June 24, 2020
(4 p.m. EDT) -- With the latest suspension of most cruise lines through September 15, cruise fans are beginning to wonder if their favorite vacation will be taking place this year -- and depression is setting in.
On the Cruise Critic forums, the mood has changed from people planning trips to debating when a COVID-19 vaccine might occur, as well as what kind of changes that people might see on ships. While avid cruisers are still booking -- Cruise Critic's survey shows that 73 percent of respondents plan on booking a future cruise -- the dates for those sailings keep getting pushed back.
And some people are just sad, particularly after CLIA made the announcement June 19 that its member lines, which include nearly all of the major cruise lines in the U.S., that all cruises from U.S. homeports would be suspended through September 15. Carnival, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and MSC followed this week with their own cancellation notices; Norwegian Cruise Lines had already suspended most cruises through the end of September.
While cruises have resumed in parts of Europe -- Hurtigruten and SeaDream are two lines that are now sailing in Norway, while several European river cruise lines have resumed -- Americans are not allowed on these cruises due to the continued COVID outbreaks in the United States. Brits face a 14-day quarantine if they leave their country, and Canadians have been warned specifically to avoid cruise ships, while Australians and New Zealanders have been told not to travel abroad.
"The cruise news has been so discouraging lately," Butterbean1000 said. "Two of our cruises have been canceled. ... I think we're going to wait a while to use our FCC (future cruise credit). I don't want to be disappointed again. I was trying to be optimistic but this last setback was enough."
"I felt depressed all day yesterday," Firefly333 wrote. "My TA (travel agent) says I should have expected this, but I get depressed every time I'm canceled."
Is the CDC To Blame?
The emerging reality of COVID-19 is that it seems to spread the most through larger indoor gatherings where people are unmasked; as states in the U.S. have opened up, clusters of coronavirus outbreaks have emerged from bars, house parties, church services and family events and funerals. Many states still have guidelines and limitations on how many people can be in one place at once, which have put a damper on live events with conditions similar to a cruise such as rock concerts or sporting events.
Cruise ships have been releasing enhanced health protocols, with plans to limit capacity on ships, implement temperature and COVID tests, improve air ventilation systems and even stricter sanitation measures, such as a served buffet. Hotels have reopened, many with safety measures that don't seem to have too negative an impact on the guest experience. And airplanes have been flying domestically the entire time, albeit now with requirements for face masks.
But what many cruisers don't realize is that the final determination of the measures that cruise ships need to restart service will come from the CDC. And the government agency has yet to put those in writing.
In interviews, the CEOs of Carnival Corp., Royal Caribbean Cruise Ltd. and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, as well as CLIA representatives, all told Cruise Critic that until the CDC released their requirements for cruising to restart, the lines could continue to research and develop best practices -- but the actual new onboard practices would not be final.
Originally, the lines expected that kind of guidance before the CDC's "no sail" order lifted on July 25. The voluntary suspension moves that deadline back several months.
After Norwegian announced its latest suspension, a prominent market analyst blamed the CDC for bias against the cruise industry. According to MarketWatch, Instinet analyst Harry Curtis told his clients that the cruise line has been suggesting protocols for resumption of service, but the agency has shown "limited interest" in the discussions.
"This issue is NOT that the industry has been passive in developing health protocols. Quite the contrary," Curtis said. "In our view, the hurdle lies with the CDC's unwillingness to discuss, debate and mutually implement the highest standards of passenger and crew health care."
The CDC made the following statement to Cruise Critic in an email:
"The CDC supports the decision of CLIA to voluntarily extend the suspension of operations for passenger cruise ship travel. ... Since our original No Sail Order in mid-March preventing embarkation of any new passengers, CDC has worked tirelessly day and night to control COVID-19 on cruise ships that remained at sea while protecting against further introduction and spread of COVID-19 into U.S. communities. CDC expended to date an estimated 35,000 personnel hours on cruise ship COVID-19 response since mid-March -- in addition to the thousands of hours by other HHS components, the rest of the United States government, states and local authorities.
