Will it be safe to book a cruise in the future? What are cruise companies doing to ensure passenger safety? What will the future of cruising look like?

Unless you unplugged from all media for the past months, the vision of stranded passengers dealing with COVID-19 onboard cruise ships is a fresh and frightening memory.

future of cruising - cruise ships in Juneau alaska

As questions come to us from readers on the cruise industry future, we reached out to travel writer John Roberts for answers. Having been on over 80 cruises, hundreds of John’s articles on cruising have been published in major print and online publications.

We posed some tough questions to John about cruise ships of the future. If you are considering a cruising again or booking your first cruise, we encourage you to read on.


Before we get into the future of cruising, we understand there are still thousands of cruise ship employees stranded at sea unable to get home. Is there any resolution in sight?

I know there have been reports of thousands of crew members who the lines are working to repatriate to their countries. The problem is complicated, with the CDC requiring the cruise lines to use private charter flights to get crew home if they were to depart from a U.S. airport as well as the most burdensome hurdle being that many of the crew members’ home countries are not allowing them to come back during the pandemic. 

I know there has been painstaking progress in trying to get them off the ships, and it continues. I feel horrible for these people who must be missing their family and feel stranded and abandoned. I also worry that many of them will have great reservations about coming back to work on a ship, at least in the near term. It must be incredibly frustrating and disillusioning.

What will the cruise industry need to do to get passengers back onboard?

Scenic Jasper cruise in Budapest Hungary

Scenic Jasper in Budapest. Danube River cruises are among my favorites. Read about my active biking-themed Danube cruise

Cruise lines need to ensure confidence that cruisers will be able to have a pleasant and safe experience. 

Many longtime cruisers I know are actually looking forward to returning as soon as it’s allowed. They realize that things might look a little differently these days with new procedures and protocols but they are willing to do what it takes to sail. The problem will be with luring first-time cruisers to try out this mode of travel, given all the expected questions about how safe and fun it can be in the age of coronavirus.

Cruise lines have been implementing new technology, rules and cleaning programs to get the ships ready and to meet new regulations. These include things like multiple and frequent temperature checks, social distancing measures and the elimination of buffets. 

When would you predict travelers will be cruising again?

Some cruisers will be dipping their toes back in by the end of June with some small ship river cruising in Europe and even in the United States on the American rivers. I will be taking a cruise with American Cruise Lines June 20 to 27 on this Pacific Northwest itinerary and get to see what the new protocols are like. As of now, U.S.-flagged small ships are allowed to sail with 250 or fewer people onboard, according to CDC rules.

The mass-market big-ship cruising, though, seems to be a ways away. Cruise lines have been continuing to push back their prospective re-start dates, and I am betting we won’t see any significant numbers of cruise ships out there around the world until Spring 2021.

It is going to take a while for the ships and procedures to meet the regulations and requirements of the regulatory agencies around the world. There is so much that goes into a cruise vacation that involves a number of industries that are all affected by the pandemic. Cruisers have to go through airports, typically stay in hotels and visit a number of countries that all might be at different stages of shutdown or re-opening. It’s a logistical nightmare, and cruisers are wary that they might face disruption or quarantine measures during their time abroad.

National Geographic Venture with John Roberts

Expedition ships offer spectacular programs of adventure. We sailed from San Francisco with Lindblad on its National Geographic Venture.


Can you offer suggestions as to what people should look for when deciding on a cruise going forward?

Cruising is a wonderful way to travel. I have been on more than 80 voyages. No doubt, it will be changing because of the pandemic. I enjoy cruises of all types but have been particularly fond of the small-ship expedition or adventure style of cruising. With fewer passengers and activities more focused on nature and what is off the ship, it’s a thrilling experience.

These types of cruises seem likely to me to be the safest option in the near term because the environment can be more easily made safe. The bigger ships with huge amounts of passengers and dozens of venues all over the vessel face bigger challenges when it comes to social distancing and health monitoring and screening.

That being said, people should gauge whether they will be comfortable around others and feel they can effectively keep themselves safe and healthy while traveling.  

How will future cruises deal with line-ups for everything from excursions to muster drills?

There is no doubt that cruisers will need to be patient to deal with the new procedures that are coming as a result of this pandemic. To get back in service, ships will be doing temperature checks prior to embarkation and at many other times during the cruise, such as when gathering for muster drills or entering a restaurant or theater or returning from a day in port. 

This will seem like a great inconvenience for those who value their precious time when on a vacation. There are also questions about what will happen if someone tests positive for the virus. What will quarantine conditions/terms looks like, how will the costs be handled, how will it affect the other cruisers.

Masks also will be expected to be worn at certain points, such as on tour buses or when gathering for muster drill or in other venues that feature larger crowds in close quarters.

This will all have to figure into your calculus when considering whether you can deal with any such interruptions or delays or points of frustration during your holiday.

John Roberts relaxing on an AIDA Cruise

On AIDA Cruises’ AIDAperla, where we were the only American’s on a German cruise ship.

What will become of cruise ship buffets and shared dining experiences onboard?

Buffets as we know them will be off limits until a vaccine is available. Passengers can expect servers will hand them their food choices or that the cruise ship buffet areas will be redesigned to offer a cafeteria style experience or a series of food cart-style stations. This eliminates the free-for-all feeding frenzy that I never particularly liked because of hygiene and food-waste concerns.

Also, for any cruises in the short term, ships are opening separate spaces to use as dining areas to allow for social distancing. The ships also are offering additional seating times to limit the number of people in the dining rooms. Also, some lines are allowing only family members to eat together. This is a tough one for travelers who like to get to meet new people on cruises over collegial dining experiences.

Are you booked on a cruise ship in the future? If so, can we ask which one and why you chose it?

I am booked on a couple cruises: a voyage on the Columbia and Snake Rivers with American Cruise Lines. This is to report on and see how the smaller ships such as this are handling a return to service. I aim to tell my readers what to expect in this new era of cruising. 

I also have a November sailing in Morocco on Star Clippers that I hope does not get postponed. This cruise line offers traditional full-masted sailing voyages on small ships, and it should be a great adventure in such an exotic location.

What might cruise ships of the future look like?

I think that the cruise lines are going to have to reconsider how big they want to continue to build these ships. The recent decade has seen ever-bigger ships that squeeze more and more people onboard. The emphasis will shift to fewer people, more outdoor dining, bigger spaces and hi-tech cleaning and air filtration solutions. The trade-off will be that cruise fares will increase.

We would appreciate any final thoughts or advice you have on future cruising.

Travel is meant to be a form of escape and relaxation. You work hard to earn some time away from home to explore new destinations or to revisit some of your favorite places. Like any travel, I think a cruise is best when you can be carefree, allowing you to immerse yourself in the activities and adventures that your holiday offers. It’s also a great way to meet new friends who likely share your passion and curiosity.

I am hopeful that we will soon be able to deal with the coronavirus through a vaccine or effective treatments and therapies. For me, this will be the only way to get back to the unfettered joy of cruising (and travel) that we love. 

Until then, though, the future of cruising will look quite different and considerably less enjoyable than I have grown accustomed to.

John Roberts cruise industry expert

John Roberts is a freelance travel writer and owner of InTheLoopTravel.com. He has traveled to more than 50 countries and has been known to tip back a few local beers along the way. John writes extensively about cruising, active travel and wellness in an effort to highlight how people can connect with and share their cultures through rewarding travel experiences.

We encourage you to visit John’s blog at In the Loop Travel. You can also connect with John on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

We are curious. Are you considering booking a cruise in the future?