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State Department Warns Against Cruise Travel: What You Need to Know

The U.S. State Department is warning U.S. citizens not to take cruises, delivering what could be a major blow to the cruise industry and have other unforeseen consequences that will reverberate throughout the travel industry and economy as a whole.

In a recent post, Coronavirus Travel Concerns: What You Need to Know, I discussed some of the implications of COVID-19 to the travel industry, economy and overall public health and how to stay informed on the latest updates via credible sources.  I was surprised to see that the same warning did not come out specifically for air travel, but would think similar precautions should be taken as well.

Each time our world faces a health crisis, a natural disaster or an act of terrorism, it gives us time to pause to reflect on what’s most important in life. Crisis causes us to feel uncertain, and that can be scary.  Knowledge is power, and having the most accurate and current information will guide the best decisions for you.

COVID-19 and Cruise Ship Travel
In a travel advisory issued Sunday evening, the State Department said there is an increased risk of infection of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, on cruise ships.

“U.S. citizens, particularly travelers with underlying health conditions, should not travel by cruise ship.”

Not only is potential Coronavirus exposure a concern, but other risks include being subject to local quarantines, denied boarding, boarding restrictions, ports denying ship arrivals and passengers from disembarking.

The CDC also updated their travel alerts, with the key takeaways being:
  • CDC recommends travelers, particularly those with underlying health issues, defer all cruise ship travel worldwide.
  • Sustained community spread of respiratory illness caused by COVID-19 has been reported in many countries.
  • Cruise ship passengers are at increased risk of person-to-person spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19.
  • Older adults and travelers with underlying health issues should avoid situations that put them at increased risk for more severe disease. This entails avoiding crowded places, avoiding non-essential travel such as long plane trips, and especially avoiding embarking on cruise ships.
If you have an upcoming cruise or plan on cancelling your upcoming plans, it is always good to know the current status of the Cruise Industry and the precautions they are taking, what sailings are being cancelled and the latest updates for cruise cancellation policies.

What Precautions are Cruiselines Taking?
As part of the cruise industry’s continued commitment to the health and safety of guests and crew, as well as the residents of port cities and destinations around the world, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the leading voice of the global cruise industry, announced the adoption of additional enhanced screening measures in response to COVID-19.

As a result of these changes, which are effective immediately, CLIA members (all major cruise companies are a part of CLIA) are to:
  • Deny boarding to all persons who have travelled from, visited or transited via airports in South Korea, Iran, China, including Hong Kong and Macau, and any municipality in Italy subject to lockdown (quarantine) measures by the Italian Government, as designated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, within 14 days prior to embarkation.
  • Conduct illness screening for all persons who have travelled from, visited or transited via airports in any destinations listed on the U.S. CDC “Coronavirus Disease 2019 Information for Travel” page within 14 days before embarkation. 
    • Illness screening includes symptom history checks for fever, cough and difficulty breathing in the 14 days before embarkation and taking of temperature.
  • Conduct temperature screening, as soon as they are capable, at initial embarkation for all persons boarding. 
    • Any individual with a temperature detected at or above 100.4° F / 38° C is to receive secondary screening to include a medical assessment.
  • Deny boarding to all persons who, within 14 days prior to embarkation, have had contact with, or helped care for, anyone suspected or diagnosed as having COVID-19, or who are currently subject to health monitoring for possible exposure to COVID-19.
  • Conduct pre-boarding screening necessary to effectuate these prevention measures. Enhanced screening and initial medical support are to be provided, as needed, to any persons exhibiting symptoms of suspected COVID-19.

In coordination with cruise lines, medical experts and regulators around the world, CLIA and its member lines will continue to closely monitor for new developments related to COVID-19 and will modify these policies as necessary with the utmost consideration for the health and safety of passengers and crew.

With strict measures in place, as guided by national and international health authorities, CLIA and its member lines, in concert with pronouncements from the World Health Organization, do not believe restrictions on the movement of ships are justified.

Cruise Line Coronavirus (COVID-19) Information & Cancellation Policy
Current cruise line information concerning coronavirus and cancellation policies can be found below for these major cruise companies.  Most cruise lines have updated their cancellation policies, provided more detailed travel and health information/advisories, changed final payment deadlines and are offering more amenities more cruisers who don't cancel in the from of more on-board credits and flexibility.

