If you’re planning to board a cruise ship soon, the recent news reports on the industry are probably causing concern. From vessels being refused docking privileges to passengers being confined to their cabins, cruising during this pandemic is iffy.
But many die-hard cruisers are undeterred and intend to sail no matter the outcome. So if you’re one of those cruise fans, here’s what could be in your cruising future.
1. You could be denied boarding the cruise.
Requirements for travel during the pandemic are constantly changing. What is true one day can be completely inaccurate the next. This places air and cruise passengers in a precarious situation. If a traveler shows up at the dock without the requirements for cruising on that particular day, they’ll be denied boarding. Worse? The cruise line will not refund or provide credit to a passenger who has been barred from the ship because of incorrect or missing documentation. Just ask Joshua Maxwell. He and his fiance were booted off of Celebrity’s Equinox after a careful review of their vaccine records showed they had only taken the first dose of Moderna.
“We definitely told Celebrity we only had the first shot,” Maxwell insists. “This is a terrible injustice for us to miss our planned cruise.”
Celebrity disagreed with Maxwell’s assertion, and security removed the couple from the ship before it sailed. Crew members pointed the bewildered couple to the website that indicates every passenger must be 14 days past the final dose of whatever vaccine they’ve taken. Case closed according to the cruise line. (You can read more about Maxwell’s Celebrity cruise fiasco here.)
Crew members are confused about cruising requirements, too.
Unfortunately, confusion about cruising requirements is not limited to passengers. Even crewmembers assigned to know the current rules are making mistakes. We’ve found this is true across the cruise industry.
In November, Stephen Delisle was denied boarding his cruise in error because of Carnival crew member confusion. Delisle had been fully vaccinated in China with a lesser-known but WHO-approved COVID vaccine. He didn’t expect any problems when he showed up at the pier with his raised seal official vaccine card. But he ended up missing the cruise completely when the medical personnel Carnival hired to check vaccines rejected Delisle’s card by mistake. To add insult to injury, his family’s luggage sailed with the ship. That left the Delisles without their belongings in a foreign country for a week.
Also, in November, Lee Bolland was denied boarding Norwegian Cruise Line’s Epic. His saga resulted from France deeming its residents fully vaccinated if they had recovered from the coronavirus and had one dose of a two-jab vaccine. Unfortunately, that regimen was not approved by NCL or the WHO, and Bolland and his family suffered the consequences: no cruise, no refund, and no credit.
I was told by a qualified healthcare provider that I had completed my vaccine cycle. Why would I have questioned that? And how can NCL take my money and give me nothing in return? I will continue to fight this battle. (Lee Bolland)
The bottom line: Make sure you read your cruise line’s vaccination requirements very carefully. If your situation deviates from the norm in any way, be certain to bring additional documentation to prove you meet all the requirements.
2. Your ship’s itinerary may not resemble the cruise you booked.
No traveler should book a cruise if their primary goal is to see the specific destinations on the itinerary. This is something our team has been warning cruisers about since long before the pandemic darkened the industry’s door.
Iris Fennel found this out the hard way when she booked a trip to the Baltic Sea on NCL’s Breakaway. Bad weather during her cruise caused the ship to miss 3 out of 5 much-anticipated ports of call. Fennel expected a refund for those missed destinations and was shocked when Norwegian valued her compensation at zilch.
Fact: Maritime law allows the captain of your cruise to bypass any and all scheduled ports of call for nearly any reason. Cruise ship passengers are not owed compensation because of itinerary changes.
Unfortunately, the pandemic is causing countries worldwide to reject cruise ships at a moment’s notice. That’s why now more than ever, passengers should not book a cruise based on a desire to visit any particular destination. Although such occurrences are rare, a cruise ship can skip all of its ports of call with no liability to the passenger.
Bottom line: Be aware of the possibility that your cruise itinerary might not resemble what you booked.
3. Many of your favorite cruise ship activities may be limited or canceled.
The pandemic is also wreaking havoc on activities aboard the ship.
Love to see live shows onboard? Don’t bet on it. Performers are dropping out of sailings at an accelerated rate. Illnesses among crew members are also causing disruptions.
You can expect to see limited services on your cruise as the pandemic continues to rage. Kids’ clubs, retail outlets, buffets, gyms, etc., may be closed.
Bottom Line: The current services on board your favorite cruise ship may be disappointing if you’re a frequent cruiser.
4. You could end up spending your entire cruise vacation confined to your cabin.
Here’s something that potential cruisers really should consider. We know from our case files that passengers are being quarantined for entire cruises. Did you know that you could be confined to your cabin even if you do not have COVID or any symptoms?
