Princess Suspends Cruise Operations for 60 Days

Grand Princess in quarantine at a commercial pier at the Port of Oakland, March 11 (image via social media)

Published Mar 12, 2020 4:54 PM by The Maritime Executive

Princess Cruises announced Thursday that it is suspending operations for 60 days, giving it time to reset after a string of coronavirus-related incidents. The announcement affects all of the company's 18 cruise ships for voyages departing March 12 through May 10. Other Carnival Corporation brands are not affected. 

“Princess Cruises is a global vacation company that serves more than 50,000 guests daily from 70 countries as part of our diverse business, and it is widely known that we have been managing the implications of COVID-19 on two continents,” said Jan Swartz, president of Princess Cruises. “By taking this bold action of voluntarily pausing the operations of our ships, it is our intention to reassure our loyal guests, team members and global stakeholders of our commitment to the health, safety and well-being of all who sail with us, as well as those who do business with us, and the countries and communities we visit around the world."

Swartz said that the company will use the interruption in service as a time to prepare Princess Cruises’ fleet for a successful return to operation. 

Passengers who are currently on board a cruise that is scheduled to end within the next five days will continue to sail as expected through the end of the itinerary, and they may keep their current plans for onward travel without disruption. Ongoing voyages that extend beyond March 17 will be ended early, factoring in operational requirements, and Princess said that it will do everything possible to return each guest home. 

Affected passengers will be able to transfer all of the money they paid for their canceled cruise to a future cruise, plus "an additional generous future cruise credit benefit which can be applied to the cruise fare." Princess will honor the same offer for guests who had made final payment and canceled their booking on or after February 4. The future cruise credit can be used on any voyage departing through May 1, 2022. Alternatively, guests can request a cash refund using an online form. 

Princess has been the cruise line most affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The vessels Diamond Princess and Grand Princess were both quarantined after COVID-19 cases were identified on board, and two additional vessels were briefly delayed off Florida while awaiting test results on a small number of crewmembers. In addition, three contractor employees who worked in Princess' passenger terminal operations at Port Everglades, Florida have tested positive for the illness. 

Aboard the quarantined cruise ship Grand Princess at the port of Oakland, California, public health officials hope to disembark the last several hundred passengers aboard the vessel by Thursday evening. Most of the remaining individuals slated for disembarkation are foreign nationals; American citizens have been transported home for self-quarantine or to military bases for formal quarantine, depending upon state of residence. The majority of the vessel's Canadian passengers have already been repatriated and are in quarantine at Canadian Forces Base Trenton in Ontario. 

Viking suspends river and ocean cruises

Switzerland-based operator Viking Cruises has announced a similar suspension for all river and ocean embarkations between March 12 and April 30. Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen explained in a letter to guests that the suspension was a response to increasingly strict port limitations and to the risk of coronavirus on board. So far, one Viking river cruise has been disrupted due to a passenger who was exposed to COVID-19 while in transit on an airline. The individual who was exposed and all 28 other passengers have been quarantined.  
"An increasing number of ports, including Venice, Monte Carlo and Bergen, have temporarily closed to cruise ships; major attractions such as the Vatican and other museums have been closed; and some countries are imposing restrictions on public gatherings and visitors," Hagen said. "The situation has now become such that operating as a travel company involves significant risks of quarantines or medical detentions, which could diminish the travel experiences for which our guests have been planning. As a private company with strong finances, we do not have to worry about quarterly profit expectations – and that flexibility allows us the ability to do what is best for our guests and our employees, as we have always done . . . This is a decision we made with a heavy heart, but with present circumstances what they are, we are unable to deliver the high-quality Viking experience for which we are known."

Viking is offering a future cruise voucher valued at 125 percent of all monies paid for the booking, or a refund equal to 100 percent. The voucher is good for two years, and if left unused it may later be converted to cash at 100 percent of the original fare amount. The process of issuing future cruise vouchers is already under way.