The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s no-sail order is set to expire Oct. 31. Several cruise lines have already postponed sailings until January 2021. Photo credit: Stephanie David

Avid cruise fans Stephanie and Jay David usually go on five cruises each year, but the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled four of their 2020 cruises.

The Davids, of Dillon, South Carolina, had cruises lined up for April, July, August and November in places as far-flung as St. Martin, Antigua, Barbados and St. Vincent.

“We have Royal Caribbean ‘Diamond’ status,” Stephanie said, which means they have cruised so much with the company that they have earned perks such as getting to go to a lounge to have drinks and meeting other diamond status members.  “We enjoy the Broadway-caliber shows, going to the different ports in several countries and meeting people from all over. It’s like a hotel on the sea.”

They are aware the cruises they experience will look different in 2021 due to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. However, the Davids are set to embrace the industry’s changes, especially if it means adding a new experience to their bucket list.

The CDC’s “no-sail” order is set to expire Oct. 31, meaning cruise lines could begin opening up operations after a shutdown that began in March as the coronavirus pandemic emerged in the U.SAccording to the CDC’s website, this global policy applies to all cruise ships with the capacity to carry over 250 people and where an overnight stay onboard is expected.

The Cruise Lines International Association, the industry’s leading trade group that represents 95% of cruises, said in early October cruise lines have committed to testing every passenger and crew member for COVID-19 before boarding.

As cruise veterans, the Davids understand the necessity for new protocols. They have been on more than 40 cruises, using a variety of cruise lines such as Celebrity, Carnival and Royal Caribbean, David said, as she referenced the notebook she keeps of past and future trips.

“I’m a nerd when it comes to this stuff,” David said. “We’ve gone on so many that one of the local shop owners in Saint Kitts knows who we are. He even introduced us to his family.”

Donna Moore, of Lexington, South Carolina, said she has been on more than 20 cruises and typically goes twice a year. Her cruise to Alaska in August was postponed and rescheduled for March 2021.

“I’ve never been to Alaska, so I was really disappointed about that one,” Moore said. “I’ve heard the sightseeing is beautiful, and I’m looking forward to seeing the ice caps.”

Moore said her family enjoys all of the activities a cruise has to offer, such as parasailing, snorkeling and tours of the islands.

“I have four kids, and it is nice not to have to hear ‘what’s for dinner’ every night or ‘what’s for fun’,” Moore said. “The food is included in the cost of the cruise, and I don’t have to cook or clean. My husband gets good rates and prizes at the casinos too.”

Moore said one memorable cruise was with her mother and sisters. A younger group of people they sat with at dinner each night “adopted” her mom on the cruise.

“They would say ‘Hey, Grandma!’ whenever they saw her from across the ship,” Moore said. “They live in North Carolina, and we even invited them to come celebrate my mom’s birthday with us.”

Tammy Herring, of Latta, South Carolina, said she cruises with a group of 30 to 50 friends. She did not have any 2020 cruises planned.

“We usually book in August or September and cruise in June or July,” Herring said. “It’s just so amazing because there is something for everyone to do: karaoke, coffee bars, dance rooms, casinos, kids clubs and fine dining.”

One of Herring’s favorite parts of cruising is the beauty of each island.  

“There is nothing like looking down in the clear water and being able to see your feet,” Herring said. “The stillness of the water is so different. There are no waves breaking like what we have here at the beach because the islands are in little coves.”

Herring said she is looking into scheduling a cruise in the summer of 2021.

“I’m not comfortable going right now,” Herring said. “I will probably feel better about it in July, but before I book another one, I want to make sure that things are taken care of with COVID-19.”

How cruising will change for the foreseeable future

Ashley Jackson, vice president of Thomas Hogan Travel in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, said her agency has seen a huge increase in demand for cruises in the latter part of summer 2021 and into 2022.

“Even though the no-sail order expires Oct. 31, the cruise industry itself has cancelled U.S. cruises past the order’s date,” Jackson said. “The earliest they are expected to return is December 2020.”

Jackson expects to receive more concrete information on ships’ COVID-19 protocols in the coming weeks, but she has already been informed of several ways cruising will change. She has participated in several phone conversations and webinars with various cruise line representatives.

According to information Jackson received, cruise lines will be encouraging mobile check-in to allow for a touchless check-in process upon embarkation. Assigned boarding times will be implemented in order to limit the number of travelers confined to close quarters. Face coverings will be mandatory in all public places.

A negative COVID-19 test result and a comprehensive health questionnaire will be required prior to boarding.

“Some cruise lines have already advised that test costs will be reimbursed to guests in the form of a shipboard credit,” Jackson said.

Cruise ships are also expected to return at limited capacity to allow for physical distancing. According to Jackson, public areas such as lounges, restaurants and entertainment venues could restrict the number of guests allowed in at a given time.

“We’ve found that first-time cruisers are now going for the smaller ships of a few hundred people,” Jackson said. “In the past, people would not mind cruising with a couple of thousand people. The average ship carries 2,000 passengers.”

Cruise lines will also have alternative buffet dining, while others may eliminate buffet dining altogether. Self-served buffets will be eliminated, requiring staff to serve the passengers.

“Back in March, we did not expect to be dealing with this into 2021,” Jackson said. “All we can do is take it one day at a time. We will get through it, and cruises will resume.”

Looking forward to 2021

Moore believes COVID-19 will still exist in 2021, with or without a vaccine. Despite this, she is not too worried about their Alaska cruise in March.

“You can’t live in a bubble forever,” Moore said. “I think the cruise companies will do everything possible to abide by the CDC’s rules.”

David said they already have five cruises scheduled for 2021. Like Moore, she understands COVID-19 will still be an issue in 2021, but she believes cruising can be successful if proper protocols are followed.

“These cruises are probably safer than hotels here at the beach,” David said. “I’ve watched YouTube videos to see what they are doing, and I’ve heard about their abilities to do the hands-free options, temperature checks, wearing masks and controlling who you come in contact with on the ship.”

David said their next scheduled cruise is in April 2021, and she hopes they have well-established COVID-19 procedures in place by then.

“Even with a vaccine, COVID-19 will still be here,” David said. “But if it means we can cruise and travel, my husband and I will be first in line to take the vaccine.”

Stephanie and Jay David said four of their 2020 cruises were cancelled, but they are looking forward to following protocols to resume cruising in the coming months. Photo credit: Stephanie David

The Davids have been on over 40 cruises. They keep a notebook of their past and future trips. Photo credit: Stephanie David

Tammy Herring said she and her group of friends typically cruise in June or July. She wants to make sure COVID-19 protocols are in place before scheduling the next one. Photo credit: Tammy Herring

Donna Moore cruises twice a year with her family. Her cruise to Alaska in August was postponed until March 2021. Photo credit: Donna Moore