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How Cruises Are Planning for a Busy 2021

Condé Nast Traveler logo Condé Nast Traveler 8/26/2020 Corina Quinn
a bridge over a body of water: On the Peruvian Amazon with Aqua Expeditions © Aqua Expeditions On the Peruvian Amazon with Aqua Expeditions

If you hope to cruise in 2021, word in the industry is: Book now. Between the passengers who bumped 2020 sailings because of the pandemic and general interest in getting out to sea again, cabins on ships both small and large, river and ocean, are filling up fast. “Already, availability is limited,” says Linda Allen-Speer of Cruises by Linda.

That's a very different picture than the one that was being presented in March, and it reflects the work that the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) immediately began doing with the CDC to establish a revised set of safety standards. Those efforts have led to revamped HVAC systems, an end to the self-service buffet, and an emphasis on alfresco dining as well as in-suite room service. When sailings resume, cruisers can expect enhanced pre-boarding screenings, temperature checks, more cleanings, and more medical staff. As part of its efforts to ensure travelers' peace of mind, CLIA voluntarily decided in June to delay sailings of large ships until fall—one reason Allen-Speer says 2020 return bookings have been slow even with companies like Aqua Expeditions returning to the Amazon and Windstar Cruises hitting the Caribbean this fall.

But for 2021, cruise bookings industry-wide are up 4 percent, according to travel specialist group Virtuoso—with river cruises up 30 percent from January 2020 to January 2021. And for those deciding whether to cruise next year, specialists like Allen-Speer are asking only for small fully refundable deposits rather than full-trip costs on sailings like Ponant's new hybrid ship Le Commandant Charcot, which will cruise through Tahiti in May. “We know the money down needs to be as minimal as possible,” she says.

This article appeared in the August/September 2020 issue of Condé Nast Traveler. Subscribe to the magazine here.

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