Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line plan to drop cruise ship buffet

Two of the world’s leading cruise companies, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, have indicated that they will resume cruises without the traditional cruise ship buffet, as part of efforts to prevent the spread of viruses.

In a virtual Coffee Chat call with Royal Caribbean’s Senior Vice President of Sales and Trade Support & Service, Vicki Freed, President and CEO Michael Bayley said this was necessary as part of hygiene changes that will go into effect because of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Giovanni’s aboard Royal Caribbean’s Odyssey of the Seas

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“I think in the beginning, there will not be a buffet…that’s how I see it,” said Bayley. “We will utilize the space, we will utilize the Windjammer, but in all probability, it won’t be a classical buffet. It will be something more akin to a restaurant.”

“I think the key focus on dining is making sure that our guests have plenty of choices,” he added. “But now, that plenty of choice has to be put through the lens of distancing, and safety and health, etc., in a more acute way.”

Bayley said the Windjammer Buffet would likely need to be utilised as a sit-down restaurant

With that in mind, he says “there will be changes for sure, and I think the word “buffet’ will diminish and we’ll replace it with a new concept.”

His comments were similar to those made by Frank Del Rio, CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, in an interview with USA Today. When asked whether the cruise ship buffet would survive the current crisis, he said, “Likely not.”

However, he added that the fundamental elements of the cruise experience will remain. “All the basic elements if cruising will always be there – the great value, the multiple destinations, the great dining,” Del Rio said.

Garden Cafe buffet aboard Norwegian Jade

Garden Cafe buffet aboard Norwegian Jade

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Both cruise line executives said that passengers may have to wear masks and sit further apart in restaurants, echoing new dining room design concepts that have been floated for the cruise industry in the wake of Coronavirus.

These are similar measures to those being considered by hotels and resorts around the world. A buffet restaurant in any hospitality setting, whether a hotel or cruise ship, is a social distancing nightmare, making a 2-metre distancing protocol near impossible to follow.

For this reason, even though hotels in Dubai and wider UAE have opened, they are not serving buffets, and dining outlets are enforcing a 30% capacity limit to ensure social distancing.

It can therefore be expected that the main dining room and additional dining spaces aboard cruise ships, such as the buffet, may be utilised to make it possible to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner at reduced capacity in multiple sittings.

Whether cruise passengers will take to the idea of wearing masks and possibly having to wait in social-distance queues to enjoy a drink in one of the onboard bars, remains to be seen.

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