More Cruises Canceled as Industry Scrambles to Manage COVID Surge
The cruise industry continues to scramble to respond to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. While reiterating the belief that the health protocols continue to be effective, the cruise industry is canceling trips and working to reschedule itineraries due to ports closing. In some cases, passengers are finding out just hours before their trips were due to depart or in several cases having their voyages curtailed after departure.
Norwegian Cruise Line announced the broadest recent set of cancelations impacting trips this week and stretching out in some cases till April 2022. The cruise line today implementing changes impacting eight of its cruise ships, in some cases canceling current voyages while six of the ships involved are instead delaying the restart date for operations.
Passengers aboard the Norwegian Pearl, which had departed Miami on January 3 for an 11-day cruise to the Caribbean and Panama Canal were told hours after departure that members of the crew had tested positive for the virus. The company decided to end the trip after one day and return the ship to Miami, where it is scheduled to arrive on January 6 before having reached its first port of call. Similarly, passengers preparing to embark aboard the line’s Norwegian Gateway received an urgent communication on January 4 informing them that the cruise due to start the following day was being canceled.
Norwegian said in a statement that it was continuing to navigate the fluid public health environment, while focusing on delivering a safe experience for all on board, forcing it to make the decision to cancel cruises and postpone future sailings. Among the ships that had start dates delayed is the only large American flagged cruise ship, the Pride of America, which now delays its restart till the end of February. Yesterday, the Department of Transportation in Hawaii announced that it had reached an agreement over the protocols to start the cruises as early as January 15. Both Norwegian and Carnival Cruise Line signed agreements with Hawaii to operate their ships requiring 100 percent vaccination, the use of pre-boarding tests, and onboard masks and distancing as well as protocols on how to handle the disembarkation of sick passengers.
Norwegian’s parent company also reported that two of its other brands were forced to make alterations to their programs. Oceania Cruises canceled South American sailing for January and February in response to the actions by the Brazilian government. Regent was just beginning its world cruise which was replaced by four long segments in the Caribbean and Central America. Passengers booked for the world cruise have the option of taking some of the segments or canceling to rebook for a future cruise.
China’s tight controls on the virus and close contacts caused the authorities to recall Royal Caribbean International’s Spectrum of the Seas during one of its cruises to nowhere. The authorities determined that nine passengers on the cruise were close contacts of a new case of the virus. The ship returned to Hong Kong and all passengers were being held onboard while testing was underway. Royal Caribbean announced that the next cruise for the ship is canceled.
The industry is continuing its efforts to tighten enforcement of its protocols determined to not let the current situation spread into a broader suspension of operations as it did in March 2020. So far, Brazil is the only destination that has suspended all cruise operations in the latest surge of the virus, although numerous ports are now denying ships reporting outbreaks on arrival. In the Caribbean, where many of the ships are operating the declared policy is currently to deny ships with cases in more than one percent of the population on board.