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A n  O c c a s i o n a l  B l o g

"As with COVID-19, which has shaken almost

every area of our lives since it began its

tragic spread, nothing is normal. But we do

feel there will be, when the time is right, a

new normal for cruise travel, and some

things will change."

We know cruise will change as a result

of COVID-19. But How?

May 20, 2020

The cruise industry is in an unprecedented period. As the last ships still out on world cruises finally returned to ports in mid-to-late April, the entire business is in a complete halt. There are no more paying customers as a result of No Sail Order announced by the Centers for Disease Control over a month ago.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, every week, hotels, airlines and cruise lines are facing dramatic challenges that we've never seen before. In cruise's case, ports started to refuse access to cruise ships (and this was happening all over the world, even for those without passengers affected by the pandemic) in late February. Cruise lines have since gone dark; aside from ships with just crew aboard still trying to port, no one's actually operating voyages right now (in some cases, companies are telling us they won't resume any voyages until July or later).

The industry has had to shuffle more than just operating its existing ships. New ship debuts, typically meriting a huge celebration, are on hold too. Last month, Celebrity Cruises took delivery of its new Apex from a European shipyard as executives watched the procession via video sharing. And the usually ebullient Virgin Voyages, a brand new cruise line aimed at Millennials, accepted delivery of its first ship and put in mothballs for the time being. The pandemic has also interrupted European shipyards, many of which have closed down completely, for weeks, and which are only just re-starting operations.

Cruise travel has been through tough times during national and global tragedies and I've covered them all in various forms. There was 9-11, the Great Recession of 2008 and the advent of Norovirus. Ship-related accidents and malfunctions have attracted notorious press. COVID-19 is a different beast, and it's having a massive impact. I agree with the industry executives who tell me that's its more damaging than several past events combined.

And yet, cruise will survive. It will thrive, again, someday, and it will do so because travelers are passionate about this way of exploration. And because the cruise lines will do what they do best in times of extreme challenge: They will innovate and create ever-better systems, protocols and processes that will raise standards to even higher levels.

The irony here is that cruise lines voluntarily subject themselves to a rigorous and thorough health and sanitation inspections, something that hotels, airlines and resorts don't do.

A cornerstone of that effort is a 30-plus year partnership with the Centers for Disease Control's Vessel Sanitation Program. All ships that call at American ports undergo rigorous surprise inspections. These focus on key areas of hygiene, sanitation and safety, such as heating, ventilation and air-conditioning; kids' clubs; restaurants and galleys; pest management; housekeeping; swimming pools and whirlpools, potable water systems, medical centers. Cruise lines, which undergo two inspections a year (at least those who call at least twice at U.S. ports) pick up the tab for them. Cost? Inspections run from about $3,000 to almost $30,000, depending on ship tonnage.

And that's per ship, per inspection.

Also singular to the cruise industry: Cruise lines report illness statistics when more than 3 percent of passengers onboard a sailing report feeling ill. You don't see those numbers from hotels, airlines and resorts because they haven't agreed to volunteer the information.

As with COVID-19, which has shaken almost every area of our lives since it began its tragic spread, nothing is normal. But we do feel there will be, when the time is right, a new normal for cruise travel, and some things will change. Here's what we're prepared for:

  • Travelers will absorb more self-responsibility for their own health and well-being -- and that of the people around you. Personal hygiene practices will continue to be an obsession, and travelers will show more concern about how their own health affects people around them. Physical distancing has caught on, and I don't see a pullback there. And travelers who embark on trips who do show signs of illness will likely be subjected to further screening and may be denied boarding.
  • From the cruise line perspective, it will be necessary to establish new and ever more rigid protocols for promoting health and well-being. For cruise embarkations, we may be required to undergo a quick, thermal screening to test for fever. Look for tweaks in how companies sanitize and disinfect public rooms and staterooms. One executive tells us there could be new technology installed around ships that, like a sprinkler, could shower disinfectant, and that filtration and ventilation systems will be under greater scrutiny than ever. And if travelers are embracing physical distancing, so too will cruise lines. Look for new rules, especially on larger ships, to offer limits on capacity overall, and also for new limitations related to activities, entertainment and dining.
  • On cruise lines certified by the Cruise Lines Industry Association (CLIA), health and medical practices are already developed in conjunction with the American College of Emergency Physicians. Would you feel more comfortable traveling by ship if you knew that its existing medical facility was also in partnership with a major health organization, like Johns Hopkins Hospital or Cedars-Sinai to provide telemedicine via video? That's not even a new idea; one cruise line in the early aughts had just such a partnership. And these days, the advent of radically faster WIFI, like Carnival Corporation's OceanMedallion technology, could be a boon for partnerships created between cruise lines and on-shore hospitals so that travelers who fall ill and their onboard doctors could have real-time consults.
  • Onboard medical facilities could be expanded with isolation-oriented facilities in case of a contagious outbreak.
  • In so many of the conversations we have had with fellow travelers over the past few weeks, one of the biggest worries that dedicated cruise passengers have has less to do with falling ill. It's about the unprecedented reaction by ports to deny ships on scheduled calls. In the new normal, there needs to be a partnership between the industry and ports of call and their government entities, to establish a clear and safe protocol to prevent this from ever happening again. "This is the biggest thing," a cruise line CEO tells me. "It's a human rights mission. I think ports can do better.

