SARS Now Prompts Itinerary Changes

April 4, 2003
In the wake of the World Health Organization's most unusual advisory against travel to Hong Kong, Princess, Crystal and Holland America, all of which have ships slated for calls there this month, are revising itineraries. The last minute changes vary; here's a summary: must cancel by April 12. Crystal's Marine Operations Department is rerouting Harmony, which had scheduled two different turn-around calls at Hong Kong this month, to Japan. At this point -- schedules, according to a spokeswoman, are not yet finalized -- but it looks certain that the ship will replace the Hong Kong turn-arounds with Yokohama, the port of Tokyo. For passengers already sailing on Harmony's first Hong Kong itinerary, the cruise line is, additionally, offering  a $250 per person future cruise credit, assisting with rescheduling of new flights home from Tokyo, and providing free email once itinerary and flight changes are finalized. Folks on Crystal Harmony's next sailing, departing April 15 and also originally slated for a Beijing-Hong Kong run, will be given a $500 per person future cruise credit -- or they can opt to cancel, using Crystal's rollover option. However, they must cancel by April 12. Princess Cruises' Regal Princess, currently sailing an 18-day Sydney-to-Bangkok itinerary, did bypass Singapore's scheduled call on Thursday. Otherwise, there are no changes and the ship will arrive in Bangkok on schedule Probably the biggest headache -- and this applies as well to Regal's next sailing, a 30-day Asia-India-Mediterranean cruise departing from Bangkok on April 8 -- is that Princess is rerouting all passengers (debarking and embarking) who've purchased its air package, so they do not connect through Hong Kong. The cruise line's asking independent travelers to make the same change in order to avoid Hong Kong. Anyone who does fly via Hong Kong will not be allowed to board the ship in Bangkok. Instead, Princess will require those folks to wait out a ten-day stint -- to make sure they don't have any symptoms. A spokeswoman at Princess says that the cruise line will provide an airport transfer, hotel, meals and, ultimately, a connection to the next possible port (once the waiting period has finished). Holland America's Prinsendam with two Far East sailings this month (April 11 and 25) will now roundtrip from Osaka. The itinerary for the April 11 trip will visit Nagasaki, Japan; Naha, Okinawa; Pusan, South Korea; Vladivostok, Russia; and Niigata, Japan.  The follow-up sailing, a repositioning cruise to San Francisco, will overnight in Osaka and then call at Pusan, South Korea; Vladivostok and Petropavlosk, Russia; and Dutch Harbor, Kodiak, Sitka, and Ketchikan, Alaska.  There was no word from the folks at Holland America about assistance to passengers with flight arrangements. The bottom line, in all cases, is that the cruise lines involved are scrambling to handle itinerary changes as a result of the uncertainty of SARS at this point. The situation, says Princess' Julie Benson, "is changing hour by hour. We'll continue to keep on top of the situation."