With international travel still stymied by the ongoing threat of Covid-19, when will cruises be possible again?
The early months of the coronavirus pandemic brought grim publicity to the cruise industry.
The close quarters onboard allowed the virus to spread among passengers and crew. At the same time, some countries closed their borders to cruise ships seeking to dock, causing boats – along with everyone on them – to be stuck at sea.
Some countries, including the USA, are still not allowing cruise ships to dock at or leave their shores, fearing the impact of thousands of passengers who have mingled for days mixing into their populations.
Others, such as Italy, have begun to relax restrictions on cruises.
Latest travel advice
On March 12th, the UK Foreign Office (FCO) advised against all cruise travel. This advice is still in place more than six months later.
The FCO defines this as staying for at least one night on a sea-going ship with people from other households for leisure purposes.
This does not include ferries or privately-rented boats. River cruises, which tend to have smaller boats and shorter itineraries, are also exempt.
The FCO says this advice is under “constant review”, but even as international air and train travel has resumed with the introduction of the travel corridors list, it has given little indication that it will relax the rules on cruising any time soon.
That seems especially true as new domestic restrictions come into force in September.
The Department for Transport has said the advice will be altered once “appropriate measures” have been put in place to limit the spread of Covid-19 on ships.
Travelling against FCO advice is likely to invalidate any travel insurance policies you have taken out.
And with this advice still in place, many cruise operators have postponed their relaunch dates to late autumn, early 2021 or even later.
Can I book a cruise for 2021?
You can book a cruise for future travel, but you should make sure you fully understand the T&Cs in case the cruise is unable to take place, is postponed, or if you are unable to travel before you are exhibiting coronavirus symptoms.
Don’t make assumptions about what you’ll be entitled to. According to ABTA (a trade association of travel agents and tour operators), you aren’t entitled to a fixed amount of compensation even if your cruise is cancelled, and you may not be entitled to any if the operator “can’t provide the services due to exceptional circumstances or an unforeseen event.”
Even some people who are due refunds or vouchers for future travel have faced months-long waits for them this year.
With the industry facing such volatility, there is also the possibility of companies collapsing, as the UK’s Cruise & Maritime Voyages did in July.
What will cruises look like in the future?
When cruises do resume, there are likely to be some notable differences.
The Cruise Lines International Association, an industry body representing 95% of the world’s cruise capacity, has announced new health and safety protocols for its members.
These include compulsory mask-wearing where social distancing cannot be maintained, increased medical capacity onboard, shorter itineraries and limits on shore time.
It has also proposed compulsory Covid-19 testing of all passengers before boarding, a measure that looks set to become compulsory in the USA.
Do you have questions or comments about cruise travel? Let us know in the comments.