Last week, the global cruise line industry all but ground to a halt, with the biggest companies suspending operations, at least in the United States, for 30 days. The decision, announced by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), came after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the State Department urged Americans to avoid cruise ships, and the United States banned most travel from Europe.
Thirty-two million passengers were expected to embark on ocean cruises in 2020, according to CLIA, though that number will certainly drop given the coronavirus pandemic. People over 60, an important cruise customer demographic, are especially at risk from the virus.
When sailings begin again, travelers can expect increased passenger health and travel screenings and changes in cleaning and food service procedures; loosened trip cancellation and change policies may also stay in effect.
Approximately 40 ships and 90,000 passengers were at sea at the time new sailings were suspended. Two of those ships, the Costa Luminosa and the Braemar, operated by the Fred Olsen Cruise line, are known to have had passengers or crew infected with the coronavirus and have had trouble finding ports that will accept them. Cuba finally allowed the second ship to dock.
Here’s what passengers can expect:
No U.S. sailings before April 11
All major cruise companies, including Carnival Cruise Lines, the world’s largest, with 100 ships sailing under 10 brands; Norwegian Cruise Lines; MSC Cruises; and Royal Caribbean, are, at a minimum, suspending sailings from American ports until at least April 11.
Virgin Voyages, a new cruise endeavor targeted at millennials and part of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, announced it would postpone the launch of its first ship, Scarlet Lady, from March to July.
Spring cruises to Europe are being canceled
Mid-March through April is the time of year many United States-based ships typically head across the Atlantic to begin the European cruising season. That season looks unlikely to go forward. The C.D.C. has classified Europe as an area with “Widespread Sustained Transmission” of Covid-19 and has given it a Level 3 Warning, asking citizens to avoid nonessential travel. That is the same warning level applied to China, South Korea and Iran. The State Department has restricted all but United States citizens and legal permanent residents from returning from Europe. And countries have instituted lockdowns to prevent the spread of the virus.
Viking said it was temporarily suspending operations of river and ocean cruises, for embarkations taking place between March 12 and April 30. MSC Cruises has canceled trips departing from France and Italy through April 25.
Summer cruises to Alaska already curtailed
The Alaska cruising season, typically mid-May through the end of September will also take a hit. Marc Garneau, Canada’s Transport Minister announced (and tweeted) on March 13 that Canadian ports will not be open to cruise ships with 500 people or more until July. That includes Vancouver, an important Alaska cruise embarkation port, and Victoria, a popular cruise destination, in British Columbia. Cruise ships will not be allowed at all this year into Canadian Arctic ports, because health threats can be more severe in remote areas with less public health infrastructure.
Princess Cruises announced a global suspension for its 18 ships for two months, so it will have no departures scheduled between March 12 and May 10. Celebrity cruises on March 15 said it has suspended global sailings until April 11. It had been scheduled to go to the Galápagos Islands, South Pacific, Caribbean and Europe.
Ports are turning away ships
Ports around the world, including some in the Caribbean, Asia, Southeast Asia and South America, have begun closing their ports to cruise ships.
Loosening cancellation policies to continue
Cruise lines have been notoriously strict with change and cancellation policies but are loosening up considerably in the face of the pandemic. Norwegian, MSC Cruises, Silversea Cruises, Royal Caribbean and Seabourn are letting people delay their sailings, cancel within days of a trip or substitute another passenger for the one originally booked (usually a no-no).
The companies have been increasing their incentives to woo affected passengers onto later trips. Celebrity cruise lines, for example will provide a 100 percent refund or 125 percent credit on a future cruise. Princess guests who were scheduled to depart between March 12 and 25 can choose either a 100 percent credit toward a future cruise plus credit toward another future cruise worth 125 percent of their original sailing, or a full refund plus an additional full credit for a new cruise.
Policies vary by company and by scheduled sailing, and continue to change, so travelers should contact their travel agent or cruise company.
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