Just in time for the start of the 2021 cruise season, we’ve been looking at what the major shipping lines have done to get you back on the water and make your holiday safer. And they have been doing a lot.

The historic cruise pause was a tragedy. But the changes that are now in place or about to be put aboard ships should see holidays at sea or on inland waterways become, once again, among the safest.

We asked the leading lines a series of questions that will help you decide who to book with in the coming months.

Here’s what you can expect:

Health protection

Once vaccines are available, cruise lines will almost certainly expect passengers to show they have been tested before being allowed onboard. But that won’t stop screening before embarkation and during a cruise for both passengers and crew. In some cases, temperature checks will be made before each meal. Some lines are installing hospital-like medical facilities, with everything from isolation wards to, in some cases, ventilators. Masks are required where social distancing is difficult.

Air filtration

Cruise lines are using new technology to ensure air filtration systems are state-of-the-art. Some are installing MERV 13 filters, which are fine enough to filter viruses, similar to those on aircraft. Others are ensuring air doesn’t circulate between cabins. Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri has developed a “safe air” system which uses UV-C lamps, for type C ultraviolet rays applied in combination with the ship’s air conditioning system to radiate airflows with a short wavelength light that hits organic particles and prevents the circulation of air pollutants such as viruses, bacteria and mould.

The changes that are now in place or about to be put aboard ships should see holidays at sea become, once again, among the safest.

Cruise Passenger

Shore excursions

First up, only shore excursions that have been arranged by the cruise company are likely to be allowed, to ensure that guests are kept within a healthy “bubble”. Reports have already circulated of travellers who have wandered off from official tours being refused reboarding because they could be a danger to other passengers. Embarkation will mean more temperature checks and hand washing. These rules are not just important to the ship; they are also vital to making communities on shore feel safe so they will welcome cruise passengers again.

Dining

A bit of a return to the past here, as free and easy eateries give way to formal meal times and bookings. There is no other way to ensure social distancing regulations. But most ships can accommodate specific requests, and guests will be asked to nominate times and venues a little earlier than usual. The buffet hasn’t gone – but self-service has, meaning wait staff serve food. Otherwise, fine dining remains the order of the day and you may even find more alfresco options than usual.

Entertainment & activities

The show must go on, they say. And on most cruise lines it will, though booking will become a little more important and increased show times will be available to accommodate smaller seating capacities. The same goes for activities, where bookings will be important for the most popular rides, slides and pools.

Technology

One legacy of the pandemic is how it has accelerated the adoption of technology by cruise lines. Some were already ahead of the pack: Princess Cruises’ OceanMedallion, for instance, allows for contactless payments and ordering of food and drinks, and lets crew understand where everyone is at any time. Other lines are adopting similar technologies for more touchless interactions and better internet connections to manage bookings will be essential as forward planning for numbers becomes more important.

Service with a smile

Yes, even under that mask, cruise service is legendary – and more essential now than ever. Thankfully, crew training and testing and even more attentive service make a cruise holiday the best – and safest – kind you can take.