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Words by Dallas Sherringham, editor of Cruise Magazine (www.australiancruisemagazine.com.au) and Mature Traveller (www.maturetraveller.com.au)

The world of cruising will have changed forever when it resumes late this year with every cruise line announcing rigid COVID-19 testing prior to departure.

Cruise ships will feature reduced capacity to facilitate social distancing as they attempt to create their own COVID free bubble on board.

Forget about packed showrooms and the famous buffets, there will be restricted seating at indoor performances and all food will be served by staff.

Ports like Cairns, Port Douglas and Airlie Beach will benefit greatly from the fact that itineraries are being designed to stay in Australian waters.

Protocols vary slightly between major cruise lines, but the aim is the same for each one – COVID free environments on board. Expect a mandatory COVID-19 test before departure and a temperature test upon boarding for starters.

At one stage it was considered cruise lines would make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory prior to boarding, but this has now softened with a preference for strict testing protocols in the days before your cruise.

The major cruise lines like Carnival, Princess and P&O will require a negative test certificate prior to your cruise, while small luxury cruise ships will attempt to get the Australian winter season underway by enforcing a high standard of passenger screening.

Royal Caribbean Cruise’s Quantum of the Seas will operate out of Brisbane in 2021/22 and is currently providing short trips out of Singapore.

Royal Caribbean has suspended its cruise break worldwide through April 30, except Singapore, and when cruising resumes there will be strict health and safety protocols and guest conduct rules in place.

P&O Australia has extended its cruise pause until June 18, disruption its introduction of two new ships, Pacific Encounter and Pacific Adventure. Pacific Encounter’s itineraries are based on Brisbane.

COVID-19 temperature tests prior to boarding and physical distancing will be mandatory and masks will be required where distancing is not possible.

Carnival Splendor sailings won’t resume until June 28, while Queensland favorite Carnival Spirit resumes on September 12. Passengers and crew will be required to wear masks in designated venues on board and during shores tours.

In addition, shore excursions will only be undertaken using providers who can uphold Carnival’s own protocols and if you fail to abide by shore excursion protocols, you will be denied boarding.

Princess Cruises relies heavily on mature market - over 50s – and because its guests book well ahead each year, it is pushing its extensive record deployments in 2022 and beyond. These include deals offering up to 40 per cent off regular fares.

Princess has a strict protocol in place with a full checkup before boarding, a temperature test and secondary screening on board as required. It will have extra medical staff on board capable of providing critical care.

Celebrity Cruises is also aiming at the longer term market, starting out of Sydney aboard the eye-catching Celebrity Eclipse.

From September 2022 through April 2023, departures from both Sydney and Auckland, the 19 different itineraries will also feature new themed experiences: ‘Sun and Beach Escapes’, ‘Food and Wine Classics’, and ‘Five Star Getaways’.

The small ship lines are expected to get things started when they can convince the authorities it is safe to sail in Australian waters with limited shore engagement.

APT is hoping to restart by April using the 99 passenger Caledonian Sky in the ever popular Kimberley route. It has been joined by fellow small ship cruise line Ponant in an attempt to convince the Federal Government that domestic cruising is safe.

Ponant’s chairman Sarina Bratton said the biggest problem was convincing the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee that expedition cruising was safe in Australia.

Ultra-luxury line Crystal Cruise will require all passengers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 at least 14 days prior to ocean and river cruises around the world.