The Return of Cruising – EU Healthy Gateways Guidelines

As businesses across the hospitality sector begin to reopen, patrons will encounter a range of measures designed to ease the spread of COVID-19. The same is happening in the cruise industry – the slow return of cruising has seen a variance in measures across different lines, with operators each setting sail at their own speed.

The EU has released their Healthy Gateways report, containing a number of safe cruising guidelines and giving a glimpse into the future of cruising. For those cruise lines wishing to sail in European Union member states, certain measures will need to be adhered to, as outlined in the report.

It should be noted that the following are guidelines, not requirements. A number of the guidelines are to be expected; social distancing and regular handwashing are things we’ve all become used to over the past couple of months.

Limiting Interaction

“In order to limit interaction among passengers, among crew, and between crew and passengers, it may be possible to divide passengers and crew into cohorts with appropriate numbers of people.”

Cohorts could be adopted in an effort to reduce interaction between persons on board. This is particularly relevant for those members of the crew who can not avoid interaction and physical distancing rules can not be applied (such as in the galley), but also applies to passengers. For passengers, these cohorts could be given scheduled times for food service, on-and-off-boarding, and onboard activities.

High-risk Groups

“Activities and services on board cruise ships could be organized according to age group, so that older individuals are separated from other age groups.”

A possibility for cohorts on board is to separate by age group. While seemingly draconian, the ability to clean and disinfect in between cohort visits could allow for safer public areas. However, it does put a damper on inter-generational family/friends travel.

Over-65s and those with underlying conditions are recommended to visit the doctor for a pre-travel medical consultation, assessing their fitness to travel.

Physical Distancing

The expected distance of 1.5m is suggested. The report considers the use of floor markings for congestion points, as well as the use of transparent panels for contact areas.

Personal Hygiene

“Stations with alcohol-based hand rub solutions (containing at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol) should be available at all entrances/gangways to the ship and in other areas such as crew/work areas, check-in areas, entertainment venues, casinos, bars, and restaurants.”

In addition to this, cruise lines are expected to provide hand hygiene information to passengers, as well as provide masks (medical masks if possible) to be used while indoors by crew and passengers.


“The ventilation of all occupied spaces of the ship should operate continuously; the ventilation rate should be such as to provide as much outside air as possible.”

The EU guidelines here are based on the ECDC guidance: “Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems in the context of COVID-19“.


“Enhanced cleaning and disinfection should be implemented in accordance with the EU Healthy Gateways guidance”.

The EU Healthy Gateways guidance on suggested procedures for cleaning and disinfection of ships during the COVID-19 pandemic outlines the cleaning equipment and materials that should be used, recommended PPE, antimicrobial agents that are effective against coronaviruses, and suggested procedures for all areas on board. The full document can be viewed here.


All cabins should be thoroughly cleaned between check out and check in, and ventilated for at least one hour after cleaning and before the next passengers. Any items that can not be disinfected, such as menus, magazines, coffee/tea packaging, should be removed from cabins. The guidance also recommends removing coffee machines, kettles, and mini bar products and applying disposable covers to the air-conditioning and TV remotes to ensure proper disinfection.

“It is recommended that individual alcohol-based hand rub solutions are to be placed in each cabin, which passengers can carry with them when moving outside of the cabin.”


Cruisers may see a lack of buffets and salt and pepper shakers in restaurants, and an increased amount of room service food.

“It is recommended that self-service food operations are avoided [if feasible]”.

“Disposable salt, pepper, and other relevant containers should be used unless these containers can be disinfected between uses.”

All culinary utensils (cutlery, plates, trays, napkins etc.) should be handed to passengers by the crew – the passengers should not collect these items themselves. A distance of 1.5m between chairs on different tables should be upheld in dining areas, and the cohort guidance as outlined above should apply, in order to limit interactions by serving food at different times.

“Individual dining options, including room service, are recommend to provide food to passengers’ cabins, in order to avoid overcrowding in restaurants”.

When food is delivered, it is recommended that it is delivered in closed packages or wrapped. Passengers should also disinfect their hands upon entry and exit of food service areas.


If it is not possible to avoid buffets, suitable protection (such as sneeze guards) should be installed between the passengers and crew, to ensure the food is protected from all sides. Only designated crew should serve food, and are required to wear PPE, following strict hygiene rules.

Reception Areas

As expected, protective screens are recommended, in addition to gloves, face masks, and hand rub solution. All reception staff should be able recognize COVID-19 symptoms and report them to medical staff.

Where possible, electronic alternatives for check-in and check-out should be used.

Entertainment Venues

The physical distancing guideline of 1.5m should be upheld in all entertainment venues, with hand rub solutions made available at entrances. Facilities should be cleaned and disinfected after use.

“Casino layouts should be reviewed so that physical distancing of at least 1.5m […] is respected and the maximum capacity of passengers allowed to enter the casino area should be determined to avoid overcrowding.”

Slot machines and gaming tables should be distanced to ensure a 1.5m gap between passengers, as well as being cleaned between each use.

Gyms and Fitness Facilities

A record of anyone using the gym should be maintained, in addition to distancing of 2m between machines and hand rub solution provided upon entrance and exit. All contact surfaces should be disinfected after use.

Pool and Bathing Areas

“The operation of indoor swimming pools is not recommended”.

Swimming pools that can be converted into outdoor venues are allowed. Bathers should be strongly advised to shower before entering the pools, with soap/shower gel provided by the cruise ship. This has the most impact for pools in spa facilities, which are almost always indoors.

“The maximum allowable number of bathers at any time in the swimming pools should be one bather per 4m2”.

The positioning of seats and sun loungers should be at least 1.5m apart, and should be made with or covered in material suitable for cleaning and disinfection.

Other Public Areas

“Passengers should be advised to avoid the use of the elevators.”

Face masks and hand rub are recommended if elevator use is needed, with hand rub placed at the entrances to elevators.

Port Visits and Excursions

In addition to the use of hand rub provided on the gangways, all passengers will be required to go through a health screening upon re-boarding assessing the presence of COVID-19 symptoms.

A lot of these changes were to be expected. It still, however, changes the face of cruising, and will do so for as long as the pandemic continues. With four months and counting of an almost industry-wide shut down, guidance such as this from the EU is a helpful indicator of what the return of cruising will look like.

Do you supply a product or service that can help the cruise ships maintain a safe and sanitised environment onboard? Make sure you’re exhibiting at Cruise Ship Hospitality Expo:

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