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The extreme measures cruise lines are taking as coronavirus concerns spread

The Points Guy logo The Points Guy 3/11/2020 Gene Sloan
a small boat in a body of water © Provided by The Points Guy
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with the latest details of cruise line cancellations, boarding restrictions and cancellation policy changes. It originally published on March 3. Note that some comments in the comment area refer to policies that have since changed. 

Perhaps no other segment of the travel industry has been hit as hard by the spread of the new coronavirus from China as cruising.

The much-publicized outbreak of the illness on a Princess Cruises vessel in Japan last month set off a wave of cancellations that hasn’t really let up. At the same time, the pace of new bookings has plummeted, in part because the U.S. government now is recommending that Americans should not cruise until further notice. Cruise lines also are dealing with a growing number of ports that are skittish about welcoming cruise ships.

In response, cruise lines have been taking some extreme measures, including canceling large numbers of sailings, rerouting ships and adding unprecedented boarding restrictions. The measures are designed both to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus on ships and to ease the worries of customers who are booked on the vessels.

In just the last few days, nearly all lines also have waived cancellation penalties to allow passengers to postpone travel — a rarity in the cruise world. In addition, some are adding incentives to passengers to get them to stick with their cruising plans. Here’s everything you need to know about the latest cruise cancellations, policy changes and other developments.

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Canceled sailings

So far, the outbreak has had the biggest affect on cruises in Asia, where the new coronavirus first emerged in December. All voyages out of China have been stopped, for now, and lines also have canceled most departures from other destinations around Asia through at least the late spring and even the summer.

Among the lines that have taken the most drastic action are Norwegian Cruise Line and Windstar Cruises. Norwegian has canceled nearly all its Asia sailing through the end of the year. Windstar has canceled every Asia sailing through the end of the year.

Lines that have canceled all or at least some Asia sailings between now and May include Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Crystal Cruises and Cunard Line. Oceania Cruises has canceled all Asia sailings through June.

a small boat in a body of water with a city in the background: Royal Caribbean’s Spectrum of the Seas sailing into Hong Kong. Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean. © The Points Guy Royal Caribbean’s Spectrum of the Seas sailing into Hong Kong. Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean.

Perhaps hardest hit by the outbreak has been Princess Cruises. One of its Asia-based ships, Diamond Princess, was under quarantine in the harbor of Yokohama, Japan, for several weeks after passengers and crew on the vessel tested positive for COVID-19. Initially, just nine passengers and a single crew member were diagnosed with the illness. But the number of confirmed cases ultimately reached more than 700. At least six passengers have died.

In response to the quarantine, Princess has canceled all Diamond Princess departures through late April. It also has canceled or altered a number of voyages on three more ships scheduled to operate in Asia in the coming months: Sapphire Princess, Majestic Princess and Sun Princess. Sapphire Princess, notably, is being repositioned to Australia for the remainder of the year.

More recently, Princess has been dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak on another ship, the San Francisco-based Grand Princess. As of Wednesday, the line and government officials still were in the process of disembarking passengers from the vessel and transferring them to military facilities around the U.S. for a 14-day quarantine. At least two passengers and 19 crew members have tested positive for the new coronavirus.

In the wake of the outbreak, Princess has canceled two Grand Princess sailings. The ship won’t sail again with passengers until at least April 5.

Princess this week also canceled a sailing on the Los Angeles-based Royal Princess and Fort Lauderdale-based Regal Princess to perform COVID-19 tests on crew members. Both ships had at least one crew member on board who previously worked on the Grand Princess. The tests came back negative, and the ships will resume sailings in the coming days.

In all, seven of the 17 ships operated by Princess have had to stop sailing for at least a short time due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Cancellation penalty waivers

In an unusual development, nearly all cruise lines now are waiving penalties for customers who want to cancel or postpone trips.

Many major lines now will let you cancel a cruise with just a day or two of notice for a full refund in the form of a future cruise credit. That’s a huge change from normal policies. At many lines, you’ll normally lose at least part of your money if you cancel a cruise within 90 days of departure. Normally, if you cancel a cruise with a few weeks of a sailing, you’ll lose all of your money.

The new policies are temporary. At some lines, they only apply to sailings in the next few months. At others, the cut-off is far later. Oceania Cruises, for instance, is allowing passengers booked on any voyage departing before Sept. 30 to cancel up to 48 hours before departure without penalty. Those who cancel will receive a future cruise credit for the full amount they paid. The future cruise credit can be used on any sailing through Dec. 31, 2022.

