Despite warnings from both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the State Department urging travelers to steer clear of cruise ships as COVID-19 spreads, the industry moved forward with planned sailings around the world. But is it safe to be on a cruise ship right now?
Two cruise ships operated by Princess Cruises, the Diamond Princess and the Grand Princess, have been at the heart of the coronavirus outbreak with the Diamond Princess alone, accounting for 696 cases, ahead of countries like Japan. Meanwhile, passengers still quarantined aboard the Grand Princess have reportedly had to fight one another for "rotten food" and other resources.
On-Board Safety Precautions
Many cruise lines have implemented comprehensive preventative measures to address the COVID-19 outbreak.
"Policies currently in place include asking all embarking guests to submit a pre-embarkation public health questionnaire certifying their current health status and recent travel history and administering a non-touch fever temperature check for all guests on board," Joe Chabus, the director of public relations for Regent Seven Seas Cruises, tells TripSavvy.
Regent has also taken the additional precaution of denying boarding to guests or crew who have traveled to or from China, Hong Kong, Macao, South Korea, Iran, and Italy within the past 14 days. Guests and crew members with a temperature detected at or above 100.4 degrees F and all those who within 14 days before embarkation had contact with anyone suspected or diagnosed as having COVID-19 or guests and crew who have reported on the pre-embarkation public health questionnaire or appear symptomatic.
Additional precautionary measures taken by many cruise lines include asking guests and crew who have come into direct contact with anyone who has traveled to or from the above destinations to complete a supplemental questionnaire regarding the contact and potentially quarantining or disembarking those guests and crew who exhibit symptoms of any respiratory illnesses, flu-like symptoms, cough, or fever above 100.4 degrees. Most lines say they are consulting with the World Health Organization and the CDC with regards to the guidelines being put in place.
Other cruise lines aren't as keen on taking their chances with the outbreak, however. Both Princess Cruises, whose parent company is Carnival Cruise Line, and Viking have temporarily suspended operations for the next two months. Norwegian Cruises is halting operations worldwide through April 11. Royal Caribbean extended its suspension on U.S. cruises to May 12 with Canadian ports being closed until July 1. Carnival is continuing its suspension of North American cruises to May 11 and Disney Cruises is suspending departures through April 28.
"By taking this bold action of voluntarily pausing the operations of our ships, it is our intention to reassure our loyal guests, team members and global stakeholders of our commitment to the health, safety, and well-being of all who sail with us, as well as those who do business with us, and the countries and communities we visit around the world," said Jan Swartz, the president of Princess Cruises, in a statement.
Cruise Line Cancellation Policies
Princess is offering affected travelers the chance to transfer 100 percent of the money paid for their canceled cruise to a future cruise of their choice. Also, they will be adding extra credit to those who take advantage of this offer. In some cases, passengers can request a cash refund. Cruisers on a canceled Carnival cruise can either get a 100 percent refund or get a 100 percent credit for a future cruise as well as an onboard credit for their next cruise.
For many of the cruise lines that are still operating, uneasy passengers will have the option to cancel as well. Regent is offering its guests the option to cancel up to 48 hours before embarkation. Travelers receive a 100 percent future cruise credit, which can be applied to any new booking within one year. Those who have paid and are denied boarding will also receive a credit.
Carnival is allowing guests through Sept. 2020 to cancel their cruises for future cruise credits. Guests traveling in March may cancel up to three days before sailing, while guests cruising in April may cancel through March 31, 2020. Otherwise, you have 30 days from embarkation. Guests who sail as scheduled will receive additional onboard credits. Royal Caribbean's policy is similar, allowing guests on sailings through July 31, 2020, to cancel up to 48 hours in advance.
Norwegian is giving automatic 125 percent refunds for travelers on suspending cruises from March 18 through April 11 and a 150 percent refund for cruises from March 13-17. The refund is in the form of future cruise credits. If you'd prefer cash you can get a refund by submitting an online refund request form within 45 days of your scheduled departure.
Travel Restrictions and Regulations for Cruises
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that all travelers—but especially those with underlying health issues—avoid cruise travel worldwide, citing COVID-19's recent spread in the close quarters that often accompany cruising.
"Recent reports of COVID-19 on cruise ships highlight the risk of infection to cruise ship passengers and crew,” says the CDC. "Like many other viruses, COVID-19 appears to spread more easily between people in close quarters aboard ships."
A new proposal from Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), submitted to the U.S. government, has called for cruise lines to deny boarding to passengers over 70 or those with chronic medical conditions unless they provide a doctor's note.
The State Department and CDC urge U.S. citizens to avoid cruises, regardless of age. The State Department also notes that while U.S. citizens have been evacuated from cruise ships earlier into the outbreak, travelers should not rely on that possibility should they chose to travel.
As stated above, many lines are conducting mandatory health screenings for passengers and denying board to those who have recently traveled to affected regions, in accordance with recommendations from CLIA, the CDC, and the WHO. The screenings include everything in-terminal questionnaires, temperature checks, and other medical evaluations.
How to Stay Safe On-Board
Coronavirus aside, some travelers already shun the idea of cruising due to illness-related concerns, with many likening cruise ships to being on floating Petri dishes. While norovirus outbreaks on cruise ships have made plenty of headlines in recent years, though they aren't as common as they seem.
Practicing basic hygiene onboard goes a long way for stopping the spread of viruses and staying healthy on a cruise—and many ships already place ample hand sanitizing stations throughout for this exact reason. If you're already on board a vessel or are still planning on proceeding with your cruise, the CDC recommends avoiding contact with sick people, regular handwashing, and, if you develop a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, staying in your cabin and notifying medical personnel onboard immediately.
Once your return from your cruise, the agency recommends monitoring your health and practicing social distancing should you feel unwell.