Can’t Wait to Get Back to Cruising? Expect Changes

In 2019, Canadians took almost one million cruises, sailing oceans, lakes, and rivers around the world.

And a large majority of them say they would do it again. Cruisers are a committed lot—all surveys confirm it.

Then came COVID, and though it took some time, cruisers returned home, wondering when or if they would get another chance to sail. Now, almost nine months later, the question remains. When will cruising resume? And how will the experience be changed?

Since the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) first issued its “no sail” order for ships in US waters (March 14, 2020), there have been a few isolated attempts at cruise resumptions—primarily in the Mediterranean and other parts of Europe. But outbreaks of COVID on some of these voyages have cut them short as well. Since then, extensions of the “no sail” order have been continued through to the end of October. Actually, the CDC proposed extending the order through to February 2021, but the Trump White House nixed that order and compromised on ending the ban November 1—with the proviso that it could be extended if conditions warranted. (Cruising is a worldwide industry extending far beyond US ports, but the world’s three biggest lines* are headquartered in Florida, and their vessels at some time or other sail in US-controlled waters patrolled by the US Coast Guard. Thus, CDC jurisdiction is quite clear. *Carnival Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Holdings account for 60 per cent of all cruise traffic).

Where does that leave potential cruisers who would like to nail down reservations for winter Caribbean sailings—the most popular cruise destination among Canadians?

Make an exit plan

At this point, we can only urge caution. Keep your options open. Don’t lock yourself into a distant commitment without an exit plan. If you’re about to make a substantial investment in a cruise booking, how long are you prepared to keep your deposits or payments locked in? What if the cruise line changes the itinerary you booked? What if it substitutes a vessel you particularly wanted to one less attractive to you? What if your health or economic situation changes and you need to back out?

And if you do want to change or cancel, will you be offered future cruise credits or the cash you have put in minus any “non-refundable” charges? 

At present, there are still many thousands of cruise hopefuls waiting for cash rebates from cruise lines that are burning through millions of dollars per day as their ships sail in circles, empty except for skeleton crews—like modern-day Flying Dutchmen.

Cruise lines have very aggressively marketed fare upgrades of up to 150 per cent as well as on-board cash credits just to keep passengers booked. And the majority of them originally accepted those “bargains” in lieu of cash. But as time wears on and the uncertainty of cruise resumption continues, the future cruise credits are losing their lure. Cash is still king.

Private travel insurance can help

Can travel insurance from the brokers you normally buy your out-of-country coverage from protect you from the future-cruise-credit dilemma? Yes, to a degree, but you need to understand what trip cancellation offers and what its limitations are. There are limits on coverage. We’ve written about this widely in past articles and will again. Know the terms.

Also, check with your insurer if your coverage will be restricted if Canada still maintains its blanket warning to “avoid all travel on cruise ships.” That restriction is a reminder only that insurers may limit your benefits related to cruise travel. That decision remains up to the insurer.

Expect a different cruise lifestyle

You should be prepared for a very difference cruise experience once the “no sail” orders are lifted.

According to new CDC rules (accepted by the Cruise Lines International Association—the organization representing the interests of 90 per cent of the world’s cruise lines), for the foreseeable future you will have to be tested for COVID before embarking and have your temperature checked frequently while on board, perhaps daily. You’ll also have to wear your mask while in public areas, keep to distancing requirements, and there will be limitations on port stops. It’s going to be a stripped-down regimen. 

Still, cruise lines are betting that their alumni passengers will understand and be prepared to put up with the restraints. Many will, as virtually all customer satisfaction surveys show that those who have taken cruises have enjoyed their experience enough to want to do it again, and again. As we said, this is a committed lot.

If that’s your “cuppa,” great. But before you put any money down, ask a lot of questions and make sure to have an exit plan if you change your mind anywhere along the process. You’ll want to keep your investment safe—in one form or another.

© Copyright 2020 Milan Korcok. All rights reserved.

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