Why the cruise industry won't recover until there's a vaccine

I love cruising. Before I stepped foot on my first cruise in the mid-1990s, I thought I’d hate it. I even told people that cruising wasn’t for me, a feeling that was based in my fears of being trapped at sea and feeling sick in a small cabin. But after that first sailing (on an old Carnival ship), I quickly fell in love. Since then, I’ve been on dozens of cruises of all shapes and sizes, and I’ve loved all of them, including my European river cruises.

When COVID-19 began to make headlines earlier this year, the cruise industry was hit particularly hard, and very publicly. In April, I wrote a post asking people if they would go on a cruise in 2020. Most said no, but there were still a good number that surprisingly said yes.

Fortunately, the CDC issued a “No Sail Order” that applied to all U.S. ports, and many other countries have also banned cruising. As the CDC wrote in its official announcement: “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced today the extension of a No Sail Order for cruise ships through September 30, 2020. This order continues to suspend passenger operations on cruise ships with the capacity to carry at least 250 passengers in waters subject to U.S. jurisdiction.”

You can bet the house that the CDC’s No Sail Order (and others) will all be extended until there’s a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19, and that was the case before yesterday’s bombshell news that two ships in different parts of the world that foolishly restarted sailing now have infected crew and passengers. And it turns out they’re not even the only two ships to report cases…

The ships that have reported new cases

The first ship to report a coronavirus outbreak was Hurtigruten’s MS Roald Amundsen. I’ve sailed with Hurtigruten before, from Bergen all the way up to the Arctic Circle (I wrote more here). It’s a wonderful company, but it made a mistake rushing back to business, and I think it’s going to cost not just the company but the whole cruise industry (with the exception of river cruises).

Following the news, Hurtigruten has just temporarily suspended “all expedition sailings on MS Roald Amundsen, MS Fridtjof Nansen and MS Spitsbergen until further notice. 36 crew members and several guests have tested positive for COVID-19 in the outbreak on board the expedition cruise ship MS Roald Amundsen.” Later in the press release, the company says that it is “as of Monday in the process of reaching out to and informing guests booked on the now cancelled voyages. The decision has no impact on Hurtigruten’s coastal Norway operations.”

In this BBC story about the MS Roald Amundsen fiasco, the Paul Gauguin, operated by Ponant, is identified as the other ship that’s seen new COVID-19 cases, in French Polynesia. Per the story, “A crew member on a ship in the Pacific tested positive for the virus on Sunday. The Paul Gauguin was forced to suspend its journey when the case was detected by the ship’s doctor, local media report. Passengers were told to stay in their cabins as the ship turned back to Papeete on the island of Tahiti, where all on board are being tested. Ahead of resuming its operations, Ponant, the company that runs the Paul Gauguin, had reassured customers in a blog post that it had strict regulations in place that ‘go further than the international standards for the sector.'”

Meanwhile, here’s a press release Ponant put out before the ill-fated cruise. This was the first cruise back, and in just a few days someone tested positive. So much for the 100% guarantee. From the “Sailing with peace of mind” section:

“As a prerequisite for the resumption of activity, PONANT (the parent owner of Paul Gauguin) has put in place a series of regulations, applied aboard the Paul Gauguin; measures which go further than the international standards for the sector. For peace of mind during your cruise, health checks are carried out on 100% of the people aboard the ship (guests and crew) and filtering and decontamination procedures are put in place during boarding, with an entirely redesigned customer journey for before, during and after the cruise. As long as no cases of Covid-19 are detected in French Polynesia, and providing the local regulations do not require a PCR test before entering the territory, the results of a PCR test will not be required on boarding for residents and visitors spending more than 14 days in the territory. Automatic temperature measuring stations have been located in strategic areas, meaning that temperatures will be checked many times each day.”

In writing about these two ships, Travel Industry Today shares that two additional cruise lines have also reported new positive tests. From the story:

“Last week, 10 crew members on AIDA Cruises’ AIDAblu and AIDAmar learned they tested positive for COVID-19 after boarding in Rostok, Germany, on July 22. The infected crew members were taken off the two ships after receiving positive results, and the remaining crew members were secluded on board waiting for another round of test results, Roger Frizzell, spokesperson for Carnival Corp., parent to AIDA Cruises, told USA TODAY. ‘The crew on board these two ships have already tested negative twice, so the additional testing is purely precautionary,’ Frizzell explained. The 10 positive cases were not related to onboard activities — the crew was tested prior to boarding and received the positive results while isolated on board.”

