In the first half of 2021, cruise lines around the globe have been dramatically re-jigging their itineraries and schedules as the cruise industry looks towards a measured and safe restart of operations.
Unlike regular service disruptions such as hurricanes, the ongoing global health pandemic has made it largely impossible to resume previously-scheduled itineraries -- at least for now. Instead, cruise lines have been busy creating brand-new itineraries from new homeports for their restart.
These have included never-before-seen opportunities, like luxury operator Crystal Cruises' Bahamian immersion sailings from Nassau and Bimini aboard Crystal Serenity; Royal Caribbean's new Caribbean sailings operating roundtrip from Bermuda aboard the classic Vision of the Seas and islands such as Barbados, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Antigua and St. Maarten used as homeports.
Vaccinated UK residents also stand to benefit from the largest UK-focused deployment in recent memory, with lines like Cunard, Disney, Fred. Olsen, P&O, Saga, Virgin and others all announcing special "Round UK" summer cruises from domestic UK homeports like Southampton and Portsmouth.
But how easy is it for cruisers booked on existing voyages to move their booking over to one of these new cruises? Cruise Critic reached out to several lines for advice.
According to representatives from Crystal and Royal Caribbean whom Cruise Critic spoke with, the best way to switch an existing booking to one of these new sailings is for you or your travel advisor to call the cruise line directly -- though there may be fees to transfer an existing booking to one of the new itineraries.
"Given that our policies are so relaxed at this time, it is fairly easy to transfer a booking," a spokesperson for Crystal told Cruise Critic.
Crystal's representatives mentioned if the person wanting to transfer cruises was inside the cancellation penalty period, that request to have those fees waived would have to be reviewed internally by the team.
Similarly, Royal Caribbean states that standard cancellation fees and penalties may be applied to those wishing to move an existing booking over to one of these new sailings.
"Outside of final payment, there is a change fee associated with moving to a new sail date," Royal Caribbean's Guest Relation team told Cruise Critic in an email. "Inside of final payment, there are cancellation penalties to change to a new ship and sail date. If guests are on a cancelled cruise, they will receive an FCC and/or refund which can be used on any open sailings we have."
Royal Caribbean states a $100 per person change fee would be required for all reservation transfer requests outside of final payment. Those inside of final payment would be subject to standard cancellation penalties, as a booking transfer is considered a cancellation first.
For passengers who are booked on cruises cancelled involuntarily by the line, switching over to a new voyage penalty-free is still a possibility -- but affected cruisers would first have to take either the refund or FCC, then rebook their desired sailing, according to Royal Caribbean.
Now, the bad news: not every passenger booked on an existing voyage can be rebooked onto one of these new itineraries -- and not without cause.
Many of these new sailings require passengers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. While many lines have announced new vaccination requirements, most of these apply only to these select new itineraries (at this point in time, anyhow).
That means if you're booked on a cruise for next year, or the year after, but you aren't yet vaccinated, you can technically still set sail then -- but not on one of these new cruises.
Some new sailings also have specific residency requirements in addition to vaccination requirements. All "Round UK" cruises are, at this time, only marketed to residents of the United Kingdom who are also fully vaccinated. That means North Americans or Europeans are not eligible to, say, transfer a Cunard booking for the fall to one of these new short summer sailings.
Ditto if you're bringing the family: Norwegian Cruise Line's recently-announced itineraries are only available to vaccinated passengers, and that includes those who are unable to be vaccinated like teenagers and children.
This isn't the case with every line: Celebrity, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean are marketing their new itineraries to vaccinated international travellers who meet the entry requirements for their new chosen homeports. If you can meet the entry requirements for places like Bermuda and St. Maarten, you're good to go.
Of course, now more than ever, it pays to do your research before moving your booking to one of these new sailings. Be sure to check all entry and vaccination requirements for your embarkation destination, along with flight availability.
For those who meet the requirements and are ready to set sail, a whole new world of cruise travel awaits -- one that may not be repeated in our lifetimes.
Given the potential for cancellation fees and or penalties associated with transferring an existing booking over to one of the new itineraries being released, however, travelers may be better off keeping their existing cruise reservation as-is and simply booking one of these new sailings from scratch.
Of course, when in doubt, it always pays to contact your cruise line and travel advisor to ask whether a transfer is possible, as policies always vary from line to line.
Updated April 20, 2021