June 7 ------ Everyone in the travel industry has been speculating on what the cruise experience will be when cruise ships return to service after their long service suspension due to the coronavirus and the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) “no sail order.” Norwegian Cruise Line became the first of the large North American cruise company to offer a glimpse into the potential changes planned for cruise ships. Norwegian has posted a new page to its consumer web site detailing what they have named the “Peace of Mind” initiative. Designed to provide assurances to potential travelers, the page says, “We’re going the extra mile to ensure your safety onboard and onshore. With Norwegian’s Peace of Mind, you can cruise safely with enhanced health and safety protocols and flexible booking.” The as yet unannounced initiative details programs to “enhancing our already robust health & safety measures so you can continue exploring the world with the ultimate Peace of Mind.”
As part of the no sail order, the CDC said it was requiring each line to develop and implement a plan to prevent, mitigate, and respond to the spread of COVID-19 onboard cruise ships. The plans, to be approved by CDC and the US Coast Guard, were to include monitoring passengers and crew and medical screenings; training crew on COVID-19 prevention; and managing and responding to an outbreak on board. Norwegian says it has been working closely with the CDC and that it will be are adding stringent protocols, strategic application, and supporting innovation to meet and exceed the CDC standards once those have been finalized with the CDC. A number of steps will be implemented fleet wide, with more in development it says.
Among the specific steps will be the installation of medical-grade air-filters that remove nearly all airborne pathogens replacing the existing air filters on Norwegian’s ships. The onboard medical centers will also be expanded with additional staff, isolation areas, and be equipped with the testing kits, medical supplies and equipment, including oxygen equipment. Cleaning and disinfection will also be increased both aboard the ships and in terminals. Embarkation terminals will be sanitized continuously, and, where possible, fogged before and after each embarkation and debarkation. Further, all staterooms, suites, and public areas will be disinfected at an increased frequency, including the use of a fogging electrostatic spray technology.
Both guests and crew members will undergo enhanced pre-embarkation health screenings ranging from touchless temperature checks to ongoing monitoring that includes temperature checks when returning from shore, before meals and activities, and before final disembarkation. In addition, crew members will have pre-employment medical examinations including COVID-19 testing, and multiple times per day health and temperature checks. Norwegian is exploring onboard COVID-19 testing for crew members. Aboard the cruise ships, passengers will also experience several changes. Of course, buffet and formerly self-service beverage stations will be converted to staff service only, but social distancing will also be introduced. Guest capacity will be reduced both on the cruise and in public venues on the ships. Embarkation times will also be staggered to permit greater distancing.
Finally, all of the efforts will be overseen by a newly created position of Public Health Officer, which Norwegian says it will begin to introduce. Norwegian also assures passengers that it will only be visiting safe, open ports and that it will be working with destinations and tour operators to ensure that sanitation protocols are extended to the guests’ shoreside experience. Passengers will be to be able to cancel a cruise up to just 48 hours prior to departure through November 30, 2020, to receive a future cruise credit. After that, the line plans to revert to a 120-day cancelation policy in order for guests to receive a full refund. Norwegian Cruise Line in May extended its voluntary temporary suspension of voyages through July 31, 2020. The company’s CEO, Frank Del Rio, has talked of a phased return to service, but so far no specific details have been announced on which ships or itineraries the company plans to resume.