10 Things You May Never See on Cruises Ever Again

Due to COVID-19, onboard buffets and crowded casinos will be a thing of the past.

Ever since cruise lines suspended operations in response to the coronavirus, and the CDC extended a no-sail order, avid cruisers have been waiting and wondering: When can we sail again and what will life aboard be like? There's an answer, at least, for the former, as major cruise lines have announced that they will relaunch this summer, resulting in a massive spike of bookings from eager boaters. As for the latter? Well, cruise fans are likely to notice a few major changes to life at sea. So, read on, and discover what might be missing the next time you step onboard. And for more ways your vacations could look different, check out these 8 Things You May Never See in Hotel Rooms Ever Again.

No more self-serve buffets

Cruise buffet

While help-yourself buffets may take a break for the time being to minimize cross-contamination (who knows how many hands touch those serving utensils!), this favorite eatery will likely live on in a revised form. What you might instead see are kitchen crews doling out servings of crispy bacon and prime rib, like Holland America's Lido Market has famously been doing for years.

Plus, the buffet isn't the only option for complimentary cruise dining anymore. You can fill up just as easily with gratis lunch at Guy's Pig & Anchor Smokehouse on the Carnival Panorama or enjoy 24/7 table service at The Local Bar & Grill on Norwegian Encore. And to learn more about why restaurants are safer than buffets, check out the 17 Chilling Myths About Cruise Ship Buffets That Are 100 Percent True.

No more crowded casinos

Cruise casino

The onboard casino is typically a hive of energy and activity—slot machines sing and cheers erupt at the craps tables—which is why it'll be a shock to hear it quiet down a decibel. In order to follow social distancing measures, cruisers will perhaps see a limit on how many players are permitted at each table along with alternating slot machine access, similar to how MGM and other casinos are operating as Vegas reopens.

Additionally, there could be structural changes, such as more spacious casino floors and unconventional set-ups, as seen on Norwegian Encore and Bliss. Each gaming area has its own zone to minimize foot traffic and reduce congestion in corridors. In another new ship debuting soon, Carnival's Mardi Gras, the casino offers an incredibly large gaming floor with wide walkways as well as separate sections for slot machines and card tables.

No more packed pools

Pool on cruise ship

If you've ever wandered over to the hot tubs for a soothing dip only to find it overrun with fourth-graders, you won't be complaining about this post-pandemic change. Moving forward, cruisers are more likely to see enforced hot tub and pool regulations, strictly limiting the amount of bathers and ensuring underage children are accompanied by a supervising adult.

Thankfully, many of the newest ships have increased the number of hot tubs aboard, so there should be more territory to evenly spread out. Case in point: Norwegian Encore has a whopping nine hot tubs for guests! And if you'd like to know more, check out Can You Get Coronavirus From a Pool? Experts Weigh In before booking your next voyage.

No more common areas

Restaurant on cruise ship

During quarantine, we've all become accustomed to enhanced personal space. This trend will continue as cruise ships shift away from public lounges and toward more private experiences for guests, a perk that used to be available only to a select few. Dining rooms, for instance, will likely take a note from Princess Cruises and follow a scheduled seating, where guests "enjoy the same table with the same company and wait staff throughout your voyage."

Also, while some of the newest ships are the largest in the industry, they actually offer more opportunity for secluded sanctuary. The new Havana Staterooms & Suites on Carnival Panorama provide guests exclusive access to a private pool and sprawling decks, minimizing interaction with big crowds. Likewise, The Haven by Norwegian features a dedicated restaurant and personal concierge, along with a private sundeck and reserved hot tubs. Talk about sailing the high seas in style.

No more group gatherings

Large group on cruise ship

To follow social distancing guidelines, cruises will have enhanced protocols for embarkation day and excursion meeting areas, along with staggered entrance times for entertainment venues. Travelers will check in online prior to embarkation and follow a process like Carnival's arrival appointment times, which "make for a calmer, less crowded experience for everyone."

For excursion meeting areas, you should also anticipate an enforced no-waiting policy for surrounding hallways. Also likely to change is the free-for-all entrance for evening entertainment on the main stage. Previously, doors would open 15 to 30 minutes before curtain time with hundreds of guests lining up all at once. It's more likely that doors will open well in advance with timed entrances to ease congestion.

No more self-serve beverages

Self-serve coffee machine

The complimentary coffee and tea station is a beacon of light during early morning ports of call, but you won't be filling up on caffeine quite so easily for the time being. Those self-serve stations will likely transition to crew-served beverages to reduce crowding in tight spaces and minimize touch points. There may even be an option to have your cup of joe delivered right to your room when you wake up. Or, cruise lines could take a page from Royal Caribbean and offer Starbucks cafés or other coffee shops onboard.

No more self-serve beauty samples

Woman testing perfume sample

Raise your hand if you love onboard shopping during at-sea days. Same. But to reduce frequent touch points between guests, it's likely those beloved cosmetic and fragrance testers will be shelved for the foreseeable future. Instead, cruisers can expect to see shop clerks offering to apply makeup samples in a more controlled one-on-one approach.

And if you're curious about onboard salons—we have some good news for you. They should be operating by the time cruising is back in business, although stylists and nail technicians will be wearing gloves and masks. While there may be a brief pause on spa offerings like massages, Holland America says all of its spas will have a "nightly deep cleaning and disinfection process" in addition to the routine cleanups after each guest. So, thankfully those luxurious at-sea beauty days aren't gone for good. And to get a glimpse of how barber shops will look different after coronavirus, check out the 7 Things You'll Never See at Your Hair Salon Ever Again.

No more simple health forms

Pre-boarding cruise health form

Frequent cruisers are all too familiar with the pre-boarding public health questionnaire that has simple yes or no answers to fess up any flu-like symptoms. However, a more rigorous screening process will definitely be put into place post-pandemic. As an example of what's to come, Princess Cruises has enhanced health tests that "may include a thermal scan to check temperatures, and in some cases secondary screenings."

It won't be so easy to hide a lingering cough, either, so if you've been feeling ill, just stay home. After all, every cruise is offering either a full refund or a generous cruise credit of up to 175 percent for future sailings.

No more stranded dinnerware

Mug on table on cruise

One of the joys of cruising is that absolutely everything is taken care of on your behalf. No cooking, no clean-up. So it's not an uncommon sight to see a random coffee mug abandoned on a sundeck table, empty wine glasses in the library, or a stack of plates left outside a stateroom.

Crew have always swooped up these misplaced items during their rounds but, to minimize lingering germs, cruisers can likely expect to see even more cleaning around the clock. A look at Carnival's updated ship cleaning standards shows exactly how serious they plan on tackling shipboard sanitation.

No more missing sanitizer stations

Hand sanitizer

It's laughable to recall how many guests blatantly eschewed the few hand sanitizer stations placed around cruise ships. Now, you can expect to wash your hands often because everyone will be taking personal hygiene much more seriously amid coronavirus concerns. The next time you cruise, you'll see sanitizer dispensers in every corridor and entranceway, and possibly crews handing out disinfectant wipes as you step onboard. And when you are ready to climb onboard again, check out the 27 Mistakes You Should Avoid When Booking a Cruise.

Lori A. May
Lori A. May lives out her suitcase most of the year and her articles have been published in Best Life, Business Insider, Houston Chronicle, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and Time Out. Read more
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