So you are sick of the Pandemic and want to take a cruise. Join the human race, my friend! Judging by the volume of future-cruise bookings – which has been rising since November 2020 – the world is ready to cast off. Question is: When will the cruise lines be ready?
Cruise Lines in Lay-up
While the world was in lockdown, nearly all of its passenger ships were docked or moored, waiting out the virus. Some were in “cold lay-up,” a sort of suspended animation where the ship is moored – perhaps at sea or at a remote port, to cut costs. The bare minimum crew is on board for emergency situations, and all but essential functions are shut down. Largely, this is a cost-saving measure. (Carnival Cruise Lines estimated saving $2-million every month for each ship in cold lay-up!) It can take weeks for a ship to be brought back into service from cold lay-up, so there are careful financial equations involved. Understandably, cruise lines want ships to be ready as soon as the Pandemic breaks, but at what cost?
As you can imagine, it is much more expensive to maintain a ship in “hot lay-up.” Mechanical systems are kept running, a deck and engine crew are onboard, and the ship is docked at its home port, ready to start its usual itinerary, almost literally, on a moment’s notice. You’ll see food and supplies delivered to ships in hot lay-up, and fuel is pumped in regularly.
In between, the “warm lay-up” sees essential functions running, but reduced maintenance, and a smaller crew than a hot lay-up requires. The ships would only need some maintenance and supplies to “make ready,” so a return to service should not take longer than a couple of weeks. For the bulk of the Pandemic year, this is the status most cruise ships have been in.
Should I Book a Cruise Now?
The short answer is yes. Sort of.
Let’s start by acknowledging that is a conditional yes. We love to cruise, so it’s a solid yes for us. If you are even thinking about cruising, our advice is to make that plan, and book it early. We have been known to book a year or more in advance. (Of course, we do that for land-based vacations, also.) Why? In our experience, prices don’t vary a great deal, but availability does.
The more you have your heart set on a special cabin, or even a specific deck or section of the ship, the earlier you need to book your cruise.
Yes, but… Pandemic? Like the airlines, cruise companies will rebook or refund your cruise if it gets cancelled due to the Pandemic. In that sense, you have nothing to lose. You can book a cruise with a deposit, usually a percentage of the cruise cost, plus some fees, so you don’t have thousands of dollars tied up while waiting to see if your plans get changed.
Already, post-pandemic cruises are being snatched up left and right. In March, Norwegian Cruise Lines had their biggest booking day ever! A year of no-sail orders led to pent up demand, in turn leading to an unusually strong “wave season” – late winter booking for summer cruises. Great offers tempted consumers to book cruises when none were actually sailing. That translates to fewer openings for those who are waiting to see how pandemic recovery efforts pan out. Our thinking is “better safe than sorry.” Book now, cancel later if you must.
So When Can We Cruise?
Most cruise lines are booking itineraries from summer 2021 through fall of 2023. That gives you a lot to choose from, even if you’re not convinced you will be ready to sail for many months yet. Whenever that happens to be, here is when the major cruise lines serving the U.S. market plan to be ready to sail. At least, for now. (Note that these dates, as always, are subject to change.)
Carnival Cruise Line
1 June 2021
Before the Pandemic, the big news in the cruise industry was Carnival’s newest mega-ship, Mardi Gras, complete with the world’s first roller coaster at sea! Instead, the news has been the ever changing schedule of when any ship would set sail. But Mardi Gras finally gets her day, tentatively launching Carnival’s return to service on 29 May, sailing the Caribbean from Port Canaveral. However, the company says services are suspended until 31 May, with no timetables yet.
Disney Cruise Line
3 June 2021
Disney Cruise Lines will remain docked through May, and in some cases longer. Disney Fantasy will be the first ship to sail, on 2 June, with Disney Dream shipping out on the 4th. Disney Wonder will be sailing in July, and Disney Magic’s European sailings have been canceled through 10 August.
Holland America Line
30 June 2021
Holland America Line, famous for their Alaskan itineraries, has paused their roundtrip Seattle-Alaska cruises until 30 June, along with their European sailings. Longer itineraries (8+ days) with US stops are on hold until 1 November. Impacts from Canada’s decision to ban cruise stops through February 2022 has yet to be determined.
1 May 2021
MSC’s four Florida-based ships are docked until May, when they will resume sailing to the Bahamas and Caribbean. The MSC Grandiosa resumed sailing in Europe last year, though, and MSC Seaside will restart Mediterranean sailings on 1 May.
