It’s been another busy week of cruise news and developments, including some dramatic and unexpected fall out from the SeaDream Covid outbreak, cancellations that reveal more about the lines real 2021 plans, chances to get free cruises, new and amazing deals for 2021 and more!
This is another of my Tips For Travellers cruise updates, where I will unpick the biggest breaking cruising news, and discuss what it means for all of us as cruisers. You can watch this as a cruise news update video on my YouTube Channel
USA Port Cancellation Update
First of all, the resumption of cruises out of USA ports will not be as fast as some cruisers were hoping for.
The conditions put on the lines by the CDC to return to service are proving more complicated and time consuming than expected. Carnival were the first line to confirm this by cancelling all their sailings out of USA ports to at least the end of January.
They also announced they will focus resumption of cruises on only two ports initially (Miami and Port Canaveral), and then later out of Galveston. Based on that, they have already cancelled all sailings until the end of February from all their other ports, while Tampa sailings were cancelled to the end of March.
Expect similar announcements from the other lines.
On a positive note though, we are seeing reports of cruise lines starting to send ships back to USA waters to be able to get them through the CDC process to start sailing again. Carnival have confirmed they are returning ships to USA waters, Carnival Horizon is on way to Miami and Carnival Breeze will be the next ship back in the U.S.
In a letter sent to employees, Holland America’s President Gus Antorcha has said (and I quote) “Following in-depth discussions with the CDC, other government agencies, and medical and science authorities, we have decided to start moving six Holland America Line ships toward U.S. waters over the next several weeks to begin completing the requirements for conditional sailing.”
They are sending Koningsdam, Nieuw Statendam, Nieuw Amsterdam, Westerdam, Zuiderdam, and Noordam
At least two Disney ships are about to sail from Europe back to USA waters shortly, with Disney Fantasy already en route from Southampton.
So, whilst the resumption of cruising out of US ports to the Caribbean is not likely to be as fast as many had hoped, there are also positive signals on progress.
However, there is less good news for those seeking to travel further afield.
Multi-Country Cruises Cancelled Significantly into 2021
Cruise lines that focus on more exotic and multi-country cruises have taken a pessimistic view about how soon they can start sailing again.
We are seeing an increasing wave of cancellations to as far as the middle of 2021 being announced. This means more and more lines confirming they will not be cruising for over a year. So, who has been cancelling? And what is the significance of who is cancelling for you?
Cunard, the iconic British cruise line, has cancelled Queen Elizabeth to March, Queen Victoria to May and Queen Mary 2 to April.
Crystal Cruises has also similarly pushed back its voyages on its ocean-going fleet into March and April based on the ship.
The ultra-luxury Regent Seven Seas, part of the Norwegian Cruise Group, has followed these two and also scrapped all departures through to April.
Meanwhile, some lines have cancelled even further into 2021.
This includes Silversea, the ultra-luxury line owned by Royal Caribbean Group, who has cancelled as far as mid-June . That’s right, June 2021! Although 5 ships will sail again in April and May, Silver Wind, Silver Whisper and Silver Explorer will only resume in June.
Their competition, Seabourn has announced it will restart ship-by-ship between April and June.
While Windstar Cruises says that while most ships will resume in March and April, Star Pride will not return until its July voyage to Northern Europe.
Why is this happening and what does it mean for us as cruisers?
First of all, these lines sail multi-country and exotic cruises, which will be more challenging to resume with the complexity of moving people around the world to join these cruises, differing requirements to enter countries, timing and certainty of what ports will be open and which will be willing to accept cruises and other hurdles.
So, if you are planning to do a multi-country or exotic cruise I recommend looking at the later half of 2021 or even 2022. Many cruisers have already reached this conclusion, and all those lines have spoken recently how 2022 is especially strong for bookings already.
Secondly, the lines have all said there will be a staggered return of ships to deal with the complexity of restaffing, training, repositioning, preparing and restocking ships. For example, Norwegian Cruise Line CEO said recently it will not be until quarter 3 2021 until all ships are back in service.
This is why we are no longer seeing as many blanket cancellations to a date by the lines, and are starting to see restart dates ship by ship within each line. So, as you plan cruises ahead bear in mind different ships will start sailing before others, and watch out for those announcements.
Thirdly if you want to cruise sooner, it is worth noting that the lines are focusing on getting cruising restarted in the biggest cruise region – the United States – before they deal with other regions. Their focus is on getting Caribbean cruising open.
Energy, time, money and resources are focused on working through the detailed, and stringent, guidelines and steps laid out by the CDC in their “Framework For Conditional Sailing”.
Getting this sorted will enable the biggest lines (including Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, MSC Cruises, Celebrity, Princess, Disney and Holland America) to take paying passengers, they hope, in the first quarter of 2021. The lines have a lot to do. They hope though that they can bring back a few ships on short Caribbean trips, initially focused on their private islands through the early months of 2021.
So, even if lines start sailing early in 2021 to the Caribbean, you cannot count on the itinerary you have booked running as advertised.
This is especially true if the 2021 cruise you have booked, or are at looking at, is longer than 7 nights. These are not allowed under the CDC Framework until at least November, and as I suggested in my last update, almost all the major lines have taken those off sale.
