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Cruising in 2020

Well, it’s been a while…. during which time everything changed, of course. When I wrote my last post in mid-February I was just beginning to wonder if cruising would be affected by the strange Chinese virus I was reading about, but as I write this (18 April 2020), cruising has stopped worldwide and won’t be restarting for the foreseeable future.

First, let’s look at the present situation:

  • Fleets are laid up all around the world and there is no indication as to when they will be brought back into service. At the moment the main UK cruise lines are on a ‘voluntary pause’ and as a result of this, all cruises through the spring and into the summer have already been cancelled and passengers disappointed.
  • There is considerable doubt that any of the lines mentioned above will be able to restart operations on the currently-published dates on which they hope to end their ‘pause’.
  • There has been much disappointment and anger among cruise passengers who have had their cruises cancelled. In addition to the fundamental disappointment of not being able to go on the cruise they were anticipating so much, the anger has come from the lines’ policies with regard to how passengers have been treated. I’m not going to go into specifics here – I haven’t explored the issue in depth, mainly because I haven’t had to – but I understand that passengers are generally not receiving refunds of the money they had paid. Instead, they have been offered vouchers or future credits, perhaps with an enhancement (e.g. 125% of what they’d actually paid – I think…) to be used as part payment for a cruise at some time in the future.
  • A second cause of anger has been that a look at the 2021 brochure has revealed that prices in 2021 are higher than they were for 2020, even for essentially the same cruise.

Everyone is hoping that “things get back to normal” as quickly as possible. I’m wondering if that will actually happen. I have a feeling that “normal” is over; that the disruption and restrictions will last longer than many people imagine; and that eventually they will be replaced by a new “normal”. Here are my reasons:

  • At present there is no protection against the Covid-19 virus, other than avoiding contact with actually or possibly infected people – hence, the lockdown. There has been much talk about “herd immunity”, but the WHO has started reminding people that there is as yet no evidence that the presence of antibodies in someone’s immune system will help prevent a second infection. In other words, while the antibodies indicate a previous infection, we do not yet know if people who have had it will be protected from further infection, how effective any protection would be, or for how long the protection will last;
  • At present there is no vaccination available against Covid-19. There is much talk about vaccines being developed, but it is also suggested that they are at least a year away, so that takes us into spring 2021. Furthermore, we have no idea yet if the search for a vaccine will actually be successful, how much protection it will offer, or for how long;
  • We face many restrictions at present. Of especial interest to cruise passengers are those pertaining to international travel. I have a feeling that it is precisely these restrictions that will be the last to be lifted because it must involve at least two parties, the governments of different nations, whereas all the other restrictions are domestic;
  • A further wrinkle is that there may be an age element thrown in as well – older people may continue to be subject to restrictions after they’ve been relaxed for younger people – and of course, most cruise passengers, at least in the UK, would count as ‘older people’;
  • And of course if there’s a major flare-up of infections, the relaxations will be wound back and restrictions will be re-applied.

All of the above suggests to me that we shouldn’t expect restrictions on international travel to be significantly lifted until 2021. In turn, that would mean that cruising will not resume this year. Indeed, I’ll go further: I have a feeling that when international travel first resumes it will be tightly controlled and there will be significant monitoring of passengers as they enter and leave countries. (The stories about the various cruise ship events in the last month or so will be influencing policy here.) I’m imagining situations where passengers will be subject to some form of health inspection (temperature check at the very least) on arrival at a port. This would be difficult to do in many cruise ports as they do not have the facilities. (International air travel might better-off, at least through major airports, e.g. Heathrow, JFK, Dubai International, because of the capability of those gateway airports. However I’m not so sure about the likes of smaller airports, e.g. East Midlands.) And of course we should also expect that it will be international travel, including cruising, that will be restricted first in the event of a significant new outbreak of Covid-19 infections anywhere.

So what might a “new normal” look like, for cruise passengers and other international travellers, by, say, 2022? Here are my thoughts:

  • there may need to be some sort of ‘Health Passport’. There are suggestions that a long-term comprehensive testing regime will be required, possibly involving millions of tests a year, and one way forward would be to make the results of these tests the basis of the Health Passport – in order to gain entry to a country you must be able to show that you’ve been tested recently and what the result of that test was, and have been vaccinated;
  • the entry requirements for people with underlying health problems (older people especially) may be tougher than for others, and thus such people may not be able to travel internationally;
  • we should expect more disruption of itineraries. If there’s a sudden flare-up in, say, Rome, then you can expect that calls at Civitavecchia will disappear from the itineraries, and possible other ports in the same country. Or even worse, if you’ve called at that port within the time-frame of the flare-up, other subsequent ports won’t allow you to enter;
  • tracking and tracing those who have been in contact with people infected with Covid-19 will become more sophisticated and more thorough. I would expect, therefore, that it may become a requirement to have and use one of the emerging ‘contact tracing’ smartphone apps that can map your movements. No smartphone? – sorry, having that sort of device might become a requirement of international travel.

Some people will argue that these things are an intrusion on privacy and an infringement of personal liberties. Well, they may be; but look what we have come to accept, and regard as normal, post-9/11 as regards airport security.

So those are my thoughts. Essentially, I believe it could be up to a year before cruising restarts. International travel will depend on health verification – vaccinations and tests. I don’t think Covid-19 is going away – it will continue to affect our lives for a long time. The world has changed.

3 Responses to “Cruising in 2020”

  1. Chris Lord says:

    I think your analysis is pretty much spot on. We have had 2 cruises cancelled plus 1 still booked with just deposit pai. We were given a 50% refund and a future cruise credit by one company, just the opportunity to book for next year with another company but whether we’ll ever see any more of our money back or a cruise is doubtful. We have already decided that, in the absence of a refund offer we will just cancel the third cruise and take the small loss of our deposit. The reason being that like you we can see very stringent restrictions which are likely will preclude us from boarding or make getting insurance impossible. I am afraid that we will probably never go on a cruise again or indeed even go abroad again. Having done 60+ cruises and many foreign trips over the past 30 years this is going to be a bitter pill to swallow. Anyway thank you for your clear and honest assessment – cruise companies now need to be equally up front.

    • Tom Burke says:

      Thanks for the comment, Chris, and I can only imagine how disappointed you must be.

      My wife and I were due to be on Aurora for 18 nights this June, but we had already cancelled that, having paid just the £50pp deposit as a result of having booked while on board (Oceana, Sep 2018). This cancellation was due to changed circumstances; an essential trip to the US had to be planned for this April and as my wife didn’t retire as expected this year, the cruise had to go. In the event, of course, we didn’t get the American trip either! We also have a 7-nighter booked on Iona in December, but we’re not really expecting that to happen. So I think we will say goodbye to that deposit as well.

  2. […] when he says that he cannot give a date on which they hope to resume – indeed, as I said in a post the other day, I’ll be surprised if cruising resumes this […]

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