There's been a lot of talk about when cruise ships will start sailing again, but not a lot of chatter about what the experience will be like. With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continuing to kick the "no-sail" order can down the calendar, it's easy to set aside the conversation. Carnival (NYSE:CCL) (NYSE:CUK), Royal Caribbean Cruises (NYSE:RCL) and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NASDAQ:NCLH) have canceled all stateside sailings until at least early November.
However, with the Healthy Sail Panel, helmed by Royal Caribbean and and Norwegian Cruise Line, putting out their health and safety recommendations this week, reality is starting to sink in. Cruising isn't going to be as fun and carefree as it used to be for passengers, and it's definitely not going to be as lucrative for the actual cruise line operators.
The 65-page report by the industry-helmed panel details dozens of new protocols that will make the cruising experience safe and ideally acceptable to the CDC. Some of the things may seem fairly obvious. Passengers will have to be tested for COVID-19 just before going on a ship -- no greater than five days before they set sail -- and submit the negative result. There will then be an additional health screening at embarkation.
Crew members will have even more hoops to jump through. They also will be required to submit a fresh negative test before boarding the ship, but then they'll have to quarantine on the vessel for seven days and pass another COVID-19 test before beginning their duties.
Life on the ship will also be a little more inconvenient. Passengers and crew will have to submit to daily temperature checks and be required to wear face coverings for most of the time that they're outside of their cabins. Naturally, there'll be exceptions when eating, drinking, or swimming, but the mask requirement is going to be a deal-breaker for some potential passengers.
Financially speaking, the measures will take a bite out of the profitability that Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Line investors are used to seeing. The panel recommends that the ships have fewer passengers -- and crew members -- on board. The itineraries should also be shorter, with limited shore excursions to keep exposure in check. The cruise lines will also be on the hook for enhanced protocols including improving ventilation and medical capabilities, increased sanitation, and other measures to limit interactions.
If this doesn't sound like the magical cruises that you may have taken in the past, you're right. If some of these measures seem like a regulatory overreaction, keep in mind that it's the cruise lines themselves proposing these changes as a way to get approval to start sailing again. Cruise ships continue to be the last major travel transportation industry waiting for the green light, but this could be just the start of a new wave of problems for the cruise lines.