The pandemic era has ushered in a renewed focus on ensuring a safe and healthy return to cruising.
Cruise line executives, staff and shipboard crew have been working to develop and implement new health and safety protocols that will be in place when sailings resume again. And while some of these measures may only be in place for the duration of the global health pandemic, others are likely here to stay.
Here is what Royal Caribbean is doing to keep its passengers safe when sailings resume:
Over the summer, Royal Caribbean Group, together with Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, created its Healthy Sail Panel. The resulting document outlines 74 different best practices for the safe resumption of cruise, from temporary amendments to services and amenities as a result of COVID-19, to long-term solutions that are here to stay.
The Healthy Sail Panel forms the basis of not only Royal Caribbean and Norwegian brands, but for the broader industry as a whole. Many lines have adapted the Healthy Sail Panel's recommendations, as well as recommendations set forth by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).
CLIA has mandated that all member lines, including Royal Caribbean, perform COVID-19 PCR testing before allowing passengers and crew onboard. CLIA's directive applies to all vessels with a capacity over 250 passengers.
If you're outside your cabin, expect to wear your mask at all times unless seated, eating or drinking. Royal Caribbean has put its masking rule in place in order to prevent transmission of viruses in places where physical distancing cannot occur.
Physical distancing will have to be practiced throughout the ship. On early December sailings aboard Quantum of the Seas in Singapore, decals were applied to floors and select seating roped off to ensure that minimum distancing requirements were met.
Royal Caribbean will increase its reliance on technology, including its own app, to facilitate contactless check-in procedures at the terminal.
Another innovation is the new "E-Muster" lifeboat drill that no longer requires the ship's company to assemble all at once.
Instead, passengers will watch a safety briefing on their smart device or stateroom television, then visit their dedicated muster station at their leisure (but before sailing) to check-in with staff on-hand there.
Passengers will be provided with a wearable bracelet (similar to the technology Royal Caribbean introduced aboard its Quantum class ships several years ago) that will enable contact tracing throughout the ship should a case of COVID-19, or any other communicable disease, occur.
While Royal Caribbean is not getting rid of the buffet, it will be doing away with all self-serve options -- at least for now.
That means passengers will place their orders with staff members in the casual Windjammer Buffet, and foot will be served to them. The same goes for coffee, tea, and water -- drinks that were formerly available under self-serve options.
Reservations for dining and select entertainment venues will now be standard, in order to limit crowd control and ensure physical distancing requirements are met.
In many ways, this could be an improvement over cruising in the past: no longer will people spend half an hour sitting in an empty theatre each evening in order to be assured a seat for the nightly stage production.
Reserving time slots for shows and select entertainment venues also eliminates queuing, which has, for many, been one of the primary stressors of big-ship cruising.
Onboard ventilation will be improved across the Royal Caribbean fleet to ensure fresh air circulation at all times. Air will no longer be recycled inside the vessel and will instead be changed out as often as possible. Air will also be double-filtered to keep out smaller particles (like coronavirus) and will be changed out between 15 to 20 times per hour in larger public venues, and 12 times per hour in staterooms.
For comparison, the average large grocery store or retail outlet cycles air out only three to four times per hour.
Onboard medical facilities will be upgraded, both in terms of staffing and amenities. Medical centers will have at least two doctors with training in acute and intensive medical care, along with four registered nurses. Royal Caribbean will upgrade all medical equipment onboard, including hospital-grade ventilators, a cardiac monitor, a central oxygen system, nebulizers, defibrillators and external pacemakers and EKGs.
Ships will also carry COVID-19 PCR test kits onboard.
These are just a few of the major changes Royal Caribbean has implemented for its safe and healthy return to service, both for the assurance of its passengers and crew.
As the industry inches closer to a full restart of cruise operations, it is entirely likely that more health and safety measures will be rolled out. Some lines, like Cunard, have even taken the step of prohibiting those with certain acute medical conditions from travelling -- at least for now.
The overriding message from Royal Caribbean, as with all other cruise lines, is this: When they return to service, it will be in a safe, comfortable, and healthy environment for all.