After coronavirus: What your next cruise may look like

(Steven Banks / Los Angeles Times; Getty)

Picture the moment when the pandemic ebbs and you feel ready to take your next cruise. You’ll probably be thinking about your first dinner on board and the excursions you signed up for. The cruise line is thinking about something else: your health.

Princess Cruises, which was hit hard by the coronavirus on some ships in February and March, recently sent passengers a message about what to expect before they sail. Mandatory temperature scans, secondary medical screenings and barring anyone who appears to be sick are some of the new protocols. “To maintain a healthy environment on board, guests and crew members with symptoms of illness will be asked not to travel to the embarkation terminal and will be denied boarding,” the message said.

Princess isn’t alone.

Hong Kong-based Genting Cruise Lines said it will perform fever screenings and require those 70 and older to present medical documentation that says they’re healthy enough to travel, according to a Bloomberg story.


Genting, the parent company of Star Cruises, Dream Cruises and Crystal Cruises, also plans to reduce capacity at onboard entertainment venues by half to allow social distancing, and to have staff wear masks and gloves to serve buffet dishes. “This might be the start of all buffets going away,” Stifel Financial Corp. analyst Steven Wieczynski told Bloomberg. “We aren’t sure how Americans would react to servers in gloves and masks dishing out their food.”

Cruise lines, whose operations are on hold in the U.S., are being forced to rethink sanitation and medical safety amid the coronavirus pandemic. What will that look like? It’s a little early to say.

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The trade group Cruise Lines International Assn. pointed to the need for changes in an April 28 email. “In coordination with our members, we will consider new and meaningful measures and technologies to prevent, respond [to] and mitigate the impact of COVID-19,” the statement said in part. “All options remain open for consideration based upon the best available health information.”

Cruise companies have time to consider those options. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on April 9 extended a no-sail order for cruise ships in the U.S., with no firm resumption date.

Princess plans to have a team of COVID-19-trained doctors and nurses who can screen passengers showing symptoms. The cruise line also detailed plans to increase cleaning of high-traffic and high-touch areas (think fitness machines and casino chips), and to make sure passengers use hand sanitizer and hand-washing areas before entering dining rooms.

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Will these measures win back passengers? “We have seen consumers, at this stage, be more health-sensitive than price-sensitive,” said Robert Li, director of the U.S.-Asia Center for Tourism and Hospitality Research at Temple University’s School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management.

Li has been watching tourism recover in recently reopened China. He said cruise lines and other hospitality sectors should be thinking about how to retain the customer loyalty they’ve built over the years. “If we have a brand we trust ... we tend to go back to them,” he said. “If they give customers a hard time for refunds or cancellations, that memory will scar the consumer for a long time.”

Cruise lines have offered a credit with value-added perks for future travel or a refund for canceled trips. Most have canceled sailings through June 30 as they await word of when cruises may resume.