Note that, in some cases, lines have changed their cancellation policies several times in recent days — first, easing policies modestly and then later making more drastic changes. If you’re booked on a cruise that you want to cancel or postpone, you should call your line directly (or your travel agent, if you booked through one) before canceling to discuss your options. And keep in mind that the situation continues to be fluid.

Incentives to keep you cruising

Several of the world’s biggest cruise lines have begun offering incentives to persuade passengers on soon-to-depart voyages to stick with their plans.

Cruise giant Carnival is offering anyone booked on a sailing departing between now and May 31 up to a $200 per cabin onboard credit if they don’t cancel.

Under the terms of the Carnival offer, passengers on three- to four-night voyages will get a $100 per cabin credit. Those on five-night cruises will get a $150 per cabin credit. The full $200 credit will go to passengers on sailings of six nights or longer.

Carnival says it will automatically apply the credit to shipboard accounts. There’s no need to call the line to get it added.

Two other lines implementing an almost identical policy in recent days are Princess and Holland America. Both are sister lines to Carnival.

Like Carnival, Princess is offering onboard credits of $100 per cabin for passengers on three- to four-night voyages. Those on five-night cruises will get a $150 per cabin credit. The full $200 credit will go to passengers on sailings of six nights or longer.

Holland America is offering an onboard credit of $200 per cabin ($100 for a solo traveler) for voyages lasting a week or more. The credit is $100 ($50 for a solo traveler) for shorter trips.

At both Princess and Holland America, the credit is available to anyone who has been booked on a sailing departing now through the end of May.

Boarding restrictions  

If you’ve been to Italy, South Korea, China or Iran lately, you could be denied boarding when it’s time for your cruise to begin.

Until further notice, all major cruise lines are denying boarding to anyone who has traveled through any part of South Korea, China (including Hong Kong and Macau) or Iran in the 14 days leading up to their sail date. Some lines have set the cut-off date as far out as 30 days. This includes people who have only briefly transited through these nations on their way to other destinations.

Cruise lines also are denying boarding to passengers who have traveled recently through any area of Italy that is under a “lockdown order,” which, as of this week, is the entire country.

Note that boarding denials are happening on all ships across the globe, not just those positioned in Asia and Europe. If you traveled through Hong Kong or Italy last week, you will not be able to board a cruise ship this week in the Caribbean.

Cruise lines also are denying boarding to anyone who recently has had contact with, or helped care for, anyone suspected of having or diagnosed as having COVID-19. Those who are currently subject to health monitoring for possible exposure to the illness also are being denied boarding.

In addition, all major cruise lines have added extra medical screening at boarding for passengers that includes temperature readings. Any individual with a temperature detected at or above 100.4 degrees will receive secondary screening and could be denied boarding.

As you might expect, cruise lines are giving full refunds to anyone denied boarding.

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Ports denying ship arrivals

In a development that has troubling implications for the cruise business in the coming weeks and months, a growing number of ports are turning away cruise ships.

Just this week, the port towns of Santa Barbara and Monterey, in California, became the first U.S. ports to announce they would stop cruise ship arrivals. They join ports in India, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, South Korea and Taiwan in turning away vessels.

Canadian officials also are considering whether to stop cruise ship arrivals at all Canadian ports — a development that has profound implications for the upcoming Alaska cruise season. Canadian ports on the West Coast play an integral part in Alaska cruises.

The lieutenant governor of Hawaii, Josh Green, and a Hawaii state representative, also are calling for a temporary halt to cruise ship arrivals in their state.

This week’s lockdown in Italy, meanwhile, is expected to result in at least a short-term end to cruise calls in the country. Costa Cruises this week said its ships would dock in Italian ports only to allow passengers off the vessels to return home. Passengers won’t be allowed off for sightseeing.

For now, all major cruise destinations in the Caribbean, the world’s most popular place to cruise, remain open to cruise ships. But, even here, cruise ships are starting to be turned away at even the slightest hint of an illness onboard.

On Monday, a Costa Cruises vessel was blocked from calling in Antigua due to coronavirus concerns. The port of Grand Turk in the Turks & Caicos turned away a Carnival Cruise Line ship on Friday, citing worries about ill passengers.

Other Caribbean destinations that have turned away cruise ships in recent days include the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica.

Featured image courtesy of Royal Caribbean.

WATCH: Big efforts to keep travelers safe (provided by TODAY)

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