While COVID-19 wreaked havoc on nearly every aspect of the travel industry, the cruise industry was possibly hit the hardest. The pandemic led to the voluntary suspension of worldwide cruising in March 2020, and most cruise enthusiasts have been waiting with bated breath since then.
The economic impact has been substantial, both for cruise lines and those they employ. According to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), financial losses from mid-March 2020 until the end of September 2020 added up to $50 billion in economic activity worldwide. On top of that, 334,000 jobs were lost in the industry worldwide, which led to $15 billion in lost wages.
In the U.S., stats show the cruise industry contributes over $53 billion in economic activity each year, and 421,000 American jobs depend on it. Further, every 30 cruisers from ports in the U.S. support one American job, and each day the suspension of cruise operations continues leads to $110 million in economic losses and the loss of up to 800 U.S. jobs.
The state of cruising right now
Interestingly, cruise lines were able to resume limited cruising operations in some parts of the world last year. In fact, the CLIA says nearly 1 million people have sailed in more than 10 major cruise markets since July 2020, including Europe, Asia, the U.K., and parts of North America.
Cruises from North America took more time than others, which was originally a point of contention with the CLIA and the cruise industry at large. Fortunately, the CDC released the next two phases for cruise ships on May 5, 2021, which allowed ships to conduct trial voyages and apply for a COVID-19 conditional sailing certificate, which allows ships to sail with restricted passenger voyages.
You can see which cruise lines have been approved for restricted voyages and which are still operating with crew-only passengers on the CDC’s voyage status chart, which is updated several times weekly. Because individual ships must be approved, voyage status is a mixed bag, even for large cruise lines. Carnival, for example, currently operates 14 restricted ships and 19 crew-only ships.
The chart also gives a color status to each ship regarding the presence of COVID-19 cases—from green (no reported cases of symptomatic illnesses) to red (at or above the CDC investigation threshold for COVID-19 cases).
Trip protection offerings by the cruise line
Many major cruise lines have been able to offer new trips in the second half of 2021. Since consumers may be worried about future cancellations or having to change their bookings due to travel concerns, cruise lines have also been forced to offer more flexibility in their cancellation and rescheduling policies.
Here’s what a few major cruise lines have said about current and future cruise offerings:
Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian Cruise Line has suspended many of its sailings through November 2021 and some through January 2022. However, several ships are currently setting sail with a restricted passenger capacity
Passengers are eligible to receive a Future Cruise Credit (FCC) or a refund if the cruise is canceled by Norwegian. If a guest cancels their cruise due to a public health emergency or a family member having COVID-19 within 14 days of sailing, they are entitled to an FCC for the amount paid to Norwegian.
Additionally, for all cruises departing through March 31, 2022, you can cancel up to 61 days prior for a full refund.
Carnival Cruise Line
Carnival Cruise Line has resumed many cruises with U.S. departures in 2021, including biweekly voyages out of several Florida ports. The cruise line giant is currently sailing 14 ships with limited passenger capacity.
Passengers are eligible for a Future Cruise Credit (FCC) or a refund if Carnival cancels their cruise. If a guest cancels due to a public health emergency or a family member testing positive with COVID-19 within 14 days of embarkation, they are entitled to an FCC.
Celebrity offers a flexible cancellation policy that lets guests cancel up to 48 hours before sailing to receive 100 percent Future Cruise Credit (FCC) to use by April 30, 2022, toward any sailing that takes place through December 31, 2022.
Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line is currently operating Disney Dream and Disney Wonder sailings at restricted capacity. Disney Fantasy departures are still only approved for crew-only voyages.
Disney is also letting guests with COVID-related health concerns receive a full refund or a cruise credit if they cancel within 14 days of sailing.
Holland America has resumed cruises out of San Diego and Fort Lauderdale through 2021. Cruises departing from Boston, Seattle, and international locations are scheduled to resume mid-2022.
Passengers impacted by a cruise cancellation can receive a future cruise credit worth 110 percent of the trip value, but they can also move their cruise to an equivalent 2022 departure or get a full refund. Their flexible cancellation policy also lets guests change plans if they test positive with COVID-19 within 30 days of departure, and most cruises are 100 percent refundable up to 91 days before departure.
MSC is offering quite a few itineraries out of Miami, Orlando (Port Canaveral), and Syracuse.
MSC Cruises is also offering a flexible cancellation and rebooking policy for cruises booked by November 14, 2021, for cruises departing through September 30, 2022. This policy, called Total CruiseFlex, lets you move your booking to a later cruise date up to 48 hours before departure.
Princess Cruises has resumed restricted-capacity cruises on the Majestic Princess and Grand Princess ships. While plenty of other cruises were planned for fall 2021, many have been canceled. You can read about canceled Princess Cruises departures here.
For all cruises departing through April 30, 2022, Princess lets you cancel cruises and get cruise credit up to 30 days before you sail, or within 30 days if you or someone you plan to travel with tests positive for COVID-19.
Royal Caribbean has resumed many of its itineraries, including Bahamas cruises and departures from U.S. ports like Miami and Galveston, Texas.
If a cruise is canceled by the cruise line, passengers are entitled to a full refund or credit for a future cruise. If a guest cancels due to a public emergency, a positive COVID-19 test or exposure, they are entitled to a refund or cruise credit. Cruises booked on or before October 31, 2021, also qualify for the Cruise with Confidence program, which says you can cancel up to 48 hours before the sale date (for sailings that depart before April 30, 2022) and get a future cruise credit good for sailings through December 31, 2022.
Credit card travel insurance
If you haven’t booked your cruise quite yet, you may be considering your travel insurance options and how they might apply to your booking. Fortunately, a variety of travel insurance companies have tailored new policies to include provisions for COVID-19, as well as the uncertainty of today’s travel landscape.
Travel insurance offered through your credit card can also alleviate any stress that might come with rebooking your cruise with “cruise credits” that are subject to expiration dates and fine print.
Here are Bankrate’s top picks for excellent travel cards that also have trip insurance:
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
The Chase Sapphire Reserve offers trip cancellation insurance worth up to $10,000 per person and up to $20,000 in coverage per trip. Additionally, the card offers emergency evacuation coverage worth up to $100,000.
Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
While the Wells Fargo Propel American Express card may not offer the same high-value trip insurance as the Sapphire Reserve, it comes with travel accident insurance worth up to $150,000 without charging an annual fee. If you’re purchasing a cruise vacation with this credit card, you’ll want to make sure that the cruise line in question has trip coverage as a backup; this card only offers accident insurance, not cancellation insurance.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
The Platinum Card® from American Express may be on the pricey side due to its suite of benefits, but it also offers trip cancellation and interruption insurance worth up to $10,000 per person and up to $20,000 per trip. Cardholders also receive trip delay coverage worth up to $500 per ticket as well as other important travel perks.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
If you’re traveling on a budget but still want quality trip insurance, the Chase Sapphire Preferred should be on your radar. With an annual fee of $95 (a modest cost compared to the $550 annual fee of the Sapphire Reserve), the Sapphire Preferred offers up to $10,000 in coverage per person and up to $20,000 of trip cancellation protection. You also receive a trip delay reimbursement option worth up to $500 per ticket.
The bottom line
Whether you’ve already booked a trip or you’re still planning your future sea voyage, staying informed on guidelines from both the U.S. government and health officials is the best way to keep yourself safe and healthy. In the meantime, you should also make sure you know about requirements put in place by your chosen cruise line, including requirements for masks or vaccination of passengers.
For further information on travel restrictions, visit the World Health Organization’s travel advice page. Accurate information about the coronavirus, its transmission, and real-time travel updates can also be found on the CDC’s website.