Concerns over rising Omicron-related COVID-19 infections has prompted at least two major cruise lines to cancel sailings, signalling a new set of challenges for the pandemic-ravaged cruise industry.
Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), yesterday (Jan. 5), announced that a number of sailings across its fleet have been cancelled “due to ongoing travel restrictions.”
The update was shared as the United States, on Monday, reported the highest daily COVID-19 infection case count of any country.
According to a notice posted to NCL’s website, the following voyages have been cancelled:
- Norwegian Pearl cruises with embarkation dates through and including January 14, 2022
- Norwegian Sky cruises with embarkation dates through and including February 25,2022
- Pride of America cruises with embarkation dates through and including February 26, 2022
- Norwegian Jade cruises with embarkation dates through and including March 3, 2022
- Norwegian Star cruises with embarkation dates through and including March 19, 2022
- Norwegian Sun cruises with embarkation dates through and including April 19, 2022
- Norwegian Spirit cruises with embarkation dates through and including April 23, 2022
Passengers with an active reservation on one of the affected cruises above will automatically receive a refund in the original form of payment for the amount paid, NCL says.
Additionally, a 10 per cent off Future Cruise Credit will be automatically added to the guest's account as of Jan. 7, 2022.
The discount can be used to make a booking from Jan. 7, 2022 through Jan. 7, 2023 and can be applied towards any sailings through May 31, 2023, NCL says.
For affected reservations paid via a previously issued Future Cruise Credit, the full value of the FCC used will be re-applied to one’s Latitudes account within seven days.
“This is done automatically, so no further action is required on your or your travel advisor’s part,” NCL’s notice reads.
NCL also notes that ships that are not listed “are still sailing as planned.”
However: “As the global public health environment continues to rapidly evolve and destinations around the world modify their travel requirements or implement new travel restrictions, it is possible that itineraries may need to be modified,” the company says. “We will do our best to continue to communicate any changes and always strive to deliver an amazing vacation experience.”
At the same time, NCL sister company Regent Seven Seas Cruises has also altered the itinerary of its 120-night World Cruises departing San Francisco Jan. 5, according to Seatrade Cruise News.
Regent is in the midst of creating four new itinerary segments from Miami, departing after the initial Panama Canal segment from San Francisco to Miami, the report says.
Cruising & the CDC
The changes come after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on Dec. 30, raised its travel warning for cruises to the highest level, “Level 4,” as the agency is investigating dozens of ships that have had COVID-19 outbreaks amid a worldwide surge of the Omicron variant.
The CDC now calls cruising a high-risk activity, even among those who have had their full series of COVID-19 shots.
“The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads easily between people in close quarters on board ships, and the chance of getting COVID-19 on cruise ships is very high, even if you are fully vaccinated and have received a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose,” the CDC advisory reads.
The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) called the move “perplexing” given that “cases identified on cruise ships consistently make up a very slim minority of the total population onboard—far fewer than on land—and the majority of those cases are asymptomatic or mild in nature, posing little to no burden on medical resources onboard or onshore,” as CLIA explained in a statement.
“No setting can be immune from this virus—however, it is also the case that cruise provides one of the highest levels of demonstrated mitigation against the virus,” the association said.
Spectrum of the Seas in Hong Kong
Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean Cruises cancelled its Spectrum of the Seas cruise in Hong Kong on Jan. 6 after nine guests on a Jan. 2 voyage were linked to a local COVID-19 cluster.
The passengers on board Spectrum of the Seas tested negative but the ship returned to Kai Tak Cruise Terminal in Hong Kong on Jan. 5 to test all guests and crew.
Hong Kong officials, this week, said the city is “on the verge” of another coronavirus outbreak as cases of Omicron continue to rise.
In response, a two-week ban on flights from Canada, the United States, Australia, France, India, Pakistan, the Philippines and Great Britain was announced.
Carnival Corp has not cancelled any upcoming voyages yet, but its shares fell on Wednesday to close down 2.6 per cent, according to reports. Royal Caribbean also lost 2.1 per cent and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings 3.6 per cent.