In the last weeks, we have seen several ports deviating from their standard routines allowing cruise ships to dock and let guests off the vessel. New requirements that would see guests having to do additional testing before they can debark the vessel are putting cruise lines to the test.
We’ve seen Holland America Line, Carnival Cruise Line, and Royal Caribbean ships impacted by the sudden implementation of testing requirements in Mexico, the Cayman Islands, and Puerto Rico in the last few days. As reports are coming in that Omicron has less severe symptoms, cruise ports are increasing their health and safety barriers, leaving cruises with nowhere to go.
Carnival Cruise Line encountered issues in Puerto Vallarta on December 27 as authorities asked Carnival Panorama to provide a negative antigen test for all passengers wishing to disembark the vessel in the popular cruise destination.
The vessel departed from Long Beach, California, on December 24. At the time, there were five confirmed cases of COVID-19 amongst the crew; once the vessel arrived in Puerto Vallarta, this number had risen to 69 coronavirus infections. According to local news outlets, 5386 passengers and crew members were on board, the total cases accounting for just over 1% of those on board.
Upon hearing of the testing requirements, the cruise line abandoned the call to Puerto Vallarta and set course to Mazatlan.
More Cruise Lines Affected
The reports coming from Carnival Panorama do not stand alone. Last week Holland America Line’s Koningsdam cruise ship was forced to leave Puerto Vallarta in Mexico on December 23 after authorities denied passengers permission to disembark due to COVID cases on board.
On December 26, Puerto Rico implemented a new rule that states that all cruise ships who wish for guests to disembark the vessel must provide a negative test result, the test being taken no more than 48 hours before docking. This caused Symphony of the Seas to cancel its call, while other calls to the island from any cruise ship seem to be increasingly unlikely.
The first call to the Cayman Islands for Holland America’s Nieuw Statendam was also cancelled as authorities changed its pre-arrival testing protocols. The requirement has been tightened where guests have to produce a negative test result taken within 24 hours before arrival.
What Will Happen to Cruises in the Coming Weeks?
There is no denying that the overly cautious reactions from many of these destinations are putting a heavy strain on the cruise lines. Not only are guests affected and disappointed with missed ports of call, but the random closure of ports to ships that have less or just over a percent of cases onboard will also make cruise lines look bad, for all the wrong reasons.
In the last six months, we’ve seen cases onboard cruise ships come up near every week. This is nothing new, and so far, the cruise lines have dealt with the issues. In almost all cases, the cases have been asymptomatic or with only very light effects.
Cruise ships are sailing with 100% vaccinated guests or near that number, and extensive testing is done before the voyage starts. So far, there is no evidence that cruise ships are involved in an increase in caseloads in the islands and destinations that have started implementing new rules.
Luckily, nearly all cruise lines have private islands that remain open and likely will remain open. We can expect the cruise lines to draw their conclusions and alter itineraries in the next few days.
The destinations that have closed down now will more than likely be replaced by Perfect Day at CocoCay, Castaway Cay, Half Moon Cay, or any one of the private beach destinations out there; or ports of call which understand that COVID does not go away by closing down ports; especially when airports remain open with little to no testing requirements.