And then, “Italian media reports three crew members on Costa Favolosa and Costa Deliziosa have also tested positive for coronavirus. The ships are moored in port at Civitavecchia, with crew, but no passengers, on board.”

My take

If more passengers test positive, then these sailings represent everyone’s greatest fears coming true (or at least one of mine): the experience of being stuck on a ship with sick people and not being allowed off. It’s just crazy to think these two companies were so irresponsible.

I get it. We all want the world to get back to pre-COVID-19 days. But that’s just not going to happen unless there’s a vaccine, a treatment, or at the very least much better testing ability. For now, we (and the cruise industry) will just have to wait for the medical experts to find a cure or treatment. Do you agree? Would you go on a cruise right now?


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6 Comments On "Why the Cruise Industry Won't Recover Until There's a Vaccine or Better Testing"
  1. Roy Roberts|

    I could not agree more with your points.

    One must keep in mind, from the CDC, the testing done today tests for the presence of the coronavirus FAMILY not covid 19. Within this family is the covid 19 virus, but so is the “common” cold.
    How many people who are testing positive really have a “common” cold rather than this deadly virus? We do not know. The tests are not yet that specific. So, we wait. Numbers go up. And the media has a field day and one-half with the smoke.

    Thanks for your article.

  2. Gary F Clatterbuck|

    In september three new tests should be available as soon as FDA gives final OK. One is a breathalizer with 30 second and 97% accuracy, the other is a 30 minute, $10 home test, again, high accuracy. When those are released, all changes, Vaccines I give a 50-50 chance of success (though Russia is starting injecting already with theirs). Also more are expected to die of regular flu this coming year. Will that stop you? Vaccines in that case work, but at a low rate.

  3. Adrienne Lee|

    I agree with you. My husband and I are avid cruisers who have been on 28 cruises. We enjoy river cruising and ocean cruising (especially on the mega ships). I don’t see how a ship with 5000+ passengers could allow for the necessary social distancing to make it a healthy experience. Also there are too many common touch points (elevator buttons, stair rails, etc). We’ve seen how quickly the norovirus can spread aboard a ship. The cruise lines would have to reduce the capacity significantly….something that would have a negative effect on their bottom line. We’ll see what happens when there is a vaccine…which may not be 100% effective. Would an outbreak on a ship mean automatic quarantine of all passengers & crew? Cruise passengers come from all over the world. Which countries’ vaccines will be accepted?

    We definitely would not cruise right not. As much as we enjoy cruising, we’re adopting a “wait and see” attitude.

  4. Linda Conrath|

    In this month’s Conde Nast Traveler, they are saying that demand in 2021 will be so high, it is best to book your cruise now. I’m not one to book so far ahead, but if the deposit is small enough, I just might do it. I know they are all promoting easy money-back policies, cancel for any reason, blah blah – but my experience has been that once someone/airline/cruise line/whatever has your money, you have to jump through hoops and fight to get it back.

  5. Larry Giger|

    Hi Johnny,

    Like your emails. Too bad you stick to the Dem Party Line on Covid19. Suggest you look at the attached articles (read them all and the links). There is no reason except silly laws to stop you from traveling on a plane, ship or any other way if you avail yourself of the protection available.
    I came to the same conclusion reading a whole lot of abstracts of medical research and other information. Too bad so many of us are frightened to death by ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, The New York Times, Washington Post, etc. with untruthful information to disrupt our lives. It would be nice to see some truthful information on how to protect yourself from Covid while traveling. Let people do their own thinking on the subject and give them the data to do it. It is here https://www.citizensjournal.us/tag/hydroxychloroquine/.

    1. Johnny Jet|

      I’m not a registered Democrat but this election it’s all about “It’s about those who still care about facts and truth and decency and those who have no allegiance to them at all.”

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