Is cruising safe? Here are the facts:
Since the global health crisis began earlier this year, the safety of travel in ALL forms has come into question. But, as it historically has, the cruise industry was singled out and shut down on a level beyond any other travel sector. And, because of sensational media reports, cruise ships were painted to be dangerous, with terms like “floating petri dish” being used to spice up headlines ad nauseum. So, the general public must wonder… is cruising safe?
Infectious disease professionals point out that cruise ships are at higher risk for certain types of outbreaks due to the fact that passengers and crew converge on the ship from different locations, and share close spaces and facilities over a period of time.
But let’s be clear, cruise travel is neither the source nor the cause of the virus. Among cases confirmed worldwide, reported incidents of the virus on cruise ships represent a fraction of a percent of confirmed infection around the world.
Yet, because of these aforementioned inherent risks, shared spaces, and international guests and crew, cruise lines have a high level of experience managing outbreaks, and have entire teams that oversee the health and safety of their guests. With nearly 30 million cruise passengers setting sail last year alone, this is an enormous responsibility.
Cruise travelers have been made very aware of the relationship between the CDC and the cruise industry this year, but did you know that the cruise industry is one of the most heavily regulated travel sectors on the globe? The average cruise ship faces dozens of announced and unannounced safety inspections per year.
Not only that, but they’re also overseen by a comprehensive group of organizations, depending on where they travel. From the CDC, the US Coast Guard, the FBI, the EPA, and customs and border protection to the international maritime organization and the laws associated with their country of registration, it’s safe to say that cruise lines are heavily scrutinized and governed.
And that was before the 2020 health crisis that changed everything. The fact is, that scrutiny has only become more intense, and the cruise lines are still learning how to move forward in this new world. A world where pre-boarding testing and health screening will be the norm. Where physical distancing and touchless processes will be a must, and where the cruise lines will need to have even more robust plans in place in the event of an infectious disease outbreak.
If you’ve been following statements made by cruise line executives this year, it’s pretty clear the cruise lines don’t want to re-start too soon. The consequences of getting it wrong could be devastating to the cruise industry, and could be a huge step back. Because of that risk, cruise lines are planning to resume operations in a very controlled way. They have to ensure that cruising is one of the lowest risk forms of travel and take control of every element of the guest experience.
Each line is doing something unique in addition to what comes down from CLIA and the CDC in the way of requirements to resume operations. The obvious end goal is to make cruising the safest form of travel available.
So, what are the major cruise lines doing to ensure they minimize the spread of infection on their ships?
Way back in April, Princess Cruises issued a 7-page Health Advisory, outlining some of the actions they had taken and would be taking to ensure guests are able to sail safely and confidently. There are simply too many things to list in that document, but Health Screening of All Guests and Crew, increased sanitization protocols and a focus on heightened cruise terminal and shore excursion safety were some key highlights.
In June, brand new Virgin Voyages announced they will have a system that pumps fresh air through the new ship’s public spaces and cabins, and a bow-to-stern air purification system, in partnership with AtmosAir Solutions. Scarlet Lady and her sister ships will be equipped with a system that uses bi-polar ionization technology shown to kill 99.9% of viruses.
In July, Carnival Corporation and WTTC hosted a scientific summit headlined by World-leading experts. Renowned global scientists and health experts convened for a virtual public forum aimed at providing the general public with the latest insights and best practices to make the travel industry more safe.
Also in July, Royal Caribbean Group, and Norwegian Cruise Line joined forces and announced a collaboration to develop enhanced cruise health and safety standards in response to the global pandemic. They asked Governor Mike Leavitt and Dr. Scott Gottlieb to serve as co-chairs of a group of experts called the “Healthy Sail Panel.” The panel was tasked with collaboratively developing recommendations for cruise lines to advance their public health response, improve safety, and achieve readiness for the safe resumption of operations. As a result, the group put forth a 65 page document with 74 recommendations for the safe return of cruise travel.
Technology is truly at the helm of Royal Caribbean Group’s healthy return to sailing. Royal Caribbean Group has replaced their safety drill methods with a new approach to delivering safety information that also allows for physical distancing. The muster drill will be accessible to travelers on an individual basis instead of the group approach that has been followed historically. In addition to introducing the new process on the ships of its own cruise lines, Royal Caribbean Group is offering to license the patented technology to interested cruise operators and will waive patent license fees during the pandemic. These unprecedented steps by Royal Caribbean Group clearly demonstrate their commitment to making cruising safe.
Leading the Way
How about MSC Cruises? In our opinion MSC Cruises has really been leading the way with their response to this pandemic. They obtained a voluntary biosafe ship certification, are installing a new safe air system on MSC Seashore, and perhaps most importantly, they’ve safely resumed cruise travel in Europe with no outbreaks for over two months. Mandatory pre-cruise testing has been one key strategy in making their continued success possible. The bottom line is, MSC has been proving that this can be done, and that they are dedicated to making cruising safe.
Those examples of cruise line action plans are just the beginning of what’s to come as cruise travel resumes in US waters. We, the cruise consumers don’t have all the answers yet. What we DO know, is that the travel industry as a whole has been forced this year to promise that their guests will be safer than ever.
So, is Cruising Safe?
How do you think cruise industry safety protocols compare to other travel sectors?
What other industry is going to these lengths for guest safety?
Is cruising safe?