The armed conflict between Hamas and Israel has prompted several cruise lines to cancel their scheduled calls to the country. The unfolding tensions have led to a ripple effect in the cruise industry, with many operators amending their itineraries to ensure the safety and security of their guests.
On top of that, the U.S. State Department issued an advisory cautioning against travel to the region due to heightened risks of terrorism and civil unrest. At least eight cruise lines have withdrawn from Israel.
The small vessel cruise line has confirmed with Cruise Hive that two of its vessels will not be making scheduled visits to the country, This includes calls by Azamara Journey and Azamara Pursuit in October 2023.
“Due to the current Israel and Gaza Strip conflict, we will not be calling ports in Israel as originally planned. These changes will affect the October 17 Israel Intensive Voyage and October 27 Ancient Trade Routes Voyage onboard Azamara Journey, and the October 23 Ancient Civilizations sailing on Azamara Pursuit, the cruise line said.
Azamara added, “Our top priority is the safety and security of our crew and guests. In an effort to accommodate guests booked on impacted sailings, we will provide alternative ports of call, where applicable.”
Royal Caribbean International was one of the first cruise lines to react to the situation. In a statement on October 8, the cruise line mentioned:
“Our global security team is closely watching the evolving situation in Israel. For the safety and security of our guests, we’re adjusting several itineraries in the area. Impacted guests are being notified directly.”
In an additional update on October 12, Royal Caribbean announced it had cancelled cruises for Rhapsody of the Seas for the October 9, 13, 18, 23 and 27 sailings, as well as the November 1 and 6 cruises.
Royal Caribbean is offering affected guests full refunds for the cruise fare, taxes, fees, pre-paid packages, gratuities, and shore excursions. Guests who booked flights through Air2Sea will also receive a full refund, while guests who booked independent flights will need to discuss their options with their providers.
The cruise line has also already cancelled calls to the country with Odyssey of the Seas. The October 15 voyage out of Italy removed the calls to Haifa and Ashdod. Instead, Odyssey of the Seas spent Monday, October 9 in Bodrum, Turkey; Tuesday, October 10, at sea; and Wednesday, October 11, at Limassol, Cyprus.
Celebrity Cruises has also taken heed of the evolving situation. The Celebrity Apex has rerouted its calls from Israel and Egypt to Santorini, Mykonos, and Rhodes for the October 6 and October 16 sailings.
Following the altered itineraries due to the situation in Israel, the cruise line also announced further changes due to a developing situation in Alexandria, Egypt. A letter sent to guests stated:
“As our global security team continues to closely monitor the evolving situation in Israel and the surrounding regions, we have been alerted to further situations unfolding in Alexandria, Egypt. Due to these developments, our experts have made the decision not to visit Alexandria, considering the safety and security of our guests and crew as our number one priority,” the letter explains.
MSC Cruises has gone a step further by suspending its operations in the region altogether, canceling several sailings of MSC Musica and MSC Sinfonia until October 26, 2023.
Guests affected by this change are offered full refunds, and arrangements are underway to repatriate Israeli travelers. The MSC Musica, initially scheduled for 7-night Mediterranean cruises, disembarked Israeli passengers in Limassol, Cyprus, who were then transported to Israel on a chartered cruise ship.
Also, MSC Cruises allows guests to cancel select sailings from October 8-15, 2023, due to security concerns, with a potential extension of this goodwill gesture.
Princess Cruises has also announced a halt to calls in Israel for now. Island Princess will not sail to Jerusalem and Nazareth. Instead, to the Greek islands of Santorini and Crete on its November voyages.
Norwegian Cruise Line
UPDATE: Norwegian Cruise Line announced on October 17, 2023, that it is canceling all operations in Israel. The cruise line also started to send out itinerary adjustments to impacted guests.
NCL stated: “We are deeply saddened by the tragic situation in Israel. Our thoughts are with all those impacted during this time. As always, the safety and security of our guests, crew and communities we visit is our top priority. As a result, we have made the decision to cancel all calls to Israel for the remainder of 2023.“
Amidst the ongoing geopolitical tensions, Norwegian Cruise Line diverted the Norwegian Gem from its scheduled call to Ashdod on Sunday, October 8. The cruise ship spent the day at sea instead.
Norwegian Gem then proceeded to Limassol as originally scheduled on Monday, resuming its itinerary for the remainder of an 11-day cruise from Rome to Istanbul.
Celestyal Cruises announced the cancellation of all stops in Israel through the end of November. The cruise line said it aims to keep all guests updated regarding any further changes to cruise itineraries.
The cruise line’s CEO, Chris Theophilides, said in a statement to Cruise Hive: “We are in close coordination with the authorities, and the safety, security, and comfort of our guests remains our upmost priority. On the advice of our internal teams and the relevant authorities we have decided to temporarily remove Israel from our Three Continents itinerary until the end of November this year.”
Oceania Cruises made adjustments to its sailing schedules as well. Nautica expedited its departure from Israel, leaving a day ahead of schedule. Oceania Cruises confirmed that all guests and crew were accounted for and are safe and sound following the unscheduled departure.
In a further amendment to its sailing itineraries, Oceania Cruises’ Sirena, scheduled for a three-day stay in Israel during its October 14 cruise, will now spend a day at sea, followed by calls to Santorini, Heraklion, and Mykonos, Greece.
Oceania Marina’s November 1 sailing, with a two-day stay scheduled in Israel, is also under review. Oceania Cruises states that it is currently in the process of examining alternative itinerary options for this sailing.
Holland America Line
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Statendam was one of the first ships affected when the situation in Israel started. Following the state of emergency declaration on October 7, guests were urgently called back to the ship, which set sail that evening from Haifa.
The Germanu-based TUI Cruises joined the growing list of cruise lines staying away from the country to ensure guests remain safe. The cruise line has cancelled Mein Schiff 5’s scheduled visits to Israel on October 11 at Haifa and October 12 at Ashdod. Instead, the vessel will visit Marmaris in Turkey and Santorini in Greece.
What’s Next for Israel Cruises?
With this many cruise lines and ships affected by the current unrest, the question is how the coming winter and further will look.
The winter season traditionally sees a reduction in cruises to the region due to the seasonal itinerary shift towards warmer climates, which means fewer cruise lines will be affected by the current unrest in the near term. However, come spring and summer, the situation is unclear.
The developments in the upcoming months will play a crucial role in determining the cruise industry’s confidence in resuming calls to Israel. Cruise lines will closely monitor the geopolitical situation and liaise with local authorities to evaluate the safety and feasibility of returning to Israeli ports.