Is this what cruising could look like in the age of COVID-19? 

Is this what cruising could look like in the age of COVID-19? 

Cruise companies are waiting for the CDC to lift its no-sail order and are busy working on protocols to convince both customers and health authorities that they have put in practice measures that will guarantee a safe environment.

But so far, while promising that measures will be rigorous and robust, they have yet to spell out specific measures as to what life on board cruise ships will look like while the coronavirus is still out there, and a vaccine has yet to be released. 

We are now some two months into the no-sail order and so far, what we have heard from the Big Three, Carnival Corporation, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean is that they are working on the most stringent procedures imaginable. 

Norwegian Cruise Line Statment

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio said the industry would have to provide a robust and comprehensive series of protocols that gives the CDC confidence that the environment onboard a cruise ship is healthy.

“This is not an exercise of optics,” he said. “This is not an exercise of let’s get away with the minimum required. I want to do everything humanly possible within the bounds of what technology offers us today to be able to look my own family in the eye and say ‘You are safe to go on board our cruise ships.’” 


New safety protocols to resume sailing
New safety protocols to resume sailing

Carnival announced sail begin by August 1

Carnival Cruise Line in announcing earlier this month a phased renewal of service from August 1 issued a statement in which it said: “In our continued support of public health efforts, any return to service will also include whatever enhanced operational protocols and social gathering guidelines that are in place at the time of the resumption of cruise operations. We are committed to supporting all public health efforts to manage the COVID 19 -situation and will continue to keep our guests, travel agent partners and other stakeholders informed.”

Royal Caribbean has perhaps given a way a little more, patenting a protective mask, dubbed ‘Seaface’, noting that buffet service is likely to continue and stating that “we are working on our return to service protocols.” 

A lot of corporate-speak, but a lot less detail

Now one small company has come out with perhaps the most specific protocol yet to be announced for sailing in the time of COVID-19. 

Scylla, a European river fleet flying under a Swiss flag, put out a statement May 18, in which it spelled out its protocol step by step, while stating that its first trip will take place as soon as authorities allow.  

“More than 2 months after COVID-19 has put our fleet on pause, we can finally wake up in a world where cruising activities are within reach again. As we have passed the peak of COVID-19 and we have got to know our `viricidal enemy`, a positive outlook enabled us to start preparing the restart of our cruising activities,” the company said. 

“As part of the precautions, Scylla has drafted its onboard protocols to ensure guests can enjoy their trip, with respect for safety and adapted hygiene measures. From embarkment till the end of the trip, social distance, a minimum of physical interactions between people onboard, regular health checks by an onboard doctor, and strict cleaning policies ensure safe travels.

 “The use of protective gear, onboard routing for one-way movements, body temperature measurement, COVID-19 quick tests, etc. are part of this strategy. Changes have also been made to the services and facilities offered onboard to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 without compromising on a true holiday feeling. High-risk services such as massages are temporarily not offered onboard, while the service level in restaurants, bars, and lounges is adapted by servicing the customer as much as possible, with a minimum of physical interaction.”

Scylla COVID-19 Onboard Protocol

 The protocol is as follow and is well worth a read if you want to know what your next cruise could look like: 

Guest embarkation 

  • Scylla requests its tour operators to investigate the whereabouts and physical health of guests before boarding the ship by means of a questionnaire.
    • Scylla AG requires a pre-boarding statement from the tour operator confirming the validated health checks for all passengers participating in the journey, ensuring all passengers being fit to travel.
    • Only registered guests and crew are allowed to enter the ship, after performing safety/health checks such as measurement of body temperature and hand disinfecting.
    • In case elevated temperature is measured, the passenger will not be allowed on board until the potential risk of a passenger has been defined by the local health authorities.
    • Embarkation is arranged with respect for social distance and adapted procedures minimize the interaction between guests and crew.
    • Every step of the check-in procedure is being revised to have a contactless experience.
    • The main safety rules will be communicated to guests (verbal and in writing) before entering the ship the first time.
    • The use of plastic screens and other protective gear is used for embarkation steps that require interaction.
    • Before embarkation, the entire ship, including cabins will be cleaned/disinfected and ventilated. 
Scylla covid-19 onboard protocol
Scylla covid-19 onboard protocol

Guest interaction on board


  • The use of mouth masks is mandatory onboard when walking around.
  • Respect for 1,5-meter social distance or compliance with local guidelines with regards to social distancing is guaranteed and clearly communicated onboard.
  • General safety measures such as coughing hygiene are requested and clearly communicated on board.
  • When needed, meals and activities are being arranged in time slots to lower the used capacity of communal areas.
  •  When spaces do not allow social distancing, one-way movements are being installed and clear routing is defined onboard to exclude crossings without a safe interpersonal distance.
  •  All meals will be served and no buffet services are offered.

Onboard services and facilities


  • A doctor accompanies journeys to perform health checks with crew and guests, for onboard consultations and to assess the potential risks on a frequent basis.
    • Quick tests for COVID-19 are available onboard. These can be used by the accompanying doctor in case of suspected risk.
    • The temperature of every guest is being measured on a daily basis.
    • Clear signage is provided onboard to make guests and crew comply with the defined routing plans.
    • Services such as massage, hairdresser for which social distancing is impossible are not available.
    • Services with a medium risk of spreading bacteria such as luggage handling are being minimized and performed with adapted procedures to limit risks.
    • Facilities with limited space or elevated infection risks such as elevators and public toilets are out of order.
    • Our cleaning staff will be taking additional measures in disinfecting surfaces to minimize the spread of bacteria by cleaning handles, staircases, toilets, armrests, guardrails … with cleaning solutions adapted to COVID-19 on an even more frequent basis than is usually done.
    • Room service is being stimulated as one of the measures to limit the number of people in the restaurant.
    • Non-essential items that would be touched by multiple people are not made available (newspapers/umbrellas/ …) • No orders can be placed at the bar, all services are based on table services at all times.
    • All food and beverages will be served as individual portions with a minimal need for contact between the person serving and the food/drink item.
    • Each cabin is being disinfected twice a day, without the presence of the guest. Cabins are cleaned by the same member of the housekeeping staff every time and all members of the housekeeping staff are obliged to wear a face mask and gloves during their activities.
    • All cabins will be provided with a bottle of hand sanitizer. • Payments can be made by credit card only, except for tips which will be deposited in a tip box. 

Crew for hotel and nautical operations

  • Every crew member will be officially tested for COVID-19 before boarding.
  • The crew arrives onboard days before guests to guarantee a quarantine period, after being questioned about their past whereabouts and current and past health situation.
  • Procedures are being put in place to ensure social distance between crew members in sleeping, recreational and mutual areas for the crew.
  • All crew is being clearly instructed and trained to ensure compliance with the COVID-19 protocols.
  • The onboard crew is obliged to wear protective gear during working hours and when interacting with guests.
  • If it is determined by the onboard doctor that there is a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 disease on board, an outbreak management plan will be activated. The suspected case will be immediately instructed to wear a medical mask, follow cough etiquette, and practice hand hygiene; the suspected case will be isolated in a predefined isolation cabin with the door closed. Infection control measures will be applied in accordance with WHO guidance (2, 6). The disembarkation and transfer of the suspected case to an onshore healthcare facility for further assessment and laboratory testing will be arranged as soon as possible in cooperation with the health authorities at the port.

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