You’ve likely seen a lot of information in the news recently about cruises and cruise lines and there’s a good chance that most of that news (if not all of it) is not quite positive. Cruise lines have been getting a fair bit of negative coverage and not through any fault of their own.
The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc all over the travel industry, but most certainly on cruise lines, especially as individual cruise ships make headlines for being riddled with coronavirus-infected cruisers — or so the news would have you believe.
There was the Diamond Princess cruise ship first, held off Japan for a month. The Grand Princess was held off the coast of California. Then Holland America Zaandam experienced a similar fate off Florida.
So what does this all mean for you as an avid cruiser? Are you having second thoughts about that cruise you have scheduled for the end of the year? Or have you yet to book a cruise and are you thinking maybe you actually shouldn’t book that cruise just right about now?
Before you start making any decisions, it’s smart to take a look at the current situation that the cruising industry is in due to COVID-19 and how the pause in operations for most cruise lines is impacting everyone.
After all, there could be some positive news out there (and there actually is, if you keep reading) and some major cruise lines are anticipating getting right back on their feet again once all of this is over — or even as soon as this summer.
So, should you hold off on booking your cruise vacation? Or should you book a cruise vacation during the coronavirus pandemic?
Here’s what to consider.
1. If you do book a cruise vacation right now, you’ll certainly be in good company
If you do decide to book a cruise vacation right now, you won’t be alone. According to a recent UBS analysis released at the end of March, booking volume for cruises over the month of March was up 9 percent. Here’s the thing — all those cruises were booked for 2021.
Now, some of those cruisers could be those whose 2020 cruises were canceled and so they were using cruise line credits to book a 2021 cruise, but some of those were new cruisers as well. The UBS analysis also found that cruisers were booking cruises to Alaska and Asia more so than usual, with good performance in the Caribbean, too (and a slight downtick in cruises booked for 2021 in the Mediterranean region).
So, if you want to book a cruise vacation right now, you should feel confident about doing so if you’re booking that vacation for 2021.
2. If you book a cruise for the near future, you may not be able to go to the destinations you want
Unfortunately, even if your favorite cruise line is operating cruises once the pandemic settles down and travel companies are back in business following relaxed travel guidelines, that doesn’t mean that all the cruise ports around the world are going to immediately be open for business.
While most cruise ports are playing things by ear and keeping restrictions in place through only the near, foreseeable future, and adjusting those dates as needed as world conditions progress, some have put long-term restrictions in place.
In particular, you’ll want to keep an eye on Tasmania cruise ports, which have banned cruise ship calls through June 30; all Australian cruise ports, which have banned international cruise ships through June 15; all Canadian cruise ports, which are closed to ships with more than 500 passengers through July 1, and any cruises traveling through Canadian Arctic waters, which are restricted through Nov. 1; Cook Island cruise ports, which are closed to cruise ships and yachts through June 30; and New Zealand cruise ports, which are closed to cruise ships through June 30.
Even if a destination you want to visit is not on this list, keep an eye on their countrywide restrictions, as some countries have put restrictions in place for an undisclosed amount of time, or put restrictions in place for only travelers coming from certain other countries.
3. If you do book a cruise vacation right now, you could get a great deal
The one good thing about all of this impact to the travel industry? Those travel providers are rolling out some pretty low, low rates, from cheap airfare to, yes, very affordable cruising rates.
If you decide to book now, for a cruise later in the year, you can find deals as low as $300 per cabin, for a cruise that’s a week or more in length. There’s a chance those deals could go even lower, too, as cruise lines are up against government agencies recommending citizens avoid cruises altogether. For example, the United States State Department, in conjunction with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has heavily advised American citizens avoid all cruise travel worldwide.
How much should you buy into the danger hype? Well, it all comes down to when you want to cruise.
While you should probably avoid cruising while the world is dealing with peak COVID-19 rates (and you probably will find cruising difficult right at this very moment anyway), if you do choose to book a cruise vacation for the summer, even if state departments warn against it, you’ll want to weigh the potential risks.
Whatever you do, it might be a good idea to purchase travel insurance, just in case. You’ll have to play things by ear closer to time to see if taking that summer cruise is actually possible, booked or no, because it all comes back to how long the COVID-19 crisis lasts and how it impacts different regions of the world differently.
