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U.S.-Based Cruise Ships to Suspend Operations Into the Fall

By Michelle Baran

Jun 20, 2020

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Virgin Voyages’ first sailings will not take place until mid-October.

Courtesy of Virgin Voyages

Virgin Voyages’ first sailings will not take place until mid-October.

The cruising industry has pushed pause on most sailings until September 15.

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This is a developing story. For up-to-date information on traveling during the coronavirus outbreak, visit the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

The world’s largest group of oceangoing cruise lines has agreed to suspend cruise ship operations from U.S. ports until September 15, 2020, as they continue to work to address the public health issues that have resulted from the global coronavirus pandemic.

“Although we are confident that future cruises will be healthy and safe, and will fully reflect the latest protective measures, we also feel that it is appropriate to err on the side of caution,” the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) said in a statement on Friday.

In March, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a No Sail Order for cruise ships due to the challenges posed by the introduction and transmission of COVID-19 on cruise ships. That order is in effect until July 24.

“Although we had hoped that cruise activity could resume as soon as possible after [July 24], it is increasingly clear that more time will be needed to resolve barriers to resumption in the United States,” stated CLIA.

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Some of those barriers include the fact that cruise lines are required to develop robust plans for preventing and responding to the spread of COVID-19 onboard cruise ships that will need to be approved by health authorities. They will also need to ultimately have sufficient medical staff and equipment onboard to contend with any potential outbreaks and need to have a foolproof outbreak management and response plan in place.

CLIA consists of more than 50 domestic and international cruise lines, including some of the largest and most well-known lines, such as Celebrity Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line, Crystal Cruises, Cunard Line, Disney Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean International, Seabourn, Silversea Cruises, and Windstar Cruises.

Luxury cruise line Cunard, which is owned by Carnival Corporation, earlier this month stated that it will be extending its pause in operations until November. 

“With many differing restrictions across countries, people’s ability to move freely and safely across borders remains seemingly someway in the distance,” stated Cunard president Simon Palethorpe. “We also need to better understand the implications COVID-19 will have onboard our ships. . . . We are looking at enhanced protocols across all aspects of ship life and experiences on shore.”

Several notable cruise lines that are not CLIA members, including Viking Cruises, Lindblad Expeditions, and UnCruise Adventures, have all announced various restart dates as well.

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Earlier this week, Viking Cruises announced that it will extend the suspension of all of its sailings until August 31, citing its commitment to the safety and well-being of guests and employees. Guests on canceled cruises will receive a future cruise credit equal to 125 percent of the original amount they paid to Viking. The vouchers are valid for 24 months, and if guests are unable to use them by the expiration date, they can exchange them for a refund.

Small-ship adventure cruise line UnCruise Adventures earlier this week said that it will start its 2020 Alaska sailings on August 1, 2020, with a new coronavirus protocol in place that will include daily temperature checks for guests and crew, enhanced sanitation of high-touch areas and of the adventure gear and equipment, the use of masks during certain events, and plated meals that will replace buffet service.

In its May earnings report, Lindblad Expeditions said it has canceled sailings until the end of June and that it is working to implement enhanced safety measures such as coronavirus testing once operations are able to resume.

“We firmly believe that the smaller size of our ships, our advanced cleaning systems and robust operating protocols, along with the remote geographies we visit, and the profile of our guests, ideally situates us to be able to resume operations safely and effectively once travel restrictions have been lifted,” Lindblad’s president and CEO Sven-Olof Lindblad, stated in the company’s first quarter earnings release last month.

Lindblad reported that despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 crisis and the onslaught of cancellations brought on by it, the company did see more than $15 million in new bookings made between March and May for travel in 2020, 2021, and 2022.

Virgin Voyages pushes back first sailings to October

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The launch of Virgin Voyages, the new Richard Branson–backed, adult-only cruise line that was supposed to host its inaugural sailing in April, has been pushed back as well, with the first cruise on the new Scarlet Lady vessel now set for October 16.

The cruise line said it is working to identify a quick and effective COVID-19 test that it would be able to use to ensure only those who test negative are allowed to board. The line is also installing AtmosAir Solutions air purification systems on board, a technology that has been shown to kill viruses, according to Virgin Voyages. It will also implement frequent health checks and screenings for crew and passengers, enhanced sanitation (including through the use of fogging and UV technology), and limit onboard occupancy so that passengers can practice physical distancing. A food delivery service called ShipEats will allow for contactless drop-off and pickup.

This story was originally published on March 16, 2020, and has been updated to included current information.

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