As COVID-19 continues to spread, Princess and Viking Cruises have suspended sailings until May, and Virgin Voyages has delayed its inaugural season until July. In addition to closing Disney theme parks around the world, Disney Cruise Line has also delayed its operations.
On 11 March, Viking announced that it would be temporarily pausing its river and ocean cruises for departures between 12 March and 30 April 2020, with the goal of resuming operations on 1 May 2020 and continuing the rest of the year’s sailings as originally scheduled. Princess followed suit on 12 March, suspending its global operations for departures through 10 May.
The news follows the US Center for Disease Control’s recommendation, just days prior, that Americans should avoid cruise ships altogether. “U.S. citizens, particularly travellers with underlying health conditions, should not travel by cruise ship. CDC notes increased risk of infection of COVID-19 in a cruise ship environment,” the department’s warning reads. The UK's Foreign & Commonwealth Office has also advised against cruise ship travel for British nationals aged 70-plus and those with pre-existing health conditions.
Since early February, passengers and crew on multiple cruise ships have been quarantined, from the 3600 people confined to a World Dream ship in Hong Kong to the nearly 3700 quarantined on the Diamond Princess in Japan. According to reports, most of the latter were kept on the ship for two weeks, and more than 700 coronavirus cases were ultimately confirmed.
“It is widely known that we have been managing the implications of COVID-19 on two continents,” Princess Cruises' president Jan Swartz said in a news release. “By...voluntarily pausing the operations of our ships, it is our intention to reassure our loyal guests, team members and global stakeholders of our commitment to the health, safety and well-being of all who sail with us, as well as those who do business with us, and the countries and communities we visit around the world.”
Viking chairman Torstein Hagen also confirmed that one of its ships had hosted a passenger who had been exposed. “In recent days we have had an experience where a river cruise guest in Southeast Asia was exposed to COVID-19 while in transit on an international airline,” Hagen said in an open letter on the Viking website. “While this guest is not exhibiting symptoms, she has been placed in quarantine. Separately, the remaining 28 guests will also be quarantined.”
Virgin Voyages also pushed the launch of its first ship, Scarlet Lady, to 15 July and its maiden voyage to 7 August. “We want to assure you that we have absolutely no health issues aboard our ship and have elevated protocols in place,” Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and Virgin Voyages CEO Tom McAlpin said in a joint statement. “This is a once in a lifetime launch and a once in a lifetime customer experience, and we will do it together when we can all feel free to enjoy ourselves.”
In the meantime, other major cruise lines are playing the waiting game. Norwegian Cruise Line announced a new 48-hour cancellation policy on 6 March, with president and CEO Harry Sommer saying, “We understand travellers are thinking carefully about their next vacation, and we are here to reassure them that now is the right time to start planning.”
Carnival currently has a travel health advisory posted on its website that read, “Coronavirus is a fluid situation and we continue to work closely with public health experts and the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) to monitor, screen and implement best practices to protect the health of our guests and crew as it relates to COVID-19 (coronavirus). Our monitoring, screening and operational protocols are designed to be flexible so that we can effectively adapt to changes as they occur. Our team is monitoring COVID-19 developments from our state-of-the-art Fleet Operations Center in Miami so that we can quickly respond to any situation and communicate promptly.”
And on 12 March, Royal Caribbean released a travel advisory update, saying, “We are reviewing the administration’s directive on European travel restrictions to understand how we will adjust operations to comply with the new requirements. Our primary concern is the safety and welfare of our guests, and are working to minimise the impact to our guests to the greatest extent possible…. U.S. guests on cruises in Asia departing before 23 March 2020 who want to change their plans will be allowed to rebook without penalty at a later date.” The company has also adjusted its health protocols, temporarily increasing boarding and screening measures for an estimated 30 days.
Saga has also canceled all cruises until May, the Guardian reported on 13 March. “The health and safety of customers and colleagues is our number one priority," the company told the paper in a statement. "We have, therefore, made the decision to temporarily suspend operations of our cruises until 1 May 2020. Our customer service teams will be in contact with cruise customers who were due to travel in the next six weeks to offer them either a full refund or a credit for a future departure.”
The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on 11 March, and countries around the globe are taking precautionary measures. For further information on how the outbreak is impacting travel, visit Lonely Planet’s COVID-19 hub to learn more.