"CDC has continued (and continues) to have regular conversations and emails with the cruise line industry and cruise ship operators, often on a daily basis, as we worked to review response plans submitted by the cruise lines to CDC under the No Sail Order. CDC will continue to evaluate and update our recommendations as the situation evolves."
COVID Flare-Ups Are Affecting Small Ships, Americans Excluded Overseas
The CDC order only applies to the United States, and to vessels with more than 250 combined passengers and crew. There are some small ship lines in the U.S., mostly river cruise and expedition lines, that do not fall under the CDC guidelines and could, theoretically, sail.
But getting those cruises out of the berth has proved difficult, as COVID-19 continues to flare in different communities.
American Cruise Lines had been set to resume cruising on the Columbia and Snake rivers June 20. But a last-minute order from the state of Oregon to exclude overnight river cruises from its phased reopening plan forced the line to cancel the voyage less than 48 hours before the start. (While COVID-19 was not given specifically as the reason, spikes in cases had occurred in towns along the route.)
ACL is still set to be the first cruise line back in the United States, with a July 12 date on the Mississippi River. American Queen Steamboat Company has its first cruise on the books for July 20, from Missouri to Minnesota. UnCruise Adventures plans to start a truncated Alaska season August 1; cruisers planning to go to Alaska, however, must test negative for COVID-19 or face quarantine.
Meanwhile, popular European cruise lines such as Hurtigruten and SeaDream Yacht Club, as well as international river cruise lines such as Nicko and A-ROSA, have already resumed sailing. These cruises, though, are only open to countries such as Norway, Denmark and Germany, where the virus spread has slowed. According to the New York Times, the United States might not be on the list of accepted countries allowed into the European Union -- making a large chunk of the world off-limits to cruisers.
Cruisers Are Tired of the Cycle
Through the suspensions, cruise lines have given booked passengers the choice of an FCC or refund. Many cruisers have patiently taken the FCC -- only to have their rebooked cruise canceled as well.
The constant changes are wearing, members report, with many giving up on 2020 altogether.
"When they cancel my cruise at the end of September, I will roll it over to January," TNCruising02 said. "I don't want to deal with risking it on a cruise this year. If cruising does end up starting later in the year, I might be able to book something last minute. ... It's always disappointing to look forward to something that doesn't end up happening."
Others are continuing to take the wait-and-see approach that has dominated many aspects of 2020, not just cruising.
"I feel for the people who've been canceled multiple times. I'm sure it's a defeating feeling," Organized Chaos wrote. "We're booked in early Jan. and, at this point in time, I'm still choosing to remain confident that it'll happen."
Cruise Lines Are Offering Reassurance
Despite the cancellations and suspension of service, emails from the cruise lines continue to be sent on a regular basis. From Father's Day deals to expressions of gratitude, the lines are keeping travel dreams alive for their repeat customers.
In a video message to travel agents released the day before CLIA announced the suspension, Royal Caribbean Cruise Ltd. Chairman and CEO Richard Fain said his company had a blue-ribbon panel working to improve the already-strict health and sanitation protocols onboard.
"I can't guess how or when this damn disease will go away or when we will start our operations," he said. "We know the uncertainty is as frustrating to you as it is to us. ...
"We, too, are awaiting clearer guidance from the authorities. Until we get that guidance, we just can't predict how fast or what shape our healthy return to service will take. ... Science and society will guide us to those answers."
Carnival Cruise Lines Brand Ambassador and Cruise Director John Heald took to Facebook in a 17-minute video to answer questions from cruisers affected by the recent cancellations. He estimated that he took 350 queries Monday, and he also offered to make personal videos for families to help break the news to their kids that their summer cruise was canceled.
"I know today’s announcement caused such mixed emotions from sadness to frustration to a dollop of anger," he wrote on his Facebook page. "We are all committed to coming back to you in October, stronger than ever and ready and determined to bring back the FUN to you."