While COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on nearly every aspect of the travel industry, the cruise industry has quite possibly been hit the hardest. The pandemic led to the voluntary suspension of worldwide cruising in March 2020, and most cruise enthusiasts have been waiting with bated breath since then.
The economic impact has been substantial, both for cruise lines and those they employ. According to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), financial losses from mid-March 2020 until the end of September 2020 added up to $50 billion in economic activity worldwide. On top of that, 334,000 jobs were lost in the industry worldwide, which led to $15 billion in lost wages.
In the United States, stats show the cruise industry contributes over $53 billion USD in economic activity each year, and 421,000 American jobs depend on it. Further, every 30 cruisers from ports in the United States support one American job, and each day the suspension of cruise operations continues leads to $110 million in economic losses and the loss of up to 800 U.S. jobs.
The state of cruising right now
Interestingly, cruise lines were able to resume limited cruising operations in some parts of the world last year. In fact, the CLIA says nearly 400,000 people have sailed in more than 10 major cruise markets since July 2020. Destinations where cruising resumed the earliest include Europe, Asia and the South Pacific.
Cruises from North America have taken more time, which was originally a point of contention with the CLIA and the cruise industry at large. The CLIA reports that they have called on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to “lift the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) and allow for the planning of a phased resumption of cruise operations from U.S. ports by the beginning of July.”
“Cruising has resumed in other parts of the world following enhanced health and safety protocols that have proven effective,” writes the CLIA on their website. “There is no reason the same should not be true in the United States.”
Fortunately, the CDC released the next two phases for cruise ships on May 5, 2021, which has allowed them to conduct trial voyages and prepare to apply for a COVID-19 conditional sailing certificate so they can begin sailing with restricted passenger voyages.
Trip protection offerings by cruise line
This is good news for cruisers who are hoping to book a cruise for later this year, as many major cruise lines have been able to offer new sailings in the second half of 2021. Since consumers may be worried about future cancellations or having to change their bookings due to travel concerns, cruise lines have also been forced to offer more flexibility in their cancellation and rescheduling policies.
Here’s what a few major cruise lines have said about current and future cruise offerings:
Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian Cruise Line has suspended many of its sailings through November 2021 and some through January 2022. However, passengers can cruise the Norwegian Jade out of Piraeus, Greece, starting in late July 2021, and a few U.S. sailings will resume on the Norwegian Encore and the Norwegian Gem in August 2021.
Passengers are eligible to receive a Future Cruise Credit (FCC) or a refund if the cruise is canceled by Norwegian. If a guest cancels their cruise due to a public health emergency or a family member having COVID-19 within 14 days of sailing, they are entitled to an FCC for the amount paid to Norwegian.
Carnival Cruise Line
Carnival Cruise Line has announced several new cruises with U.S. departures in 2021, including cruises out of Port Canaveral, Florida, on the Carnival Magic starting on Aug. 7, Caribbean cruises on the Carnival Sunrise starting on Aug. 14 and Mexican Riviera cruises on the Carnival Panorama starting on Aug. 21. The Carnival Vista and Carnival Breeze will also resume sailing out of Galveston, Texas, in early July 2021.
Passengers are eligible for a Future Cruise Credit (FCC) or a refund if Carnival cancels their cruise. If a guest cancels due to a public health emergency or a family member being tested positive with COVID-19 within 14 days of embarkation, they are entitled to an FCC.
Celebrity Cruises is currently operating several ships out of North America, including the Celebrity Millennium since June 5, 2021, and the Celebrity Edge since June 26, 2021. Starting on July 23, 2021, guests can also sail on the Celebrity Millenium from Seattle to Alaska.
Celebrity offers a flexible cancellation policy that lets guests cancel up to 48 hours before sailing to receive 100 percent Future Cruise Credit (FCC) to use by April 30, 2022, toward any sailing that takes place through Sept. 30, 2022.
Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line is suspending Disney Dream sailings through Aug. 6, 2021, as well as Disney Fantasy departures through Aug. 28, 2021. Disney Wonder departures are paused until Sept. 19, 2021, and Disney Magic departures are paused from the U.S. through Nov. 4, 2021. The Disney Magic is bookable for some UK itineraries this summer, but these cruises are limited to residents of the United Kingdom.
Disney is also letting guests with COVID-related health concerns receive a full refund or a cruise credit if they cancel within 14 days of sailing. Further, guests who book a cruise by July 31, 2021, that is scheduled to sail by the end of 2021, can change their sail date up to 15 days prior to departure.
