Cruise after Covid: How will cruising change when it returns?

Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line have released a document outlining their recommendations on what cruise will look like when it returns after covid in 2021. 

The report was put together by the “Healthy sail panel” which consists of  top medical and scientific experts. The report outlines a comprehensive set of recommendations that will guide the cruise industry’s way forward in response to COVID-19 and  was filed to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

It’s an impressive plan, which includes 74 detailed best practices to protect the public health and safety of guests, crew and the communities where cruise ships call.

We have picked out all the most important information from this 66 page document to highlight what cruise after covid will look like and the ways cruising will change when it returns

Before boarding a cruise after covid

Testing, Screening and Exposure Reduction

This includes aggressive measures to prevent COVID-19 from entering a ship. This will be achieved through robust education, screening and testing of both crew and guests prior to embarkation.

Temperature check cruise
Temperature checks will be taken at embarkation and every day on the ship. Photo: Ben & David


The document states passengers should be tested between 5 days and 24 hours before boarding and receive a negative result that is shared with the cruise operator, before coming on board. It sounds like this will have to be done at your own cost and time before arriving at the embarkation port.

This is going to be a difficult hurdle depending on whether tests are easily accessible and affordable. 

The Panel emphasizes that a single test at the point of embarkation is not a substitute and for an initial test should be performed before a guest departs their home location.

This goes against MSC Cruises and Costa Cruises protocols who only require a rapid test at the port. 

The report also states that they would prefer 2 negative tests from passengers – but a minimum of 1 should be sufficient. 

If rapid, reliable, and clinically valid testing options become widely available, the addition of a second test at the pier or immediately before boarding would be considered. 

This is the same for crew – they must be tested in their home location before joining the ship then potentially again at the port before boarding. But they will also be required to quarantine on the ship for 7 days after arriving for duty then have another test.

If a passenger or crew member has had a positive test in the last 14 days, or been in contact with any one who has, they will be denied boarding.

Health Screening 

At embarkation, all guests and crew boarding the ship will undergo a health screening to identify any symptoms consistent with COVID-19.This will include a contactless temperature check. 

Anyone with concerns will undergo a secondary screening to determine whether they may board the ship or whether they will be denied boarding,

Touchless Check In 

Checkin and deboarding will be touchless – making it quicker and less crowded in terminals. 

Onboard a cruise after covid

Daily Temperature Checks 

Once onboard every crew member and guest will have their temp taken every day. This will be in the afternoon or late in the day when fevers are more likely to present. 

Masks on cruise ship

Guests will wear face coverings in any indoor, congregate setting regardless of physical distancing measures. You will not be required to wear face coverings in your own cabins or on your balcony. 

A notable exception is dining, restaurants and dining rooms should provide social distancing so that you can eat and drink without the need for a mask. 

And crew members in contact with passengers will wear full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including a mask. 

Reduced Capacity

The report confirmed that  ships will have a reduced capacity onboard to help with social distancing. 

Social Distancing 

Social distancing will be required at all times. Areas on the ship and in the ports ports adjusted to allow 6 feet of social distancing.

cruise bar after covid
Seats blocked out ot help with Social Distancing on SeaDream Cruises – Photo: Ben & David

Enhanced Sanitation 

Enhanced sanitation protocols will be employed and guests will be given new information on how to stay healthy onboard. Including reminders about handwashing. 

More hand washing and sanitizer stations will be installed around the ship. Crew will be actively enforcing hand washing and sanitizing before entering any food venues.

Enhanced cleaning will take place throughout the ships, terminals and private resorts. With particular attention given to high traffic areas. 

Upgraded ventilation, and air conditioning systems.

Cruise lines will be upgrading HVAC systems to minimize pathogen dispersal from infected guests and crew. New filters will trap the tiniest of particles, similar to those used on aircraft. 

Contact Tracing

All ships will implement contact tracing, a way to identify who may have come into contact with an infected person. This will use guests mobile phones or wristbands to track passenger movements.

Muster drill on cruise after covid
Royal Caribbean’s Muster 2.0 – Photo: Royal Caribbean

Digital Muster Drill

The traditional muster drill will be replaced with a digital version you watch on your stateroom TV or mobile phone. You will then “check in” with a crew member to confirm you have completed the muster drill. Previously, the safety drill meant having crowds of people going to the same space at the same time. This avoids this. Royal Caribbean announced this will be called Muster 2.0 and has is already used on the already-sailing Quantum of the Seas.

Less Crew Onboard

There will be less crew onboard to reduce the population density in the crew areas. This is so they do not have to share a cabin either.

Shorter Cruise Itineraries

Independence of the Seas in Labadee
They will use private, cruise line-owned and operated destinations or ports where there can be tight controls of the onshore experience. – Photo Ben & David

Shorter length cruises will be carried out at first and cruise itineraries will be as simple as possible. They will use private, cruise line-owned and operated destinations or ports where there can be tight controls of the onshore experience. 

So, this means we can expect to see cruises to just private cruise resorts and islands as it’s much easier for cruise lines to prevent transmission. Employees in these private resorts will all be tested and monitored daily to reduce risk.

Excursions and Ports-of-Call

Like MSC Cruises, guests debarking from a ship at a port during cruises will have to book a cruise line-sponsored or verified excursion. This is to limit exposing guests to people outside the cruise bubble and reduce the risk of the virus getting on the ship.

So unfortunately you will not be allowed off the ship to self explore, you must book an approved excursion.

All transportation and staff conducting the excursions will be tested and coaches thoroughly cleaned.

What happens if covid gets onboard a cruise ship?

Cruise lines have detailed plans on what to do if the infection gets on board. These include plans for onboard treatment, isolation, rapid evacuation and repatriation. 

We have already seen these in action with the recent Royal Caribbean ship hit with the virus in Singapore.

There are strict isolation protocols and certain cabins are not sold to allow this. Cruise lines will also set up established relationships with on shore medical facilities to allow quick transfer of ill patients to a on-shore hospital.

There will be more medical personnel onboard better training for all crew. A doctor on board will be qualified with managing the medical care of severely ill patients. This will mean a doctor qualified and experienced in intensive care. 

Better Training and Medical Facilities

Appointments with medical staff are done virtually or in the passengers cabin to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

A new role has been added with a crew member responsible for infectious disease prevention and response. 

Onboard medical centers will have more capacity with new advanced equipment and medication to treat COVID-19.

Ben Hewitt
I am a keen video producer and photographer. Before starting Cruise with Ben and David I worked for the BBC and Discovery Channel.