Coronavirus: No buffets or packed decks as cruise lines look to sail again

Busy itineraries also out as sector prepares to resume sailings with safety measures in place

A ship docked at the Marina Bay Cruise Centre last year. Genting Cruise Lines, which operates the Star, Dream and Crystal Cruises brands, says operations are anticipated to resume in July or August, depending on factors such as ports reopening and tr
A ship docked at the Marina Bay Cruise Centre in 2019. Genting Cruise Lines says operations are anticipated to resume in July or August. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Cruising will be a far different experience once liners begin sailing again, as operators do away with bustling buffet lines, crowded decks and packed itineraries.

The industry has been on pause after a number of countries closed their ports to cruise vessels amid the spread of Covid-19.

While most cruise operators have not yet committed to a firm resumption date, preparations are under way to ensure safe distancing and other preventive measures are in place when they do.

Mr Michael Goh, head of international sales for Genting Cruise Lines, which operates the Star, Dream and Crystal Cruises brands, told The Straits Times that operations are anticipated to resume in July or August, depending on factors such as ports reopening and travel restrictions being lifted.

"We can start by exploring the offering of 'Holiday at Sea' itineraries cruising to nowhere, where the ship itself is a destination," said Mr Goh, who is also president of Dream Cruises.

Ship capacity will be reduced to between 50 per cent and 70 per cent at the start, while pre-boarding requirements and other measures will be put in place in line with evolving international guidelines.

Passengers aged 70 and above, for example, will be required to provide a doctor's certificate confirming that they are fit for travel. Temperature screening and health declarations will be mandatory, while wearing masks on board will be encouraged.

Safe distancing measures will include staggered check-in times at cruise terminals, halving the capacity of venues on board and replacing buffet lines with table service.

"All food and beverages will be served to guests by our crew who will be wearing face masks and gloves," said Mr Goh.

Public areas on the ship will be sanitised two to four times a day, instead of the previous once a day.

"The Covid-19 pandemic will unquestionably change the travel industry and the way we travel, at least in the near future," he added, noting that consumers will have higher expectations of hygiene and safety.

Celebrity Cruises said the resumption of sailings will be a gradual process that will begin when all necessary health and safety protocols are in place.

It added that it has engaged the services of experts in fields such as epidemiology, design and sanitation to help envision the company's new standards and procedures when it returns to service.

Royal Caribbean announced last week that while sailings from China will resume in July, operations in all other markets will remain suspended for an extra month.

Norwegian Cruise Line is also reportedly planning for an Aug 1 return.

Both firms declined to comment on how operations will change, saying more information will be available later. They had previously said that traditional self-serve buffets will likely be scrapped at the start.

The Cruise Lines International Association, which represents more than 50 operators, said last month that the industry is working with medical experts and health authorities to lay a new foundation for the cruise sector as it prepares for a long-term recovery.

Mr Joel Katz, the association's managing director for Australasia and Asia, said in a statement that work is under way to create a new health framework and define "the specific screening, cleansing and medical protocols that cruise lines would adopt globally, in addition to those already in place".

The moves by cruise operators to step up precautions and shore up confidence come after some vessels were rejected from multiple ports over fears that they were carrying infected passengers.

The rapid spread of the coronavirus aboard the Diamond Princess, which had been docked off the coast of Japan, made headlines around the world in February.

Port closures and travel restrictions have also meant that thousands of cruise ship crew members remain stranded at sea as they await repatriation by charter flights, according to various media reports.

The Singapore Tourism Board said it is working with cruise stakeholders on guidelines and requirements for enhanced health and sanitation standards, as well as safe distancing measures for activities on board cruise ships when they are once again allowed to call here.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 26, 2020, with the headline Coronavirus: No buffets or packed decks as cruise lines look to sail again. Subscribe