9 Key Issues to Know Earlier than Reserving Your First Cruise After COVID
Who doesn’t think of vacation after the last year? And while cruises have certainly been one of the hardest hit areas in the entire travel industry, there are signs of optimism as the world tries to tackle the health crisis and get back to sailing.
In fact, cruise lines have repeatedly mentioned promising demand for sailing, especially given the lack of a precise return schedule. There is no doubt that after about a year without sailing, millions of passengers are looking back to cruising and thinking about booking their next trip.
If you are in this group, you are definitely not alone. Before booking this cruise or re-booking a canceled trip, there are a few important things you should know before doing so.
Nobody is sure yet when the cruises will return
Perhaps most importantly, at this point, no one knows exactly when the cruises will be returning. When cruises were originally suspended in March 2020, the first break was only 30 days. It’s been almost a year now.
The CDC has repealed the “No Sail Order” that has existed for months and replaced it with one Framework to return to sailing. The framework sets out what cruise ships need to do in order to sail again, but does not provide any deadlines. Instead, cruises can return if they follow the steps set by the CDC and the agency can easily get them back sailing.
With cases still peaking, cruise lines have continued to postpone their return flight dates. Many lines are now suspended until February, with some postponing the return date even later.
In other words, if you want to book one of the first cruises back, no one knows when it will actually be. It seems certain that cruises will return sometime in 2021, but it could be later than originally thought.
If your cruise is canceled, expect a refund
While the bad news is that more cruise cancellations are possible, the good news is that if you book a trip and it is later canceled, there is little risk of losing your money. Throughout this entire ordeal, cruise lines have cured passengers when they have had to cancel trips.
While there have been some stories here and there of long refund times, most people will be refunded relatively painlessly. We have personally canceled several cruises and have had no issues getting credit and money back.
There is no reason to believe that anything will be different in the coming months if more cruises have to be canceled. That means you can book without worrying about losing your money.
If you opt for a cruise credit refund, you could actually end up before what you originally paid for.
Expect the cruise experience to be very different
Of course everyone knows that COVID has turned the world upside down. Things as simple as going to a grocery store or eating out are now very different than they used to be. Take a cruise? It will be very different until the pandemic is eradicated.
In fact, it’s hard to imagine an aspect of sailing that won’t change due to the new guidelines.
At the beginning, cruise ships announced that there would be fewer passengers, at least initially. Social distancing measures are being taken. Restaurants on the ship need to be reconfigured. Anything that brings passengers close to others needs to be reconsidered. As you can imagine, this will drastically change the feel and atmosphere of the cruise.
Those nightly dance parties, the bustling casino, the bustling restaurants, and the crowded pool sides – and many other things we all expected – are changing for now.
It is a good idea to wait to book other arrangements
While booking your cruise will undoubtedly make up the majority of your vacation, there are plenty of other things you need to do before you set sail. This includes flights to the port or parking spaces, shuttles and hotel rooms for the night before.
If you’re booking a cruise for the spring or summer while things are still in the air, it is a smart idea to limit yourself to other arrangements.
Until cruises actually leave port with passengers, it is not known exactly when they will return. And even if a ship or cruise line does return to sailing, that doesn’t mean your specific ship is just about to sail back.
Because of this, instead of taking all the precautions, you can wait until closer to the sailing date for more clarity. This way, you don’t have to worry if the cruise is canceled.
Your cruise could end if COVID is found on board
Cruise lines will pull out all the stops to ensure that there are no virus cases among passengers on the ship. This includes universal testing of passengers and crew. But, as we saw earlier, with so many cases on land, there is a high probability that cases will find their way on the ship. This has been seen in Europe and elsewhere.
In the United States, the CDC has stated that the remaining voyage will be canceled and returned to port if there is a “threshold of cases” on the ship.
In other words, just because your cruise sets sail doesn’t mean this virus can’t cause a headache or shorten your trip.
It is rumored that vaccines are in place, but nothing is clear
Do you need to be vaccinated before you can sail? There is no answer at this point, but it has certainly been mentioned, as is the case with all different types of travel.
Requiring a vaccine would be the best way to ensure that cruises on their return are smooth and safe. But there are also logistical and ethical questions to demand this. For example, what if a cruise sails before the vaccine is widely used? Or what if someone has a medical reason not to take it? And what about children who are out of the question for the shot?
Bottom line: If you’re someone who sure doesn’t get the shot, it’s a smart idea to wait until there is more clarity before booking your cruise.
There are new rules about what cruises can do
In addition to the framework that must be met before a ship can sail again, there are a few other rules required by the CDC.
First of all, when booking, you will notice that new information is available. The CDC requires cruise companies to disclose the most recent cruise travel advice. Currently, the CDC recommends avoiding travel on cruise lines.
In addition, the CDC has set rules for what types of cruises are offered. Journeys of more than seven days from US ports are currently prohibited. While most cruises have already been below this threshold, it affects those who enjoy spending long periods of time at sea.
If you want a more “normal” experience, book as far as possible
With the hopeful return of sailing, there is no doubt that many of us are eager to return to sea. But as mentioned repeatedly, cruising still has many hurdles to overcome. It’s not just the experience on the ship, it’s the return flight schedule and the new CDC rules for sailing.
If the vaccinations don’t come quickly and wipe out the virus completely, then it stands to reason that things will change with cruising for the foreseeable future. But there is also hope that over time, many things – including sailing – will look more normal.
So, if you’re craving for cruises that we all know and love, it’s a good idea to keep booking in the future. This year’s trips will be different. However, by 2022, this entire crisis could be largely behind us and we could get back to the kind of vacation we all love. The later you book, the more likely we are in a better position around the world and cruising.
First, expect limited sailing options
Cruise ships have made it clear that they are planning a staggered return flight. Instead of sailing all of their ships at once, some will come back at once, sailing a limited number of itineraries. For these booking trips, this means that your options for 2021 will be fewer than you might be used to – especially if you’re looking at spring and summer travel.
A look into 2022 should give you more options from more ports and on more ships. However, if you are planning on sailing back on one of the first few cruises, don’t be surprised that the trips you can choose from are relatively short and only available on a few ships.
It will be some time before the CDC and cruise lines can feel comfortable again and passengers can stay healthy in the face of the pandemic.
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