4. If you book a cruise vacation now, you may not be able to sail with your favorite cruise line, or they may have unfavorable, new policies and restrictions
While cruise line policies and restrictions are always apt to change, here’s what you’re looking at from some of the world’s most popular cruise lines for the time being.
- Carnival has suspended sailings for North America-based ships through May 11, with credit issued to impacted travelers for sailings through the end of 2022. All Princess Cruises voyages under Carnival have been suspended through May 10.
- Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean have suspended all global sailings through May 11. Norwegian Cruise Line, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Princess Cruises are similarly canceling departures through May 10.
- Disney Cruise Line is going a little more lenient, with suspension through April 28.
- Viking River Cruises is perhaps taking this the most seriously, with all operations suspended through June 30.
- Virgin Voyages similarly decided to postpone the inaugural voyage of its new Scarlet Lady to August.
All cruise lines that are a member of the Cruise Lines International Association are also asked to follow new guidelines for the foreseeable future. These include denying boarding to anyone who has traveled from or through South Korea, Iran, China and parts of Italy within 14 days of embarkation; conducting illness screenings for all passengers who have traveled from or through any destination listed on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention coronavirus disease travel page within 14 days of embarkation; conducting pre-boarding screenings as necessary; and denying boarding to any passenger who has had contact with or cared for anyone suspected of having or diagnosed with COVID-19.
Some cruise lines are taking these guidelines a step further. Carnival, for example is extending the 14-day at-risk period to 20 days, and is also monitoring the temperatures of all passengers and crew members. Royal Caribbean is also monitoring guest and crew member temperatures, as well as anyone with flu-like symptoms. Royal Caribbean is also asking guests who are 70 years old or older to show written verification from a doctor that they’re approved to cruise.
Celebrity Cruises is extending its denial of boarding to its own list of countries, found on the Celebrity Cruises website. Norwegian Cruise Line and Oceania Cruises are both denying boarding to those who have been in China, Hong Kong, Macao, South Korea, Iran or Italy within 30 days of embarkation.
The good news? Most of these cruise lines have put pretty lenient cancellation policies in place that extend throughout the rest of the year, so if you did book a cruise for later in 2020 and policies change or the coronavirus pandemic does not improve ahead of your cruise, then you’d be able to cancel with little to no worry.
5. But what if I already have an upcoming cruise booked — should I cancel?
That’s all up to personal judgement. If your cruise isn’t impacted by government or cruise line-mandated cancellations or new policies, then you’ll have to decide whether or not it’s worth trying to cancel your cruise yourself, if that’s the route you decide to take.
If you do cancel, though, don’t feel like you’ll be losing out on a great cruise vacation. You could actually benefit from canceling, as some cruise lines are offering those who do cancel not only credit for a future cruise, but they’re also offering credit worth more in value than your original cruise.
That means that you can take a bigger, better, more luxurious cruise with that cruise line at a later date, if you can just wait a bit. (Of course, you can also get the cash back, if that’s what you decide to go with, with most cruise lines becoming lenient enough to give you a full refund, given the state of the travel world.)
The best way to go, though? Wait as long as possible to cancel, if that’s your choice. Firstly, you don’t know what the state of things will be in the latter half of 2020. Additionally, the longer you wait, the more likely you’ll get a better deal in terms of that cruise line credit to use later.
6. If you do choose to travel right now, here’s what’s recommended
If you do choose to cruise in the near future, possibly as soon as early summer, then you’ll want to follow a few guidelines. The U.S. Department of State makes a few recommendations.
Firstly, research your destination to learn about any health and safety precautions you should be taking. In general, try to avoid crowded spots (which isn’t always easy to do on a cruise ship!). Check out your cruise line’s policies ahead of time and, if you have questions, don’t be shy about reaching out to them.
Make sure you have all the right visas for your cruise’s stops, even if you don’t plan on disembarking in those stops. Additionally, consider investing in some medical and emergency evacuation insurance.
When it Comes to Booking Your Next Cruise…
The main takeaway from all of this that you should remember when it comes time to book or consider booking your next cruise? Just practice caution and use good sense.
The coronavirus crisis is constantly evolving and changing the way we travel, so it’s best to stay alert and attentive to the risks and then make the best decision for you and your family. And rest assured — soon we’ll all be back to seeing the world, one cruise at a time.