Cruise lines plan for post-pandemic return

Cruise ships anchored at the Port of Miami on June 25. (Melissa Nolasco/SFMN)

As many parts of South Florida slowly start to reopen amid rising numbers of positive COVID-19 tests, some cruise lines have also announced plans to resume their services from the Port of Miami after closing down due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Though several cruise lines announced an August start, they soon delayed that until September. Then Carnival Cruise Lines — one of the biggest — decided to shove it off until October.

The cruise lines are nevertheless preparing for departure by taking new precautions to help prevent further cases of COVID-19 and following safety protocols for all travelers. 

Danielle Gutierrez, a guest port service agent at the Port of Miami, said she expects a big drop in passenger numbers as a result of COVID-19, and the passengers that do decide to cruise may have a different experience than what they’re used to. 

“When the virus began, cruises were experiencing high rates of cases,” Gutierrez said. “Everyone knows how contagious any other sickness can be during a cruise but with the current safety measures it might differ.”

The risk of coronavirus cases on cruises is very high, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One of the biggest Miami-based cruise lines, Carnival, has released tips for passengers to follow when onboard to help them stay healthy. Hand-washing sinks will be available at the entrance to all dining room areas and high-touch areas such as railings, doorknobs, elevators and bathrooms will be frequently sanitized.

Carnival will follow essential safety protocols if passengers start showing flu-like symptoms. In such a case, the stateroom of the passenger will receive additional extra deep cleaning to prevent any further contamination.

The cruise industry at the Port of Miami has a big influence on the local economy, accounting for approximately $6 billion of Miami-Dade’s annual economy. With the cruise lines’ plans to resume sailings, other local businesses are hoping to stop losing money as well.

Eddyth Garcia, a travel blogger, has postponed her spring and summer vacations because of the pandemic. She travels often to different countries, and her preferred method of travel is cruise ships.

“There is so much you can do on a cruise, it’s like being on a resort to be honest,” said Garcia. “But for sure going again on a trip for me will never be the same, with facial coverings and social distancing all the time I think it won’t be as much fun like usual.”

Garcia’s cruise to the Bahamas was booked for May on the Carnival Sensation ship. However, it was canceled. Carnival is now offering guests who booked canceled voyages different options for refunds. The first option is that guests can receive 100 percent cruise credit for future sailing dates next year. Also, they will get a $300 onboard credit.

“I will be rescheduling my next cruise for next year, I hope by that time things are cooled down and there’s not another breakout,” said Garcia.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises cruise-ship passengers to take their temperature with a thermometer twice a day and practice social distancing if they feel flu-like symptoms.

Ayleen Ramirez, a travel enthusiast, hasn’t been able to go on trips for the past five months. The impact of the pandemic has also shifted future travel decisions for her.

“As long as people stick to the safety guidelines while traveling, we will be okay,” said Ramirez. “We just need to start adapting to this norm wherever we are.”