A major cruise line is bucking the trend when it comes to new buffet rules

Jul 5, 2021

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The self-serve buffet isn’t disappearing completely from the cruise world.

A top spokesperson for cruise giant Carnival Cruise Line this week said passengers on its initial comeback sailings out of U.S. ports over the next two months would be able to serve themselves at ship buffets — something that other lines restarting service are not allowing.

The policy, announced in a Facebook post on Wednesday by Carnival brand ambassador John Heald, comes despite a recommendation from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that cruise lines eliminate self-service food and drink options, including self-service buffets from their ships as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19.

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Carnival will resume cruise operations this weekend for the first time in 15 months with sailings out of Galveston, Texas, and Miami.

The CDC recommendation on buffets, which can be found online in a detailed “operations manual” for cruise ships restarting service out of U.S. ports, is just that — a recommendation — in cases where a cruise ship sails with at least 95% of passengers vaccinated for COVID-19.

But it is a CDC requirement for ships that plan to sail out of U.S. ports with less than 95% of passengers vaccinated for COVID-19.

Carnival has said in recent weeks that all of its initial voyages out of U.S. ports this summer would be fully vaccinated sailings where all crew and more than 95% of passengers are vaccinated.

“Because the crew are all vaccinated and because 95% of guests are (vaccinated) as well, and after all the professional advice we have taken, the buffets … are going to be exactly as they were, meaning you will serve yourself,” Heald said.

Heald said crew members will remind passengers on its ships to wash their hands before entering buffet lines.

Related: 6 changes we’ve seen on the first Royal Caribbean cruise in North America in 15 months

“Put on the hand sanitiser, and then you can serve yourself from the buffet line,” Heald said. “And that also includes the ice cream machines, coffee, everything else on the (pool) deck … you will not see anything different.”

Two of Carnival’s biggest competitors, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises, have restarted departures out of North American ports in recent weeks with new restrictions in their shipboard buffets.

As TPG writers have seen on three initial sailings of Royal Caribbean and Celebrity ships, passengers no longer are allowed to serve themselves in shipboard buffets. Instead, crew members ladle out food to passengers in buffet lines.

On Celebrity’s first sailing out of a U.S. port in 15 months, which is taking place this week, the only major change onboard the ship is that the buffet is no longer self-serve.

Featured photo of a crew member on Celebrity Edge serving a passenger in the ship’s casual buffet restaurant by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy.

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