And here is an idea for a re-start, at least as it applies to big ship cruising: Another cruise line executive tells us that he's imagining a scenario in which a cruise itinerary from Miami can bounce from one cruise line private island to another without ever visiting a commercial port on a seven day Bahamian/Caribbean itinerary. It could happen, should MSC, Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line and Holland America Line agree to team up and rent out their own private islands to one another, for stops that could avoid, at least in the short-term, the need to call on mainstream ports and provide controlled on-land environments. Crazy? Maybe. At this point, though, all ideas on the table are welcome.--CSB

The Wall Street Journal Tackles
The Evils of Cruise Terminals

March 4, 2020

If you've cruised before, you probably think of cruise terminals as necessary evil. They represent that last step to accessing your vacation, a place of queues and credit card machines and forms in which you pledge your health, all part of the business of getting away.

Necessary, sure, but fun? Not usually.

In The Wall Street Journal last week there was an insightful and frankly inspiring story about the evolution, or perhaps we should call it a revolution, in cruise ship terminals. Galataport, the new terminal currently under development in Istanbul, is a case in point. It is, reports the WSJ's Christian Wright, a $1.85 billion project (a breathtaking price tag for a cruise terminal) and that's the least of the story. There will be, she tells us, a hotel (possibly the Peninsula), the Istanbul Modern Museum, designed by Renzo Piano, and lots of restaurants, cafes and shops.

And here's the rub: " When it opens in April, all the evils of security, customs and immigration, baggage check and ground transport will take place on two subterranean levels." How fabulous is it that the business of the terminal is literally concealed? That a terminal is designed that will accommodate locals and land-based tourists? I can count on one hand, yes, five fingers, the port terminals incorporate the communities they serve into the world of cruise. And Galataport, which opens in April, represents an awesome step forward in this regard.

It occurs to me that the thing about the big, ugly warehouse-style cruise terminals that often occupy gorgeous real estate in major cruise port cities have been hogging the waterfront for too long. -- CSB

What Is It About Cruising That's So Intoxicating?

March 4, 2020

If, 20-some years ago you would have told me that my favorite beat, as a travel journalist, would be cruise, I'd have suggested a brain scan. I love travel, all kinds of travel, no question, but I am in a long line of ancestors, mostly on my mother's side, who have very little tolerance for the motion of the ocean.

There was my grandfather, who was a captain in the U.S. Navy, and got seasick on anything that moves (including on his honeymoon voyage to Bermuda, where my grandparents ships ran into a fog outside New York Harbor, hit another ship, and sank; all were rescued save for my grandmother's trousseau, which was a contribution to Davy Jones Locker).

Just out of college, there was an awkward first date on a sailboat off Miami's Key Biscayne, where I spent more time hanging off the side of the boat; no surprise that there was no second date. And there was the family friend, a captain of a U.S. Naval Destroyer, who invited us to family day in Virginia's Norfolk; the massive vessel never even left the dock but I wound up, flat out queasy, on a bed in his quarters (the fact that my mom accompanied me tells you everything you need to know about this branch of our family tree).

And on my first official cruise assignment, a New York to Bermuda sailing on Celebrity Cruises in September, which I now know is the peak of hurricane season in that part of the Atlantic, we ran into the remnants of some tropical storm and it wasn't pretty.

And yet, with the help of seasick potions, I have come to love traveling by cruise, and if I'm being honest, I loved it even on that first hurricane-season voyage. When I talk to new-to-cruise travelers, I gush over the obvious virtues; you get to see the world as a tapas menu, with forays into places to see if you want to come back for longer visits. You get to meet wonderful people who hail from all over the world, and by that I mean crew members as much as fellow travelers. And you can wake up every morning with a different view outside your porthole -- or rather, these days balcony sliders -- without ever packing and unpacking.

But here's the thing that you'll never know until you try a cruise: It's the magic of being out on the water, whether it's a river or an ocean. Somehow it lifts you out of your everyday life into something quite special (sort of like the way you don't really understand how planes fly but you love being above the clouds, just the same). Care to join our merry band of enthusiasts?

Here's my background in what's hopefully a nutshell: As a reporter for The Washington Post's travel section and a freelance travel contributor to publications ranging from Conde Nast Traveler to Town & Country, I've been telling cruise stories for just shy of 25 years. At Cruise Critic, as editor in chief, we created a team that produced award-winning content. I've loved being one of travel media's most quotable cruise experts; it's simply a by-product of my passion for cruise travel.

And ultimately, I moved on, creating Cruise Critic's first-ever Content Studio, where, we partnered with cruise line and hotel clients such as Silversea, Princess, Hilton Hotels, Carnival Corporation, Viking Ocean Cruises, Crystal Cruises, American Queen Steamboat Company, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, Ponant, Viking River Cruises, Cunard and Azamara.

Phew. It's been great.

In January 2020, the opportunity to be chief content officer for Cruise Media LLC was too alluring to ignore. Taking a page out of the sponsored content rulebook, we serve as consultants on an even-wider wide variety of projects. We work directly with cruise lines and travel companies. For instance? We presented a digital travel transformation workshop for AAA magazines, re-created on-site content possibilities, including blogs and social media for a pair of cruise lines, served as an expedition cruise expert alongside Viking Expedition Cruises on a media satellite tour, and participated in a national radio press effort with Holland America Line and Princess Cruises to talk about Alaska. In April, we're moderating what we humbly think is a kind of fantastic panel at Seatrade Cruise Global 2020 on how destination-centric cruising has become more about ports than ships. Shocking, in a way, when you think about what the cruise industry was all about 20 years ago.

What's next? We'll keep you posted. --CSB

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