This has been a rough week for cruise stock investors. Shares of Carnival (CCL 0.61%) (CUK 0.66%), Royal Caribbean Cruises (RCL 1.97%), and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH 2.31%) have declined 10%, 8%, and 10%, respectively, through Thursday's close. 

Carnival announced it would be selling two more of its ships. It's also laying off 100 -- or 10% -- of its ship officers. A panel led by Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line also issued its recommendations for setting sail again safely, and let's just say that the cruising experience will be more than a little different when passenger voyages get going again. Throw in iffy economic news, a pandemic that isn't showing any signs of going away anytime soon, and a slow-footed approach to injecting another round of financial stimulus into taxpayer pockets, and you have a gloomy outlook for the cruising industry.

Someone zip-lining in Labadee with a Royal Caribbean cruise ship in the water.

Image source: Royal Caribbean Cruises.

That sinking feeling

The news may not be as ominous as it seems. Carnival had already announced recently that it would be unloading 18 of its ships this year, as it pares back its fleet to compete in the new normal. We're talking about 12% of its capacity, so naturally it will need fewer ship officers. Carnival is also cutting loose ships that accounted for just 3% of last year's operating income, so it's strategically moving forward with a more efficient fleet. 

The Healthy Sail Panel that Norwegian Cruise Line started in partnership with Royal Caribbean put out a 65-page report this week detailing the extensive measures recommended to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It's going to be a heavy lift for passengers and even more of a burden on crew members, but did we really expect the new normal would be any different?

Of course, passengers are going to be required to wear masks in all indoor areas outside of their own cabins and when sitting in dining rooms or lounges. Of course, passengers will have to prove they haven't contracted COVID-19 before boarding and subject themselves to daily temperature checks. Of course, there will be capacity restrictions to have fewer passengers and crew members on board. We learned early in this pandemic that a full cruise can be a superspreader event.

Life will be naturally harder on crews. They will have fewer opportunities to shed their masks, and just starting the job has a new obstacle. Crew members will need to pass a COVID-19 test, quarantine on the ship for seven days, and then pass a second virus test. 

The good news is that none of this is permanent. A viable vaccine or anything that ends the COVID-19 threat will put the industry back to sail at full strength. The recession, political tussle over stimulus checks, and any other short-term hiccups aren't likely to be factors when the industry's ready to hit the high seas again at full capacity. Surviving until then is everything right now, but the short-term moves on short-term news shouldn't be a factor for long-term investors.