Planning Ahead

We were comparing cruise notes with some of our friends yesterday in our weekly virtual happy hour (these are strange times, indeed), and some of us have a cruise coming up in 204 days over Christmas and New Year’s. Our final payment is due in 84 days, in August. This would be our eleventh Christmas cruise, one of the longest, and the most expensive, by far.

I’ve never been this close to a final payment without knowing whether we were actually going to sail. I’ve never been this close to a final payment where my wife and I were both a bit ambivalent on whether we’re going. We’re both in a high-risk group for COVID-19 so it’s a bit stressful. My wife is the “hide under the bed until it’s perfectly safe” type, and I’m the “whatever happens, happens” type, so there will be interesting discussions to come.

I’m sure that if Norwegian cancels the cruise, it will be after final payment, so we’re going to have a lot of money invested before we find out if we’re really going to go.

Our cruise after the Christmas cruise is 348 days from now, from Galveston to the Panama Canal. This is a bucket-list cruise for me, and I’m actually concerned about a go/no-go on that one.

The cruise industry was hammered by COVID-19. I think time is showing that much of the original reaction to the virus was blown out of proportion, but a cruise ship is one of the few places on earth that any disease can spread rapidly.

It’s not the close quarters, although that doesn’t help. It’s the people.

My biggest concern is not the crew or the infrastructure or the updated safety and health procedures. It’s the other passengers.

A system is only as secure as its weakest part – and when you see the behavior of people during quarantine, and the behavior I’ve seen on my past cruises, I really doubt that everyone traveling on any cruise will actually follow the guidelines that are put in place.

As a stockholder, my fear is that some idiot will manage to travel sick, infect others onboard and that will be the end of cruising for good.

As a passenger, my fear is that some idiot will infect me.

If you wanted to start a cruise line today, unlike Sir Richard Branson (who managed to launch a cruise line in probably the worst possible year ever), I would not target millennials. I would target the traditional cruise audience – the ones who gave cruising a bad name – namely, the old farts, like me. They might actually follow the rules.

You can’t just make a cruise experience expensive to attempt to filter out the idiots. Watch any of the Below Deck charter boat “reality shows”. Travel in the Haven on Norwegian. Travel in the MSC Yacht Club. There are rich idiots everywhere, and many of them are very self-centered – which is a major issue.

I would have more liberal cancellation policies or just include basic insurance in the fare. One of the reasons people cruise sick is because they can’t afford to not go. Either they will lose their money (didn’t buy insurance) or they will lose their vacation (their jobs or managers or vacation policy are inflexible.)

I would include everything in the fare. If people start their journey by figuring out how to smuggle things onboard (like liquor), they are not in a mindset to follow rules.

I would go back to smaller ships. (It’s interesting that Norwegian’s next class of ships – Project Leonardo – will hold less passengers than their current Breakaway Plus class.) This would be a cruise line for people who enjoy traveling at sea, not visiting a floating resort. The smaller the crowd, the lower the likelihood that someone is sick.

I would try to avoid the over-commercialized ports (Nassau, Cozumel, St Thomas come to mind.) They have big ships calling there all the time, they’re very commercial, and many who have been on multiple cruises have been there multiple times. Plus, you want to avoid places where everyone else is going.

I would want to sail a series of routes, rather than the same route every week. For scheduling, I’m sure the same port every day of each week is the simplest, but it means that people start traveling for the ship, not the ports. (I’m pretty sure that traveling for the ship is what gave us megaships with slides and pools and go-karts and all the other toys that drive up the prices, take up space and are then not used by many of the passengers.)

I hope to sail again soon. We will see if the Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line actually starts sailing in July, and when the river cruises resume. Those are the test cases, since everyone else is looking at August or beyond.

I hope even more people realize that cruising is a wonderful way to spend a vacation. I hope they also realize you’re sharing space with a lot of other people, so we need to consider others and not just our own needs. (This, of course, seems an important lesson for people everywhere these days, not just people on cruises.)

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