U.S. State Department and CDC advise against cruise travel amid coronavirus outbreaks

by Seth Kubersky

If you have a a cruise vacation scheduled for the coming weeks, you should know the United States State Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are officially advising Americans to avoid cruising in light of the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus outbreaks.

Disney Cruise Line coronavirus
Disney Cruise Line is among the many cruise lines temporarily offering flexible cancellation policies in the wake of the State Department and CDC’s new warnings against cruising. Photo by Chloe Rice.

On Sunday, March 3, the U.S. State Department updated the travel advisory for cruise ship passengers on its website to read: “U.S. citizens, particularly travelers with underlying health conditions, should not travel by cruise ship. CDC notes increased risk of infection of COVID-19 in a cruise ship environment. In order to curb the spread of COVID-19, many countries have implemented strict screening procedures that have denied port entry rights to ships and prevented passengers from disembarking. In some cases, local authorities have permitted disembarkation but subjected passengers to local quarantine procedures. While the U.S. government has evacuated some cruise ship passengers in recent weeks, repatriation flights should not be relied upon as an option for U.S. citizens under the potential risk of quarantine by local authorities.”

Furthermore, the Centers for Disease Control has issued an advisory that “recommends travelers, particularly those with underlying health issues, defer all cruise ship travel worldwide,” noting that “recent reports of COVID-19 on cruise ships highlight the risk of infection to cruise ship passengers and crew. Like many other viruses, COVID-19 appears to spread more easily between people in close quarters aboard ships.”

Both the State Department and CDC emphasize that cruising is especially discouraged for older adults and travelers with underlying health issues (including heart disease, chronic lung disease, diabetes, and other conditions that cause suppression of immune system) should avoid situations that put them at increased risk for more severe disease. This entails avoiding crowded places, avoiding non-essential travel such as long plane trips, and especially avoiding embarking on cruise ships.

The CDC recommends you avoid contact with sick people; avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands; and clean your hands often by washing them with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60% to 95% alcohol. It is especially important to clean hands after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.

If you have just returned from a cruise within the last 14 days, the CDC advises you to “monitor your health and limit interactions with others for 14 days after returning to the United States.” In the event that a case of COVID-19 was reported on your ship during the cruise, “stay home during these 14 days and practice social distancing.”

For travelers who currently have an upcoming cruise vacation planned, be aware that most cruise lines have updated their cancellation and rebooking policies so that you can reschedule without penalty:

Disney Cruise Line is offering temporary adjustments to its cancellation policy to provide more flexibility for its guests. All Guests scheduled to depart on the Disney Magic between now and May 8, 2020, and the Disney Dream, Disney Fantasy and Disney Wonder between now and May 31, 2020, can change their reservation up until the day before embarkation and receive a 100% cruise credit to be used for a future sailing within 12 months of their original sail date. Guests currently booked on European cruises through a July 25, 2020 departure date can change their reservation up until the day before embarkation and receive a 100% cruise credit to be used for a future sailing within 15 months of the original sail date. Credit is non-refundable and standard prevailing rates will apply. Alternatively, guests currently booked on the July 13, July 18 and July 25 European sailings in 2020 may delay their final payment to 30 days prior to the sailing.

Princess Cruises is temporarily making changes to its our cancellation policy for cruises and cruise tours departing between March 6 and May 31, 2020, and final payment terms for cruises and cruise tours sailing in June 2020. Guests with a Date of Departure between March 9, 2020 and April 3, 2020 can cancel up to 72 hours before sailing to automatically receive a Future Cruise Credit (FCC) for 100% of cancellation fees. For departures April 4, 2020 – May 31, 2020, cancel by March 31 and automatically receive a Future Cruise Credit for 100% of cancellation fees. Additionally, Final Payment on cruises and cruise tours sailing June 1 through June 30, 2020 has been moved to 60 days prior to departure.

Holland America Line is temporarily changing its cancellation policy and allowing guests to cancel their cruise or Alaska Land+Sea Journey departing through May 31, 2020. Any cancellation will receive a Future Cruise Credit (FCC) for the amount of the paid fare which can be used for another cruise in 2020 or 2021. The FCC must be booked by Dec. 31, 2020, and the cancellation must be made with a minimum of 72 hours in advance of departure date but no later than March 31, 2020. However, guests booked between now and March 9, 2020 may also cancel under this new policy despite being within 72 hours.

Royal Caribbean Group‘s “Cruise With Confidence” policy allows guests on Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Azamara and Silversea to cancel up to 48 hours before a sailing. Guests will receive a full credit for their fare, usable on any future sailing of the guest’s choice in 2020 or 2021.

Carnival Cruises is allowing passengers booked on a sailing between now and May 31 to postpone the trip without penalty and receive a future cruise credit that must be used by March 31, 2021. Passengers booked on sailings departing between March 9 and March 31 can move their bookings to a later date anytime up to three days before departure. Passengers booked on April and May cruises must change their departure date by the end of March. The policy only applies to passengers who booked before March 6.

Norwegian Cruise Lines is allowing passengers booked on any voyage departing through Sept. 30 to cancel up to 48 hours before departure without penalty, and receive a future cruise credit that can be used through Dec. 31, 2022.

Viking River Cruises has a temporary Viking Risk Free Booking Policy that allows guests to change or cancel their cruise date up until 24 hours before their planned departure for all Viking reservations that are made by April 30, 2020. This temporary exception applies to all guests with reservations made prior to March 8, 2020, inclusive of all itineraries and years of departure, as well as all guests who make a NEW reservation through April 30, 2020. Guests will be issued a voucher for future travel valid for 24 months, which can be used on a new reservation for any river, ocean or expedition cruise.

Celebrity Cruise Lines passengers can cancel their cruise for sailings departing up until 7/31/2020 for any reason as late as 48 hours before sailing and get a 100% Future Cruise Credit good until 12/31/2021.

For the latest cruise information, check with your travel agent or the various cruise lines themselves. No U.S. theme parks have announced any closings at this time.


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