Covid tests, fewer passengers and no self-service buffets: Cunard outlines its cruise protocols

Benjamin Parker
·3-min read
cruise ship - SJOERD VAN DER WAL
cruise ship - SJOERD VAN DER WAL

British cruise line Cunard has outlined the coronavirus health and safety protocols that will be in place when its ships return to sailing.

Measures include taking a Covid-19 test prior to the voyage, revamped dining experiences and tighter restrictions for onshore excursions. The operator will be “significantly reducing” the number of passengers onboard during the first itineraries when it returns.

The Southampton-based line has paused all operations until March 2021. It hasn’t carried any passengers for seven months, when the global cruise industry was halted as coronavirus spread across the world.

In a statement, Cunard said that the protocols are “designed to keep [passengers], our crew, and the communities we visit healthy and well, whilst ensuring you’ll still be able to enjoy the voyage of your dreams.”

Every passenger must test negative for Covid-19 either at the cruise terminal or “in the period before travelling”, or both. If the result is positive, or if anyone in the passenger’s household has symptoms or is self-isolating, then boarding will be denied. Information will need to be provided for the UK Government’s Track and Trace scheme in case contact needs to be made after the voyage.

The three Queens that make up Cunard's fleet - ANDREW GOSLING
The three Queens that make up Cunard's fleet - ANDREW GOSLING

Further health checks will be undertaken directly before boarding, including a health declaration questionnaire, a temperature check and, if required, a more comprehensive medical screening. Face masks must be worn inside the terminal but Cunard is yet to confirm the rules regarding the use of face coverings onboard.

The buffets – a long-time favourite with cruisers – and deck grills will no longer be self-service, with food served by staff, and all restaurants and bars will be adapted to allow for social distancing. Passengers may be asked to reserve a specific table and will only be permitted to dine with their travel companions. An extended complimentary room service menu will be added to staterooms.

Pre-booking may be introduced for certain activities but public areas such as spas, salons, gyms and pools will be made Covid-secure and kept open (unless guidance changes).

Shore excursions will still go ahead but initially they will only be with Cunard’s “organised and vetted shore experiences” – which means independently exploring a port of call is off the table for the time being. Passengers can expect temperature checks when reboarding.

The publication of Cunard’s health and safety overview comes less than two weeks after trade body Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) revealed their framework for the return of cruise in a post-Covid world.

The document was hailed as a “vital first step” in bringing back holidays at sea.

Simon Palethorpe, the president of Cunard, said the framework “is enabling us to develop new and enhanced protocols to protect the health of everyone on board our ships”.

Although mandatory coronavirus testing was not included in the UK and Ireland framework, days later CLIA announced that it would be making it a requirement for bigger vessels.

In a statement, the trade association said: “CLIA ocean cruise line members worldwide have agreed to conduct 100 per cent testing of passengers and crew on all ships with a capacity to carry 250 or more persons – with a negative test required for any embarkation.

"This is a travel industry first and an example of the cruise industry leading the way.”

The major cruise lines that have returned to service in Europe – Costa Cruises and MSC Cruises, in Italy, and AIDA Cruises, in Germany – all require passengers to test negative before they can board.