The information below is accurate as of March 10, 2020 - refer to each company website for the most up-to-date information and policies
  • Carnival Cruise Line
    • For March 2020 sailings all guests have until 3 days prior to sail date to decide whether or not they will continue to sail with their original sail date.
    • April and May 2020 sailings must decide by March 31, 2020 whether they will continue to sail with their original sail date.
    • All Future Cruise Credits that will be issued must be used for a sailing that departs on or before March 31, 2021. There is no deadline to book a cruise.
    • For guests sailing on their original sail date in March, April or May, additional onboard credits are being offered and will be automatically applied
      • Bookings currently scheduled for departures between March 6, 2020 and May 31, 2020 the following Onboard Credit (OBC) amounts apply: $100 per cabin for 3 and 4 day cruises; $150 per cabin for 5 day cruises and $200 per cabin for 6 day and longer cruises 
  • Celebrity Cruises
    • Cruise With Confidence - Cancel at any time up to 48 hours before your sailing, for sailings departing up until 7/31/2020, and you’ll receive a Future Cruise Credit.
  • Disney Cruise Line
    • Temporary Cancellation Policy Update: Given the current situation, DCL is offering temporary adjustments to its cancellation policy to provide more flexibility for guests.  These adjustments may continue to evolve as more information becomes available.
    • Disney Magic European Sailings:
      • Guests currently booked on European sailings through July 25 departure can change their reservation up until the day before embarkation and receive a 100% cruise credit to be used for future sailing within 15 months of their original sail date by calling us at 1-866-325-2112 or 407-566-3510 or contacting their travel agent. The credit is non-refundable and standard prevailing rates will apply.
      • Alternatively, Guests currently booked on our July 13, July 18 and July 25, 2020, European sailings may delay their final payment to 30 days prior to their sailing.
    • Disney Magic sailings through May 8, 2020, and Disney Dream, Disney Fantasy and Disney Wonder Sailings through May 31, 2020:
      • All Guests scheduled to depart on the Disney Magic between now and May 8, 2020, and the Disney Dream, Disney Fantasy and Disney Wonder between now and May 31, 2020, can change their reservation up until the day before embarkation and receive a 100% cruise credit to be used for a future sailing within 12 months of their original sail date by calling us at 1-866-325-2112 or 407-566-3510 or contacting their travel agent. The credit is non-refundable and standard prevailing rates will apply.
  • Holland America Line
    • Short-Term Cancellation Policy allows guests to cancel a cruise departing through May 31, for any reason and for those who choose to keep their cruise plans on departures through May 31, 2020, an Onboard Spending Credit of $200 per stateroom/$100 per person for voyages longer than 7 days and US$100 per stateroom/US$50 per person for voyages less than 6 days will be automatically applied to their shipboard account as a thank you.
    • New Book with Confidence Program Allows for Cancellation:
      • To help cruisers feel more secure when making a future booking, Holland America Line also is offering a new Book with Confidence program that allows for cruise and Land+Sea Journey cancellation.
      • Guests who make a new booking by April 30, 2020, for itineraries that depart on or before Oct. 15, 2020, can cancel for any reason and receive a Future Cruise Credit (FCC) in the amount of any cancellation fees applied. The cancellation must be made up to 30 days before departure.
  • Norwegian Cruise Line
    • Norwegain's Peace of Mind:
      • Have peace of mind when booking with Norwegian Cruise Line.  Beginning March 10, 2020, guests who book a voyage through September 30, 2020 may cancel up to 48 hours from embarkation and receive a 100% future cruise credit to be used for all sailings that embark through December 31, 2022. 
  • Princess Cruises
    • Cruise With Confidence
      • The details vary by departure date, but there is a  much mire flexible cancellation policy in place and offers for those who don't cancel, check the link above for more detailed information.
  • Royal Caribbean Cruise Line
    • Cruise with Confidence Policy
      • Effective March 6, 2020, the new Cruise with Confidence policy allows guests to cancel any cruise departing on-or-before July 31st, 2020, up to 48 hours before departure, and receive a Future Cruise Credit that can be applied to any future cruise departing in 2020 or 2021.
If you need more information for other/smaller cruise lines such as AmaWaterways, Avalon and others, send me a message and I'll get you detailed information.

My key takeaway from the different cancellation policies in place is that they are kind of all over the place, but it is good to see these policies being updated due to the ongoing health concerns with Coronavirus.  You should remember which company helped out the most or offered the most flexible policies for their valued guests, when deciding on a potential cruise in the future once the current health concerns subside.

It is nice to see all of these policies being updated, with most being announced before the current US State and CDC Advisories.

Personally, we will be cancelling a Disney Cruise we were planing on being on next month and potentially shuffling other trips in the coming months.  We've been on trips in the past where we've gotten sick or the kids picked up a cold, threw up, or something similar; but I vividly remember the last time something major happened at the end of 2018 - when I got Influenza A while on a family trip to Arizona and then my almost two-year son caught it as well.  I fought through it with medicine, thinking it was allergies at first and then a common cold, but as soon as our little one caught it we knew something was wrong.  A jovial, happy and energetic kid was suddenly lethargic, red and feverish.  We took him in to Urgent Care and he tested positive for Influenza A, which was a major pandemic back in 2009, but due to heath advances (vaccines, antiviral medicine, etc) since then, we were able to help remedy it in a few days.  That is part of the concern with Coronavirus right now - there is currently no vaccine or recommended antiviral treatment plan.

It is reassuring to see the updated cruise travel plans for enhanced health screenings, like temperature checks at ports, and more formalized quarantine protocols underway, but at this time given all of the current information on Coronavirus, we did not feel comfortable being on a cruise with two young kids and the potential prolonged exposure to Coronavirus or being quarantined if anyone tested positive.  Plus with the recent quarantines of two Princess Cruises ships and the debacle that has ensued surrounding those sailings, I can't confidently get on a ship right now with my family.  Similarly, I've had a lot of cruise cancellations from concerned clients and can't blame them.

The current situation is evolving rapidly and information can become out of date quickly, so I would highly recommend checking the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevent (CDC) site for their most current information and official restrictions or warnings on areas to travel that come from the U.S. CDC, World Health Organization (WHO) and/or the U.S. State Department or the equivalent in the country you'll be traveling to.  I discussed some of these sources in my previous post, Coronavirus Travel Concerns: What You Need to Know.