For months, Crystal Cruises had been responding to the coronavirus crisis by canceling voyages a few weeks at a time. After halting all departures in March, the well-known luxury cruise operator initially planned to resume trips in the spring, then the summer, then the fall. The line’s comeback never seemed far off.
But now it appears Crystal has thrown in the towel on a quick return to cruising. In a succession of announcements in recent days, the line has canceled all remaining voyages for 2020 on its two ocean ships, four river ships and small yacht, Crystal Esprit.
The first Crystal voyage now available for booking isn’t until Jan. 5, 2021.
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“We extend our deepest apologies for this situation that is beyond our control and is a great frustration to all of us,” the line said Thursday in a statement announcing it had canceled all Crystal Esprit sailings through Jan. 9, 2021.
Crystal isn’t alone. A growing number of cruise lines are giving up on efforts to bring back voyages before the end of the year. Among them are Celestyal Cruises, which recently canceled all sailings through March 6, 2021, and Victory Cruise Lines, which has dropped all sailings until April 24, 2021.
Canada cruise specialist Adventure Canada also has canceled all 2020 departures.
Most of the above brands are relatively minor players in the cruise space. But there are signs that bigger cruise operators are beginning to eye 2020 as a lost year, too.
The 18-ship brand only has seven Caribbean sailings in 2020 left on its schedule — all in late December. It only has a single Mexican Riviera sailing and a single Hawaii sailing still on its 2020 schedule.
In some regions, Princess doesn’t have another cruise scheduled for nearly a year. Its next voyages on the books for Europe, Alaska and Eastern Canada aren’t scheduled to take place until April, May and July of 2021, respectively.
Many cruise lines including Princess and Crystal have been spending months developing new onboard protocols to operate safely in a time of coronavirus. But returning to service isn’t as simple as just developing a strategy to keep COVID-19 off ships. The lines also are confronting a world where COVID-related travel restrictions are making it difficult to operate all but the most basic sailings.
The restrictions include bans on cross-border travel for residents of many countries. Americans, for instance, currently aren’t welcome in much of Europe. In addition, many ports around the world aren’t allowing cruise ships to visit for now. The United States, for instance, has a ban on cruise ships sailing in U.S. waters that will continue through at least the end of September.
In canceling sailings into December, Princess cited not just the continued progression of COVID-19 but “related decisions of various government, health authorities, and airlines regarding travel restrictions,” as a key factor in its decision.
In its statement Thursday, Crystal cited “differing restrictions for international travel” as a factor in its decision to cancel all sailings for the rest of the year.
“The uncertainty surrounding this global health crisis hinders the ability for all cruise lines to operate,” Crystal said.
Given the continued high coronavirus case counts in the United States, North America could be one region where no cruising resumes at all in 2020. Just this past week, one small cruise ship that was exempt from the United States cruise ban tried to restart operations with a single vessel but quickly canceled the attempt after a passenger tested positive for COVID-19.
During a webinar Thursday held by trade publication Seatrade Cruise News, former Azamara Club Cruises CEO Larry Pimentel suggested there might not be any cruising at all from U.S. ports for the rest of the year.
“The runway is very long here… you’re not going to see many vessels this year, at all – if any – for the remainder of the year,” said Pimentel, who resigned from Azamara in April. “It’s a very complicated path to recovery.”
Many cruise executives in recent weeks have said the only cruises that will be able to restart in the short term are close-to-home sailings aimed at local travelers who don’t have to travel long distances and cross borders to reach vessels.
Already, we’ve seen a few cruise lines in Europe start up just such trips, with mixed results. In recent days, two cruise ships that resumed operations in Norway with trips aimed at local Norwegians and other Europeans have experienced COVID scares.
One of the vessels that started back up, Hurtigruten’s Roald Amundsen, has had a major outbreak of the illness. Dozens of passengers and crew on the ship have tested positive for COVID-19, and several have been hospitalized. Hurtigruten has canceled all further sailings of the ship and two others that it had tried to bring back into service in recent weeks.
Several more lines including MSC Cruises and Costa Cruises plan to restart limited sailings in Europe in coming days with trips aimed at local travelers. But many of the world’s biggest cruise brands, including Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line, have canceled all or nearly all of their sailings well into the fall.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio on Thursday said any resumption of cruising at the company toward the end of 2020 would be with “a very limited” number of vessels.
The parent of Norwegian Cruise Line, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania Cruises already has canceled all sailings through the end of October.
“As we move into the first quarter of 2021, the deployed capacity is expected to ramp up as more vessels gradually reenter the fleet,” Del Rio told Wall Street analysts during a conference call to discuss second quarter earnings. But “based on this time line, it isn’t until at least the second quarter of 2021 that we would see our fleet return in earnest.”
Additional resources for cruisers during the coronavirus outbreak:
- When will cruising resume? A line-by-line guide
- Why you shouldn’t expect bargain-basement cruise deals anytime soon
- How to cancel or postpone a cruise due to coronavirus
- Expecting a refund for a canceled cruise? Here’s how long it will take
- Some of the year’s hottest new ships could be delayed
- Stream these 13 movies, television shows to get your cruise ship fix
Featured image courtesy of Crystal Cruises