Close quarters is high risk for coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was quick to issue a Level 4 Travel Health Notice for cruise ship travel at the beginning of the pandemic.

Fast forward a year later. The CDC released a two-phase framework for ships operating or seeking to operate in U.S. waters in May 2021. They also updated their guidance for cruise ships, allowing vaccinated cruise passengers to remove their masks in certain outdoor settings.

“Cruise ship operators, at their discretion, may advise passengers and crew that — if they are fully vaccinated — they may gather or conduct activities outdoors, including engaging in extended meal service or beverage consumption, without wearing a mask except in crowded settings,” according to the CDC’s updated rules for cruise ships.

Health and safety protocols are also firmly in place. Seabourn, for example, has enhanced air filtration with upgraded HVAC systems designed to replace air within public spaces and staterooms every five to six minutes. Medical centers are equipped with COVID-19 appropriate testing and treatment capabilities. An app can help you find information about distancing and contactless options aboard the ship.

These are just a few of the innovations Global Rescue experts are seeing on the water. Other trends include educational expedition trips, close-to-home river cruises, private travel bubbles on yachts and ocean cruise ship modernizations.

Comfortable Exploration on Expedition Ships

Expedition ships are smaller and have a hull allowing them to operate in shallow water — perfect for people who want to explore out-of-the-way ports or get a closer view of scenic wonders. Some MS expedition cruise ships have tourists and scientists on board, offering travelers educational itineraries coinciding with the on-going research.

Viking Expeditions, which launched two new expedition ships in January 2021, offers a Great Lakes trip for guests who want to see the area’s Northern forests, pristine lagoons as well as bald eagle and bear habitats. There’s also a trip from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, where guests will hike on the “Last Continent” with an expedition leader knowledgeable of the area’s extreme geology.

Close-to-home River Cruises

If international borders aren’t open yet, cruisers can still explore oceans and rivers on smaller craft. River cruises are on the rise for people who want a similar experience to an ocean cruise, but on a smaller ship with fewer people and closer to home.

“Those who have cruised small river ships in Europe and around the world still want to cruise and they are increasingly interested in trying the amazing options we offer here,” Susan Shultz, director of sales at American Cruise Lines, told Recommend magazine. “Many of our guests are comforted to know while they are cruising with us they are always cruising in sight of land and have easy access to all shore side facilities if needed.”

According to TravelPulse, there are several trends spurring people to book river cruises: an interest in family travel, slower, more authentic travel and a focus on sustainability and recovery. AmaWaterways noticed a growth in multi-generational bookings and a special interest in 2021 Christmas cruises, indicating families will use this time to cruise to reconnect and make up for lost time.

Travel Bubbles on Private Yachts

Yachts typically transport between 6 and 12 passengers; any more than 12 and the boat is classified as a passenger ship.

Yachts offer an easily controlled environment with the passerelle acting as a drawbridge to limit the comings and goings of guests and personnel. With PCR testing three days before boarding and, if necessary, testing by an appointed yacht agent at port, “you can have a longer, more dynamic trip where you’re changing locations while still maintaining quarantine with a crew and group of guests who have all been tested,” said Alice Howell, vice president of Stoke Broker, a travel company cultivating unique and impactful adventures around the globe and a Global Rescue Safe Travel partner.

“We recently ran a trip where we moved a yacht through remote locations and did naturally socially distanced activities in each location: mountain biking, stand up paddle boarding, beach bonfires with a barbecue and whale watching.”

The New Cruise Experience

In addition to apps to schedule spa treatments, message other passengers and get directions from the state room to the dining room, cruise ships are rolling out innovations to entice travelers back to the water.

CLIA notes a trend of smart homes at sea with “innovative solutions creating new accommodation experiences, including al-fresco living in verandah staterooms, virtual assistants and custom smart-lighting.”

Add stringent, science-based protocols to the mix of improvements and it’s no surprise 74% of cruisers are likely to cruise in the next few years and 58% of international vacationers who have never cruised are also likely to cruise in the next few years.

No matter how you are enjoying the water during your summer vacation adventure travels, add a Global Rescue membership to your dry bag. Global Rescue can be your maritime medical advisor, providing advice when symptoms present and rescue when an emergency strikes. Our coronavirus updates will also help you determine which destinations require PCR testing or proof of vaccination.