Kelly and Luis Cotto were recently shocked by that unpleasant reality when they set sail on their first cruise ever. They intended to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary in Bermuda. Unfortunately, through some mysterious, unwritten policy, Norwegian Cruise Line sentenced them to four full days inside their cabin — and no Bermuda. During their confinement, they received very little communication from NCL and were offered poor food choices. You can read their full story here:
Your cruise line’s contract of carriage – and, again, maritime law – overrides any U.S. rules you may be familiar with. This freedom allowed NCL to post two quasi-guards – just crew members – to act as centurions in front of the couple’s cabin door. When the ship docked at the end of the cruise, the Cottos tried to leave their cabin, but these two junior security officers blocked their exit.
The couple is still seeking clarity about the refund NCL owes them and why the cruise line kept them confined.
Bottom line: If you choose to cruise during the pandemic, be prepared to spend the entire sailing confined to your cabin — sometimes without explanation. This is true even if you’re fully vaccinated and COVID-free. Contact tracing is leading to an increased rate of involuntary quarantine for healthy cruise ship passengers. So be sure to bring lots of books, cards, games, and snacks to keep yourself entertained should you end up confined.
5. You could catch COVID, the flu, or both and spend the cruise in medical quarantine
Currently, most cruise lines test their passengers for the coronavirus just before they board the ship. These travelers take a rapid test and a PCR test. The PCR test is more precise, but the results take about 24 hours to return. As a result, it appears that some people who are unknowingly infected with the coronavirus are boarding these cruise ships. So although your cruise may be sailing with 100 percent vaccinated passengers, this doesn’t mean you’re sailing with 100 percent COVID-free passengers.
Patrick Doyle and his wife recently found this out when they boarded Norwegian Cruise Line’s Dawn for their Christmas cruise. After several days of revelry on the ship and off, Doyle’s wife became ill. NCL’s medical team on the ship diagnosed her with the flu, and he with COVID. Immediately, they were both whisked to the medical unit of the NCL ship, where they were confined to separate cabins during the holiday.
The bottom line: Boarding a cruise ship COVID-negative and fully vaccinated doesn’t guarantee you’ll remain uninfected. Even with all of these precautions, you could still end up spending your vacation isolated, alone in a cramped cruise cabin in the ship’s medical unit. Hey, at least you might have a tiny porthole to watch the other cruisers enjoy their land excursions.
6. You could be forced into quarantine before or after your cruise
Did you know that some cruise lines are also forcing passengers into quarantine before and after the cruise? It’s true. If you show up at the pier and the pre-cruise testing shows you have COVID, local regulations might force you into quarantine at a hotel.
And should you be identified as a close-contact passenger or a COVID-positive passenger, your cruise line may target you for post-sailing confinement. Norwegian Cruise Line representatives told both the Doyles and the Cottos they would be taking them by van to a quarantine hotel. The two couples escaped additional sequestering only because of the proximity of their homes to the final port of call of their cruises.
All cruise ship passengers should factor in potential forced quarantine before, during, and after the cruise. All travelers should make certain they’ve purchased a travel insurance policy that will cover such extended confinement. You can check a variety of travel insurance policies that cover COVID fiascos on a site such as InsureMyTrip.
Be certain to read through the entire policy, and keep in mind you usually have 10-14 days to take a look. After that, the policy becomes nonrefundable.
Bottom Line: Prepare yourself for the possibility of extended quarantine even after your cruise ship returns to its homeport. Don’t forget to protect yourself with a good travel insurance policy that provides medical benefits and COVID quarantine coverage.
7. The cruise line might cancel the sailing
Finally, every day in the news, we’re hearing that more and more cruise lines are canceling their sailings. And we know that many of these cruise lines may be on the verge of collapse. In fact, just yesterday, the parent company of Crystal Cruises announced bankruptcy. (See: How to get a refund from a bankrupt cruise line.) If you book a trip right now, make sure to check regularly for updates. And don’t just check for cancellations, but for changes in passenger requirements for boarding as well.
Bottom line: Don’t book any nonrefundable hotels or excursions to coincide with your cruise since right now, there is an increasing probability your ship might not set sail as planned.
Remember, the CDC says no one should be cruising at this time – vaccinated or not. If you choose to book a cruise right now, you must prepare yourself for the worst. That includes cancellations, disruptions in itineraries and services, exposure to illnesses, and a roll call of minor and major inconveniences. If this sounds A-okay to you, enjoy your adventure with your eyes wide open to all the calamities that might be in store. Good luck! 😬 (Michelle Couch-Friedman)
Before you go: Looking for a little good news from the cruise industry? Here you go: Norwegian Cruise Line has a heart. Here’s how I found out for sure.