Johanna Jainchill
Johanna Jainchill

Two reports this week paint a picture of what the cruise experience is bound to be like once sailings resume in the U.S., and they are strikingly similar to what we've seen on cruise ships in Europe.

And that makes sense. The cruise lines and associations have hailed the industry's restart across the pond as a success. So why not bring the formula to the U.S.?

The protocols in place on large vessels now sailing from Italy on MSC Cruises and Costa Cruises dictate that passengers are tested prior to be boarding, wear masks, social distance and only leave the ship on controlled shore excursions that can maintain the "bubble" of the ship. The plans also require reduced capacity and enhanced air management and ventilation.

Those, too, are among the main elements of the recommendations made by the Healthy Sail Panel, the group of health and science experts assembled by the Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH). And they're the crux of the guidelines CLIA said its members had committed to for a safe return to U.S. cruising.

The Europe restart has been "one of the primary sources that has informed the commitments," CLIA global chairman Adam Goldstein, told me.

During an interview Monday with NCLH CEO Frank Del Rio and Royal Caribbean Group chairman Richard Fain to discuss the Healthy Sail Panel's recommendations, Del Rio said the lines should have no problem operating cruises here using the panel's guidelines.

"We absolutely can," Del Rio said. "We're well aware of the protocols, and we agree with them. If these protocols that we develop lead us to resume cruising, that's what we're going to do. That's the No. 1 goal: to resume cruising, gain the confidence in the marketplace, gain confidence in the authorities around the world, so that we can gain momentum and slowly but surely bring back our fleets and bring back cruising in the more traditional way that you and I know it to be."

Although protocols like mask wearing certainly have been more controversial in the U.S. than in Europe, Fain said that he doesn't think it will be difficult to get Americans to comply. Cruise lines have always had guest-conduct policies, he said, and these requirements will be known to passengers in advance.

"This isn't like a store when someone opts in off the street and opts out again," Fain said. "It's a controlled environment with people who have signed on for a period of time. We don't really have huge problems with compliance, and I don't expect we will here, either."

Another somewhat controversial protocol  at least among past passengers who know the cruise product well  has been the move to regulated time ashore via required shore excursions. And while people around the world are growing more accustomed to Covid-19-related protocols, cruisers will have to become accustomed to not being able to get off the ship at will and do what they want. Fain and Del Rio said this is concept is not likely to be permanent.

Some travel advisors have already suggested that if cruise lines mandate that people take their own shore excursions, the cruise lines should consider paying commission on them. Del Rio said that was not being considered right now, but that it was important to "look at the big picture."

Right now, travel advisors "are not earning commission on anything," he said. "I think the most important baby step to take is to resume cruising the best way we can to protect the guests and gain momentum and gain confidence. And over time many of these protocols will be able to be reduced and eliminated."

And according to Fain, travel advisors have been consulted and contributed to the formation of the Healthy Sail Panel guidelines.

"The panel consulted significantly with a number of our travel agent partners and advisors and got their input, as well," he said.


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