December 31, 2019, the day we first heard about a new virus that emerged in China. There wasn’t much to be worried about and the cruises around the world continued as normal but in the months to follow the industry came to a complete pause and has mainly remained so ever since.
How different the situation was just 2,5 months later. Today marks one year since the voluntary pause in operations first started on March 12, 2020. It started with Viking Cruises and Princess Cruises with even more cruise lines following to suspend sailings the following day.
Despite years of training, response plans, outbreak plans, the cruise lines felt the effects that a pandemic could have on an industry that until then had experienced its golden years.
One year later, we are still experiencing the effects of a virus that has decimated economies and brought the cruise industry to its knees.
The daily vaccinations, the millions of people that have been getting shots in an incredibly short amount of time, infection rates that are dropping more and more each day, and ships starting to sail from various locations worldwide give hope of a return of cruising. But from it all, it is clear we are not there yet.
The Worst-Case Scenario Was Diamond Princess
On January 20, 2020, Diamond Princess departed on a cruise with 3711 passengers and crew members from Yokohama, Japan. What would transpire from this one voyage was something that not many in the cruise industry would have expected or planned for.
One passenger was disembarked in Hong Kong on January 25, tested, and found positive for COVID-19. After making six more stops in three countries, the Japanese authorities were made aware of the positive case on February 3rd, and the ship was quarantined.
Only two days later, the passengers were quarantined in their cabins; crew members were required to keep working. By the end, among the 3,711 Diamond Princess passengers and crew, 712 had positive test results for SARS-CoV-2, 37 (9.7%) required intensive care, and nine (1.3%) died.
The events onboard Diamond Princess showed the world how unprepared the cruise industry was at the time for COVID-19 outbreaks onboard. It was the start of a discussion that would go on for a few more weeks, until the first weeks of March, when it became clear that cruising would need to stop.
Cruise Lines Suspend Operations Around the World
On March 12, 2020, then President Donald Trump announced a travel ban from Europe to the US. This ban started a chain reaction from cruise lines as they all started canceling voyages worldwide. The first two cruise lines that canceled their voyages were Princess Cruises and Viking Cruises.
Princess Cruises, which had been hit the hardest by far by COVID due to the effects of Diamond Princess, Grand Princess, and Regal Princess, announced a 60-day pause in operations.
Viking Cruises were next, the privately held cruise line canceling all voyages onboard all of their ocean and river ships from March 12 until April 30. After that, it went quick, as our coverage on Cruise Hive shows:
- March 12: Virgin Voyages Delays Inaugural Season, Maiden Voyage Set for August
- March 13: Royal Caribbean Suspends Cruises for 30 Days in the U.S.
- March 13: Norwegian Cruise Line Brands Suspend All Voyages Due to Coronavirus
- March 13: Costa Cruises Halts All Operations Globally
- March 13: Disney Cruise Line Suspends Operations Through End of the Month
- March 13: Carnival Cruise Line Suspends Cruise Operations Due to COVID-19
- March 13: MSC Cruises Stops All Sailings Based in the U.S. for 45 Days
What no-one saw coming is that since the cruise lines made the decision to make a voluntary halt to sailings on March 12 and March 13, 2020, the ships would still not be sailing a year down the line.
Also Read: When Will Cruises Resume in 2021?
How Can Cruises Come Back?
Despite the vaccinations going well in many countries and infection rates that are dropping, there are many people who feel that cruise ships would be a recipe for disaster once these start sailing again.
Fortunately for those of us who have a place in our hearts for the wide-open spaces of the ocean, the situation is far different now, than one year ago.
When Diamond Princess got hit by the virus, the understanding of the virus was minimal. Most of it was based on hearsay, there was little to no medical research done, and cruise ships were virtually unprepared for COVID.
Today, several cruise ships with thousands of passengers sail every day of the week from locations in Singapore, Italy, and The Canary Islands, and soon in Israel, and the UK.
Worth Reading: Domestic Cruises in the UK Can Resume From May 17
These ships have proven that sailing can be done safely provided the proper measures have been taken on board. Testing, social distancing, the use of technology, and monitoring of passengers and crew provide a vacation experience that is now safer than many destinations ashore.
We are not out of the woods just yet, and the virus is still causing havoc in many places worldwide. But, this too will end. And when it does, we can hope to again walk up the gangway, say hello to the Captain, and find our favorite seat at the bar.
Main Photo Credit: Ben Molyneux / Shutterstock.com