Relaxing by the pool, queueing for the buffet, sharing the big table in the main restaurant – will all of these convivial cruise routines be available in the future?

Meeting new people and forming friendships has always been part or the magic mix that makes cruising a special experience. How much can safety survive the age of COVID-19?

It’s the dilemma cruise line executives and Cruise Lines International Association managers are wrestling with as they try and produce a set of new protocols that will placate global health authorities but still make cruising the laid back luxury experience we all love.

It has been reported that Carnival Corporation will be considering restricting the number of passengers on its ships, according to Business Insider.

Two sources have told the news site that the company would also continue to check passengers’ temperatures before they board the ship.

And certain cabins would be off limits and passengers would only be allowed to book staterooms and suites that had access to fresh air. Every cabin second would also be left unoccupied.

The good news is that many of the ideas we’ve heard about sound like a genuine improvement. And the primary weapon to get you back on board will be price – so anticipate a lot of good prices.

But, because they will be carrying fewer passengers, those deals won’t last. Ultimately, cruising safely has to be more expensive. But it will still be excellent value.

Here’s what your future cruise might look like:

Rather than sailing with 3,000+ other passengers, your ship might be cruising at half to three quarters capacity to ensure that there is plenty of space in public areas for self distancing.

Disembarkation and embarkation processes will be staggered so that there are not as many people jammed together to get on and off the ship.  Some age groups or passengers with infirmities will need to declare them and have letters from their doctors.

After the Ruby Princess debacle, we can expect some major changes from Australia’s ports on embarkation and disembarkation procedures. Responsibility for biosecurity will change, and screening will be more proactive.

Lining up at the ship’s buffet will be a thing of the past – and we might even see the reintroduction of dining times, like the good old days.

There will be restrictions on the number of people in facilities like kids’ clubs, recreation areas, the spa as well as the theatres.

Ultimately, we will be seeing more restrictions, especially in travel, until a vaccination is developed against COVID-19.

Genting Cruises, the Asian-based cruise company which owns Star Cruises, Dream Cruises and luxury line Crystal Cruises, have already taken pre-emptive steps to mitigate the risk of coronavirus outbreaks, as soon as they are ready to sail.

The company revealed a comprehensive onboard health plan which will include medical certificates for passengers aged 70 and above.

For embarkation and disembarkation all guests will be required to go through a mandatory temperature screening. They will also need to fill out a pre-boarding health declaration. And passengers will be asked to check-in online, ensuring that they are allocated a specific boarding time to avoid the terminals from overcrowding.

Genting has also said that they will be increasing cleaning protocols in staterooms and especially in public areas.

Elevators will be cleaned every two hours, public areas will be cleaned two to 10 times daily, and the spa at least twice a day. Frequent touch points like handrails, lift buttons, table-tops and door handles will be cleaned at least every hour. And around various public areas, a staff member will be stationed to provide hand sanitisation.

And, there will be restricted numbers of guests allowed in entertainment and recreational areas.

While Genting might be the first off the blocks, the Cruise Lines International Association told Cruise Passenger they are working on creating new health and safety protocols.

Cruise Critic, the online website, claims Carnival is already restricting bookings and managing inventory to balance crew capacity with passenger numbers.

“As we look to our return to service in May and June, we are carefully managing inventory,” a Carnival spokesperson tells Cruise Critic. “We anticipate that certain international travel restrictions will remain. We are taking a conservative approach with regard to getting our crews back to the ships, so we have closed inventory on certain sailings so that we don’t overextend our ability to provide service on board.”

“The industry has been hard at work developing plans for the future. Internationally, CLIA and its cruise line members are working strategically on three fronts,” said Joel Katz, Managing Director of CLIA Australasia.

He said that they will be working with medical experts as well as the cruise industry to create a new framework for health and safety, working with government affairs involving a worldwide political leaders and regulators, and communicating with the public to show how much the industry has done.

“There’s much we can learn from this situation and the unprecedented impact it is having across a whole range of industries, not just tourism. The enhanced protocols and practices that CLIA member cruise lines put in place as the global crisis emerged are just some of the advances we have already made,” he said.

“There will be more to come as we work with our members and global health authorities towards recovery, and our focus will be on communicating this to government, industry stakeholders and the wider public, highlighting the robust screening measures, the sanitisation protocols, the standard of medical expertise we have on board, and the many levels of regulation and government oversight that we operate with.”

Mr Katz also pointed out that Australians love for cruise, adds $5 billion to the economy, not just through passenger spend, and helps sustain 18,000 jobs like tour operators, guides, travel agencies, maritime workers and more.

“Australians in particular have a passion for cruising which is reflected in this region having the highest market penetration for cruise out of any established market. Notwithstanding the current COVID-19 public health emergency, Australian state and federal governments appreciate the important role that cruising has within the overall tourism mix, and we are looking forward to working with them towards reinstatement of this important tourism sector,” he said.

“The cruise industry is deeply connected to the Australian community and to the Australian economy, and we plan to do our part to contribute to the global recovery as we emerge from this pandemic.”

He added: “There will be more to come as we work with our members, medical experts and global health authorities towards recovery. The ambition of the industry will be to go above and beyond what people would expect so that we can safely welcome people back onto our ships in the future.”