Before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the cruise industry in the Yucatán peninsula had been experiencing continuous growth for well over a decade. In 2019, ports welcomed nearly 2,000 cruise ships, making it the region’s best season to date. The busiest of these ports by far had been Cozumel with 1,366 docked cruise ships, followed by Mahaual’s 481 and Progreso’s 146.
The region had come to depend on a steady stream of cruise goers, to maintain jobs at business including restaurants, excursion operators, retail shops, bars, and beach clubs.
As the cruise industry prepares to set to sea once again, we speak with cruise industry expert and blogger Chillie Falls about what we can expect to see in the coming months and years.
Yucatán Magazine: Hi Chillie, how is the reopening of the cruise industry going?
Chillie Falls: Several lines have begun scheduling cruises for as early as next month but the government in the United States has yet to authorize the reopening of the industry. All major cruising operators are expressing optimism, but until the CDC gives the green light, no ships will be allowed to depart from U.S. ports.
YM: When do you expect we could begin to see cruises arriving at ports in the Yucatán?
CF: As of today, Progreso is expecting its first ship, the Carnival Breeze, to dock July 24. If all goes well, Cozumel and Mahaual can expect the Celebrity Equinox to arrive from Fort Lauderdale as early as July 3.
YM: When cruises actually begin to operate again, what sort of changes can passengers expect to see?
CF: Well, for one thing, onboard self-serve buffets will likely be a thing of the past. Guests will still be able to enjoy buffets but will be served by restaurant staff. Hygiene will certainly be given top priority, as will measures like temperature checks and sanitization stations with antibacterial gel.
YM: Do you expect these sorts of measures to impact the routes and length of cruises being offered?
CF: Before the start of the pandemic we had begun to see a trend towards longer cruises. But based on the itineraries posted so far we see that shorter cruises lasting no longer than five days are likely to dominate, at least in the short term. This is of course good news for Mexico and the Caribbean.
YM: Will all passengers need to show proof of vaccination and negative COVID-19 tests?
CF: As far as negative COVID-19 tests go, I would think so. The thing with vaccinations is that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed a bill prohibiting businesses and government agencies in the state from asking people for proof of a COVID-19 vaccination. This is quite frankly beyond the pale, but I think we can expect to see similar measures in other states important to the cruise industry such as Texas.
YM: How is demand looking? Will cruises be operating at full capacity?
CF: The demand is there, for sure. As for how regulations will affect passenger count, it is hard to say. In Europe, the MSC Virtuosa is currently operating with a max capacity of 1000 passengers on a ship designed for 6000. Needless to say, this is not cost-effective as the ship has more crew than passengers. The cruise industry is just that, an industry, and you can be assured that they will be filling those ships to capacity as soon as they are allowed to.
YM: How will these changes impact tours to attractions such as Chichén Itzá?
CF: This is not quite clear yet. Cruise companies have submitted plans to the CDC that include tours. However, at least for the following year or so, all tours will be organized and operated by cruise companies. This means no arriving at a port and arranging your own tour outside of the allowed “bubble.”
Chillie Falls is based in Forest, Virginia. He is a cruise industry expert, blogger, YouTuber, and co-host of the popular Cruise Amigos Show streamed on Facebook — from which he is currently on break due to health concerns.