Norwegian Cruise Lines
30 June 2021
The entire Norwegian family, which includes Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, won’t be sailing until at least 30 June. While they have not canceled their 2021 Alaska Cruise season, they have stopped taking bookings for those sailings while they explore alternative Alaska itineraries.
14 May 2021
While they’re currently among the earliest set to resume operations, no Princess ships will set sail before 14 May. Cruises from Seattle are on pause until 27 June. Ships porting in Los Angeles, Ft. Lauderdale, and Rome are moored until 30 June, and all sailings of 8+ days have been canceled through 1 November.
Royal Caribbean International
31 May 2021
All of RCI’s brands – Celebrity Cruises, Silversea, and Royal Caribbean – will remain docked through 31 May, except for Quantum of the Seas (now sailing from Singapore) and Odyssey of the Seas. The line’s newest Quantum Ultra class vessel is launching her inaugural season from Haifa, Israel, in May with mandatory vaccination policies.
1 July 2021
Virgin Cruises finally sets sail on 1 July with a vaccine-mandatory Caribbean / Riviera Maya sailing on the Scarlet Lady. The line’s second vessel, Valiant Lady, is now scheduled to debut in November.
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U.S. Market Brands in Europe & South Pacific
1 July 2021
Earlier this year, Royal Caribbean International completed the sale of this luxury line to the private equity firm Sycamore Partners. Former Holland America Lines president Orlando Ashford, who oversaw much of the HAL’s growth over the past decade, has come on board as Chairman, and the new owners purchased the former Pacific Princess to expand the fleet. Indications are the new company will continue the country-specific itineraries and intimate shipboard atmosphere that Azamara is known for.
17 May 2021
The storied ships of the Cunard Line, based in Southampton, England, will be plying the high seas again, starting with the Queen Victoria on 17 May. Voyages aboard Queen Mary 2 have been canceled through 28 May, and on Queen Elizabeth through 4 June.
22 May 2021
Viking was the first cruise line to suspend operations, on March 11, 2020. Now, ocean cruises will resume with limited roundtrip sailings from Portsmouth in May. The eight day England’s Scenic Shores itinerary will be available only for U.K. residents, starting 22 May. Guests will be the first to sail on Viking’s newest vessel, the Viking Venus. Vikings river cruises are already sailing, though it can be difficult for travelers to get into some of the departure cities.
10 June 2021
Windstar will phase in its ships beginning with Wind Spirit in Tahiti on 10 June, followed by Star Breeze on 19 June, and then Wind Surf in the Mediterranean on 29 June. Finally, Star legend and Star Pride return to the seas in July (4th and 14th, respectively).
American River Cruises
Smaller domestic lines have different requirements from the CDC for safe sailing, but have been largely shut down by the pandemic also. While itineraries that include stops in Canada are still on hold, many American river and coastal cruises are back in business!
American Cruise Lines
20 March 2021
The 100-passenger coastal cruiser Independence returns to service on the Historic South & Golden Isles itinerary from Amelia Island, Florida, to Charleston, South Carolina. Mississippi River itineraries also begin 21 March. Cruises in New England are scheduled for May and June.
On the west coast, Columbia and Snake River cruises launch in April. Cruises in Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands begin in April also, with Alaska Cruises set for July.
New health and safety protocols include preboarding COVID testing of passengers.
American Queen Steamboat Company
15 March 2021
America’s modern steamboat line started operations early with a pair of charter cruises on the American Duchess between New Orleans and Memphis. The line’s newest ships begin plying the lower Mississippi on 21 March when the American Jazz begins limited sailing, and American Countess takes a preview cruise from New Orleans.
Columbia and Snake River, Ohio River cruises restart in April, with more cruise itineraries (Great Lakes, New England, Tennessee River) coming in the summer and fall. Pre-boarding COVID testing will be in place in March, with mandatory vaccines for crew, shore excursion drivers, and passengers starting in July.
Are YOU Ready to Cruise?
Everyone’s level of comfort to get back to travel is different. Thanks to previous experience with disease outbreaks on cruise ships, many are understandably reluctant to get on a ship. We’re curious where you stand. Let us know, in the comments below, if you’re ready to cruise, or if there’s a threshold when you would be comfortable joining the throngs already booking.
As always, thanks for coming along with us at TravelLatte!
Featured Image: Cruise ships anchored in Manila Bay, Philippines, waiting out the Coronavirus Pandemic, by Anish Ps.