go with the flow if changes occur.
  • Consider purchasing the cruise line’s own cancellation insurance where you can cancel for any reason. If changes are made to your cruise that will impact your cruise vacation enough to make you regret booking or not want to travel, you have the option of getting your money back.
  • Know what happens if you test positive at any time during your cruise. Some cruise lines request isolation in your cabin, others remove guests from the ship and place them in quarantine in partner hotels. You need to know before you book the following if this should happen to you:
    – are you compensated in any way for missing your cruise experience?
    – who bears the cost of hotel isolation, meals, and a new flight home?

How can your flight be impacted since the pandemic?

Happily, many travel restrictions have been lifted. But some destinations still require you to complete extra paperwork.

Be sure to sign up for regular travel updates from the Government website of the country or countries you are visiting. And also to your chosen airline. This way you will not miss doing anything essential, such as completing a passenger locator form, before you leave home.

We recommend you use one of the many apps out there to store all your travel documents in one place, easily accessible on your phone. And take a paper copy with you in your hand baggage.

Generally, everything to do with flights is currently taking longer. From long waits at check-in counters to get through security and passport control. Plan extra time, leave home earlier, and be patient.

Stretch your budget if you can. You will find flights and amenities have increased in price. Prices of eating out in restaurants have definitely soared and entrance into popular sites and events has risen. Read our best tips on how to save money and cruise for less to help your budget stretch a little further.

Plan your logistics ahead of time. Try and reduce your travel time if you can. Sometimes a direct flight is worth the extra. And private transfers will help you avoid problems with public transport delays, cancellation and worse still, strikes. Be smart where you save, and spend where it’s worth it. No one likes arriving at their destination completely stressed out on day one.

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Meet the author: Sarah has created and booked hundreds of travel itineraries for thousands of customers during a career in the travel industry that spans 20 years. Having worked hand in hand with cruise lines, hotels, airlines and tour operators worldwide, she offers inspiring & detailed insights in the world of travel and tourism.