They have not formally cancelled them, but if you are booked on a cruse over 7 nights out of the USA, you may want to start looking at shifting that to a 7-night cruise alternative.
Fourthly, it is clear the next priority will be on getting Europe and Alaska able to open and cruise for the season in these regions.
Both these regions usually operate from April / May until September /October. In Europe this includes 4 key regions: Mediterranean, Norwegian Fjords, British Isles and Baltics.
German and Italian lines are already sailing Italian, Greek and Canary island itineraries, although on pause due to European lockdowns.
CLIA is pushing to get the UK-based lines, and those that home port in the UK, sailing UK-based itineraries which (as I reported in the last update) the UK government appears to be moving towards.
Test Cruises Update
One of the steps the lines have to complete before the CDC will allow them to sail out of US ports is to run, what they call “simulated cruises”.
These are designed to test both the new CDC protocols and the ones the lines themselves developed.
Royal Caribbean created a lot of excitement across the last week by launching a site for people to register for these free test cruises (as they call them), along with a Facebook page. At the time of writing this, over 100,000 had signed up for interest, with 40,000 on the Facebook group. Not a surprise at the suggestion of going on a free cruise.
Reading the discussion on the Facebook page, it is clear that a surprising amount of people have not understood the changes to cruising that is coming, and will be in place, to allow lines to sail again.
It is worth joining the Facebook group to see the discussions.
The other lines have not said how they will recruit volunteers, nor actually has Royal Caribbean said exactly how they will select them. At the time of recording they are, though, the only ones asking people to register.
In terms of timing, Norwegian Cruise Line CEO this past week, suggested they would be unlikely to be ready to sail any test cruise this year and that it was unlikely others would, as there is an enormous amount the lines have to put in place, including building testing capability, bringing crew back and meeting the CDC guidelines and then getting crew trained and ships ready.
SeaDream Caribbean Covid Outbreak Update
I wanted to update you on the SeaDream Covid outbreak on their first Caribbean cruise out of Barbados, and the impact it has had.
In the end, nine people were confirmed as testing positive for Covid by SeaDream. This was a group of 5 travelling together, another couple that it seems they were friendly with and two crew members. One of the infected passengers was flown back to California on a medical evacuation flight.
The remaining passengers, who tested negative by the Barbados authorities, were disembarked and returned home on commercial airlines, for example UK guests on a British Airlines flight.
This move surprised some, including some of the passengers, as the CDC guidelines for ships to sail out of USA would have required longer quarantining and also use of non-commercial transport to get passengers home after an outbreak.
Guests report that the Barbados authorities were behind this push for them to disembark and leave.
There have been two big impacts, to date , from the outbreak.
First, SeaDream have cancelled the rest of 2020 Caribbean sailings. In a statement they said, and I quote “”SeaDream successfully operated more than 20 sailings during the pandemic without any cases, and further improvements were made to protocols before the Barbados season.
The company will now spend time to evaluate and see if it is possible to operate and have a high degree of certainty of not getting COVID.”
The SeaDream experience shows that despite various layers of testing and other controls, keeping Covid off ships cannot be guaranteed.
However, it is also important to remember that a similar protocol, admittedly with a different test type, has meant covid-free ships sailing with many more guests in Europe through out the summer.
Those ships carrying over 1,000 on each sailing in the case of MSC Cruises and Costa, versus the 50 odd on SeaDream.
The second impact of the SeaDream incident has led to some US leaders, led by RICHARD BLUMENTHAL from the Senate and DORIS MATSU a Member of Congress, to lobby and write to the CDC to ask them to reinstate the blanket no-sail order instead of their “Framework to Conditional Sailing”. They have required a reply by 27 November.
Whilst this seems unlikely, the CDC still has enormous control over when cruise lines can start sailing, as they alone determine how fast the lines and ships can progress through each of the stages they have laid down.
Personally, I suspect we will see things progress at a slow and measured pace rather than them reinstating a no-sail order.
A number of people have contacted me to ask what my view is on the Celebrity Cruises “Always Included” fares that which will be offered for all Celebrity Cruises bookings made from November 17. They now include Wi-Fi access, drinks and gratuities into the cruise fare.
Although Celebrity Cruises have made quite a big noise about this, in reality this brings them in line with the deals that their direct competition (Holland America and Princess Cruises) have been offering on their 2021 cruises.
You will find you can get these included in fares across those premium lines when booking 2021. This is good news as it means that although fares are broadly the same as pre-pandemic levels, they are much better value now.
I have been saying for some time that 2021 fares will be more attractive to encourage cruisers back, and this move to more all-inclusive fares is very welcome.
What is being included in the fares?
The Celebrity “Always Included” has Classic Drinks package, so a range of beers, spirits, cocktails, liqueurs and wines by the glass, Wi-Fi for 2 devices and gratuities. You can then upgrade to different packages that include premium drinks and on-board credit .
As you look to book 2021, check out and compare what the line fare deals are. Holland America, Princess and Celebrity Cruises are all ones I have taken advantage of as they include some items that can really mount up and add to the cost of a cruise.
Those are the biggest news stories breaking that I felt you need to know about, and what I think they mean for us as cruise lovers.