As worldwide restrictions begin to ease from the global health pandemic, summer 2022 cruises are set to feel the most "normal" since the pre-COVID days. Cruise lines are returning entire fleets to service; cruises can now resume in Canadian, Australian and New Zealand waters; and a return to easier global travel looks and feels more like it once did -- and certainly more familiar than the odd (but welcomed) summer 2021 season.
However, it's not necessarily business as usual in cruise land. Supply chain issues are causing major headaches for lines with new ships under construction, crew shortages are keeping capacity artificially lowered on some vessels, and high airfare, war in the Ukraine and anxiety around COVID-19 testing is softening demand for some overseas destinations.
For those booked on a summer 2022 cruise -- or those just thinking of setting sail this year -- here are some things to consider.
New Ships May Be Delayed
The COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into the carefully timed schedules of shipbuilders, and the global supply chain crunch isn't helping matters. Already, the knock-on effect is hitting some of the newest and most eagerly anticipated ships: Disney Cruise Line was forced to delay Disney Wish's entry into service to this summer; Seabourn Venture was pushed back once again, and Norwegian Cruise Line's hotly anticipated Norwegian Prima is now delayed until September 3, 2022.
What does that mean for cruisers booked on inaugural voyages of some of 2022's hottest cruise ships? Take all entry-into-service dates with a grain of salt -- and know that if you're booked on the second, third or even 23rd voyage, you just might find yourself on the inaugural sailing unexpectedly.
Crew Shortages Could Lead to Changes or Canceled Sailings
As much as cruise lines are battling with supply chain issues, a different sort of issue is brewing in the personnel department: the lack of qualified crewmembers. This affects nearly every cruise line, though some are being hit harder than others.
Cruise Critic sailed aboard the debut voyage of Norwegian Cruise Line's Pride of America this past April -- one that had reduced passenger numbers and several shuttered specialty dining venues due to a reduction of onboard staff. It is an issue that is expected to last well into the summer.
Norwegian isn't alone. Cunard Line was forced to limit capacity aboard summer 2022 sailings of its Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth in Europe and Alaska, respectively, due to crew shortages -- and that has translated into some booked passengers having their reservations canceled.
On May 16, Carnival began informing passengers it would temporarily shutter its popular Italian venue, Cucina del Capitano, on voyages throughout June. Passengers with reservations at the exclusive Chef's Table dining experience also saw their bookings canceled due to staff shortages.
"The challenge of securing visas for cruise industry employees has impacted staffing levels, particularly in our culinary team," Carnival wrote in a letter to affected passengers.
"We are making some modest adjustments to some of our service offerings for the time being, so that we can maximize the guest experience and our guest service. Most of these will have a negligible impact. However, one change that will impact your cruise is that we are temporarily suspending dinner service at Cucina del Capitano across the fleet through the end of June. Note: Cucina on Mardi Gras will continue to function as normal."
Crew shortages are likely going to be an issue for a while. If service seems a little slower than you remember from past voyages, try to exercise a little patience: if the crew in a particular bar or lounge look a little overworked, consider getting a drink from a less-crowded venue.
Not Everything You Want Might Be Onboard
The supply chain doesn't just affect the construction of new ships. On Cruise Critic's sailings in 2022, we've found that certain supplies have just flat-out failed to reach the ship in time. That doesn't mean that your ship will depart without food or beverages (far from it), but rather there might be a limited number of certain items -- or select menu items might be unavailable throughout the cruise.
We've found this on past cruises primarily with alcohol. Looking for that tasty IPA on the beer menu? It might not be onboard. Prefer Hendricks over Tanqueray in your martini's? You might need to be a little more flexible.
Requirements Might Change Overnight
Just because cruise lines have reduced their COVID-19 health requirements in keeping with local authorities like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that doesn't mean that these protocols can't change -- or be reinstated at any given time.
Recently, passengers aboard Celebrity Apex were advised to don masks once again when transiting the ship's public spaces after COVID-19 cases onboard hit 3% of passengers. Bring those face masks along with you -- just in case.
On the plus side, there are some definite positives associated with cruising in summer 2022.
Ships Will Likely Still Be Under Capacity
Consider this a real perk, particularly in Europe where demand from North American travelers is still soft. Vessels are likely to remain under full capacity for most sailings this summer, though some might be approaching numbers that look (and feel) like old times.
This is a boon for passengers looking for more personal space -- and those looking to perhaps win an upgrade bid for a higher category of stateroom or suite for lines that offer an upgrade bid process.
Enjoy this extra space while it lasts. Much like the travel industry has seen in the aviation sector, these lower-capacity sailings could be a thing of the past in the very near future -- and cruise lines are banking on it to revive their struggling balance sheets.
Full Fleets Will Be Back in Service
Unlike summer 2021 when only a handful of ships were back in service, summer 2022 sees most cruise lines returning to operate their entire fleet of ships. And that's good news for cruisers, offering more itineraries, more choice and more cabins from which to choose.
While cruise lines typically brought their newest and biggest ships online first, old favorites and classics are returning to the seas in droves. Norwegian Cruise Line recently welcomed its 1998-built Norwegian Spirit back into service, while Carnival Cruise Line's Carnival Splendor completed the restart of the entire Carnival fleet when it set sail from Seattle in early May.
Deals And Incentives Will Still Be Around
Perhaps the final takeaway for those looking to cruise during summer 2022 is that the deals will still be around. Cruise lines know that booking trends are shifting to less than 100 days out in many cases and are willing to offer up incentives (as opposed to price reductions) to fill their ships as much as possible. Expect to see offers touting drink packages, specialty restaurants, and even airfare credits on select sailings well into the summer months.
Despite some of the challenges, all of this is positive news for cruisers looking to sail once again this summer -- the first, mostly full, summer cruise season in three years.