By: Casey Carr
What does the future hold for the Cruise Industry in the US and the rest of the world?
This morning I was interviewed by KRLD about the latest CDC warning and wave of suspensions from the cruise industry, what it means for people with existing reservations and those considering a future cruise. I thought I’d compile those thoughts to share here and see if I can shed some light on where the cruise industry stands right now, as well as what the future holds.
Carnival Cruise Lines last week announced suspensions from almost all of their US ports until February except for Miami & Port Canaveral, confirming that their return to operations will focus on these ports with our own home port of Galveston to follow soon after. This follows the CDC raising their travel warning against cruising to a Level 4, the highest possible.
So what changed? The cruise industry at large is on a voluntary operational pause already through the end of the year, but a couple of weeks ago SeaDream Yacht Club attempted the first cruise back to the Caribbean, and unfortunately a passenger onboard tested positive and they had to end the cruise prematurely. I actually had a friend onboard that sailing, and by all accounts SeaDream handled the situation beautifully. They limited the spread onboard to within one family traveling together and a couple of crew members, and they worked closely with the government of Barbados to disembark everyone safely.
The problem of course is that SeaDream had some very rigid testing protocols in place. I mean you had to arrive in Barbados with a negative test, be tested again after you arrive, and then again onboard the ship and still a case made it through all of that so, all of these new announcements and suspensions are coming on the heels of what happened on that SeaDream cruise.
What happens now?
Holland America has gone a step further and suspended all sailings through April 1st, other lines will surely follow and they will all use this time to bring their ship facilities up to CDC guidelines and to operate more test runs, sailings with volunteers where they will get all of their protocols as dialed in as possible and be absolutely certain they can return safely. Miami & Port Canaveral, followed by Galveston, will be the testing grounds of the cruise industry’s return to service via short cruises on Carnival.
So unfortunately if you have a cruise booked before February, in all likelihood that will need to be rescheduled, you’ll want to call your travel agent to discuss options. We are all very hopeful that cruising will be back by Spring, but no one is holding their breath and as I’ve said before, the most important piece of the puzzle for all of us in the industry is the safety of our travelers. Despite the fact that it just makes good logical sense – the cruise industry has suffered substantial PR damage already and we all want to avoid a reopening disaster at all costs – but we also have a moral obligation to the health and safety of our passengers and that is everyone’s number one concern.
If you have a cruise reservation for next year or are considering booking a future cruise, you just need to take into consideration that a return to cruising is, in my opinion, highly likely before summer especially with the recent good news about vaccines, but that’s not guaranteed. Most cruise lines have shown extreme flexibility throughout this pandemic, waiving all change fees and offering full credits for cancellations, or even additional up 115% or 120% credit towards a future cruise if the cruise line is forced to cancel the itinerary. That can be an upgrade to a suite, so it can work to your advantage, but you do have to weigh those things when you are making your decisions, make sure you are working with a well informed travel agent who will stay on top of any changes to your reservations. I have an Alaska cruise booked for this June and I am confident I’ll be on it, but I’ve also accepted the fact that I may need to change my plans, that’s the reality for now.
What does the future hold?
Yesterday Qantas Airlines CEO Alan Joyce said in a CNN interview that the airline would require proof of Covid vaccination for international travelers. I’ve seen no further announcements, but I think you can look for other airlines to follow suit, as well as other industries like the cruise industry, and possibly/probably entire countries. Want to go to Italy? You may need proof of Covid vaccination at some point in the future, at least until Covid-19 is finally extinguished. And especially after the SeaDream experience, where rigorous safeguards on a ship carrying less than 100 passengers failed to prevent the virus, it may be the only option to return to any semblance of normal operations, domestic or international.
I am totally ok with this. I believe that the extremely robust safety protocols currently in place will eventually prove effective, as they currently are within the airline industry. But if in the end, requiring proof of traveler vaccination is the only way to assure the health and safety of our guests, then in my opinion that’s the only option once it’s widely available. So in the meantime, we look forward to the return of cruising, with not just optimism but real confidence that things will return to normal in the near future. We continue to book passengers on future cruises knowing that their investment is protected, and that the cruise industry has placed their well-being above all else.
My sister and I were raised on cruise ships with KVIL & KLUV Groups and I worked in the cruise industry for Cruise West and Carnival Cruises, I have a special bond with cruising it’s in my DNA and I for one will be back onboard the moment I’m allowed. I know many of you lifetime cruisers feel the same way. It’s hard to overstate the new feeling of buoyancy within the travel industry with the announcement of several vaccines achieving 90-95% effectiveness. We know what it means, travel is coming back, and we only need to be patient now.