Holland America will resume cruises out of the U.S. later this year, with planned sailings out of San Diego aboard the Koningsdam and Zuiderdam starting in September 2021. Sailings out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida will also resume in October and November of this year.
Passengers impacted by a cruise cancellation can receive a future cruise credit worth 110 percent of the trip value, but they can also move their cruise to an equivalent 2022 departure or get a full refund. Their flexible cancellation policy also lets guests change plans if they test positive with COVID-19 within 30 days of departure, and most cruises are 100 percent refundable up to 91 days before departure.
MSC is offering quite a few itineraries out of North America this summer, which you can find here. For example, the MSC Meraviglia will resume cruising out of Miami on Aug. 2, 2021. The MSC Meraviglia and MSC Divina will resume cruising in September 2021.
MSC Cruises is also offering a flexible cancellation and rebooking policy for cruises booked by Sept. 30, 2021, for cruises departing through Sept. 30, 2022. This policy, called Total CruiseFlex, lets you move your booking to a later cruise date up to 48 hours before departure.
Princess Cruises plans to resume cruises to Alaska on the Majestic Princess starting in late July 2021. While plenty of other cruises were planned for fall 2021, many have been canceled. You can read about canceled Princess Cruises departures here.
Princess also lets you cancel cruises and get cruise credit up to 30 days before you sail, or within 30 days if you or someone you plan to travel with tests positive for COVID-19. Final payment for cruises has also been moved up to just 60 days before departure.
Royal Caribbean has resumed many of their itineraries, including Bahamas cruises on the Adventure of the Seas as of June 12, 2021. Other cruises with departures from United States ports like Miami and Galveston, Texas, will resume later this summer, as well as European cruises.
If a cruise is canceled by the cruise line, passengers are entitled to a full refund or credit for a future cruise. If a guest cancels due to a public emergency, a positive COVID-19 test or exposure, they are entitled to a refund or cruise credit. Cruises booked before July 31, 2021, also qualify for the Cruise with Confidence program, which says you can cancel up to 48 hours before the sail date (for sailings that depart before April 30, 2022) and get a future cruise credit good for sailings through Sept. 30, 2022.
Credit card travel insurance
If you haven’t booked your cruise quite yet, you may be considering your travel insurance options and how they might apply to your booking. Fortunately, a variety of travel insurance companies have tailored new policies to include provisions for COVID-19, as well as the uncertainty of today’s travel landscape.
Travel insurance offered through your credit card can also alleviate any stress that might come with rebooking your cruise with “cruise credits” that are subject to expiration dates and fine print.
Here are Bankrate’s top picks for excellent travel cards that also have trip insurance:
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
The Chase Sapphire Reserve offers trip cancellation insurance worth up to $10,000 per person and up to $20,000 in coverage per trip. Additionally, the Sapphire Reserve offers travel accident insurance worth up to $1,000,000. Perhaps most useful of all, the card offers emergency evacuation coverage worth up to $100,000.
Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
While the Wells Fargo Propel American Express card may not offer the same high-value trip insurance as the Sapphire Reserve, it comes with travel accident insurance worth up to $150,000 without charging an annual fee. If you’re purchasing a cruise vacation with this credit card, you’ll want to make sure that the cruise line in question has trip coverage as a backup; this card only offers accident insurance, not cancellation insurance.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
The Platinum Card® from American Express may be on the pricey side due to its new suite of benefits, but it also offers trip cancellation and interruption insurance worth up to $10,000 per person and up to $20,000 per trip. Cardholders also receive trip delay coverage worth up to $500 per ticket as well as other important travel perks.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
If you’re traveling on a budget but still want quality trip insurance, the Chase Sapphire Preferred should be on your radar. With an annual fee of $95 (a modest cost compared to the $550 annual fee of the Sapphire Reserve), the Sapphire Preferred offers up to $10,000 in coverage per person and up to $20,000 of trip cancellation protection. You also receive a trip delay reimbursement option worth up to $500 per ticket.
The bottom line
Whether you’ve already booked a trip or you’re still planning your future sea voyage, staying informed on guidelines from both the U.S. government and health officials is the best way to keep yourself safe and healthy. In the meantime, you should also make sure you know about requirements put in place by your chosen cruise line, including requirements for masks or vaccination of passengers.
For further information on travel restrictions, visit the World Health Organization’s travel advice page. Accurate information about the coronavirus, its transmission, and real-time travel updates can also be found on the CDC’s website.