Cruise Operations ‘Pause’ for Coronavirus
By Anne Kalosh.
(Note: Anne is the Editor, Seatrade Cruise News & Senior Associate Editor, Seatrade Cruise Review, and we share some of her breaking Seatrade coverage below.)
Big cruise ships have been in the headlines because of coronavirus quarantines, port restrictions and temporarily suspended operations.
In recent days the Quirky Cruise part of the business — vessels carrying up to 300 passengers — has come into the picture, too. There have only been a handful of passengers reported with COVID-19 on small ships. But a growing number of lines are proactively suspending operations as part of the global effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
The situation is extremely fluid, with announcements and changes almost by the hour. In some cases, current itineraries are being completed before operations stop. In others, ships are disembarking passengers as soon as possible.
European river giant Viking was the first to announce, on March 11, that it would halt sailings of all its river and oceangoing cruise fleets the following day, until May 1.
Travel is “Exceedingly Complicated”
As Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen said, COVID-19 has made travel “exceedingly complicated,” with an increasing number of ports closed to cruise ships. As well, major attractions and museums are shuttered, and a growing number of countries are imposing restrictions on public gatherings and visitors.
Viking’s move was quickly followed by other high-profile river lines, including AmaWaterways, which delayed the start of its European cruise season until April 26. At the same time, Ama’s Mekong River cruises would be suspended “starting March 23.”
Subsequently Cambodia, which together with Vietnam provides the core of the itinerary, announced it would block international river cruises from March 13 until further notice, according to tour operator Destinations Asia.
Avalon Waterways and other brands in the Globus family suspended travel across all destinations through April 30. A-ROSA Cruises has also temporarily halted its Danube, Seine and Rhone itineraries; CroisiEurope has a suspension in place until April 15; and Hapag-Lloyd Cruises just announced a service suspension.
Even U.S. domestic operator American Queen Steamboat Co. halted, with service planned to resume April 12.
Small-ship line Windstar Cruises, too, stopped departures embarking from March 14 through April.
On March 14, Cruise Lines International Association, whose members include the bulk of the cruise industry globally, said all its oceangoing lines would quit sailing from and to U.S. ports in a 30-day hiatus.
Destinations Turn Away Ships
Meanwhile, a growing number of places around the globe are blocking cruise ships. In most cases, the restrictions are temporary, for set periods like a couple weeks or 30 days, however some orders are open-ended.
Many of these places are popular small-ship destinations, including French Polynesia, which ordered ships based in Papeete, Tahiti, to return without delay to disembark travelers so they can return home.
Countries turning away cruises for now include Italy, Monaco, Spain, Canada, New Zealand, and British Virgin Islands.
Canada’s ban, which lasts until July, exempts small ships carrying up to 500 people (passengers and crew). Certain ports in Norway are saying “no” to cruise calls, as well.
Cruise lines are trying to do their part in the global fight against coronavirus, and travelers can be supportive by not canceling trips but, instead, taking advantage of offers to postpone to future dates, even in future years.
Most operators are offering incentives to do that. The deals vary widely.
Just a few examples: Within the March 12 to April 30 period Viking isn’t operating, it’s dangling a future cruise voucher valued at 125 percent. Passengers will have 24 months to use their voucher to reserve any river, ocean or expedition cruise. The policy is identical for Windstar, which aims to resume sailing May 1.
AmaWaterways is offering a future cruise credit of 115 percent. And Avalon is giving a bonus credit of $200 per person for a new reservation, redeemable for any future 2020, 2021 or 2022 vacation.
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