It’s official: Big-ship cruising out of North American ports is on hold until the fall.
The main trade group for the cruise industry, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), on Friday announced that all its members operating oceangoing ships would extend their suspension of cruises in U.S. waters until Sept. 15.
The announcement means another wave of cancellations is on the way from lines such as Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Carnival Cruise Line. The three brands have canceled all sailings through the end of July but still have trips on the books for August and beyond.
Nearly every major cruise line in the world is a member of CLIA. Exceptions include Viking and several small-ship specialists such as UnCruise Adventures and Lindblad Expeditions.
CLIA cited “the ongoing situation within the U.S. related to COVID-19” in making the announcement.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a “no-sail” order for cruise ships in U.S. waters that is set to expire on July 24. But many industry watchers expect the agency to extend the order in the coming days.
“Although we had hoped that cruise activity could resume as soon as possible after that date, it is increasingly clear that more time will be needed to resolve barriers to resumption (of cruising) in the United States,” CLIA said.
CLIA said it was confident that future cruises will be healthy and safe, and will fully reflect the latest protective measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus. It suggested it was erring on the side of caution in pushing back the resumption of cruising in U.S. waters.
“The additional time will also allow us to consult with the CDC on measures that will be appropriate for the eventual resumption of cruise operations,” CLIA said.
The extended shutdown does not apply to small ships designed to carry fewer than 250 passengers and crew. Such vessels are exempt from the CDC’s no-sail order.
Some major lines already had canceled all sailings into the fall in advance of Friday’s announcement from CLIA. Just this past Tuesday, Norwegian Cruise Line and its sister brands, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania Cruises, canceled nearly all sailings into early October. The move came just a week after Cunard Line canceled sailings into November. Silversea, Seabourn, Holland America, Princess Cruises and Windstar Cruises also already had announced they wouldn’t resume sailings until the fall at the earliest.
Still, the two biggest cruise lines in the world — Royal Caribbean and Carnival — were among the lines that had yet to cancel all or some August sailings.
It is becoming increasingly clear that cruising out of U.S. ports may not return as quickly as cruising in some other parts of the world, most notably Europe. Many countries in Europe are far ahead of the U.S. in bringing down coronavirus case count numbers.
A few small cruise vessels in Europe — mostly river ships — already have begun to restart sailings on a localized basis with trips aimed at the local market. The first was German line Nicko Cruises, which resumed river cruises in Germany with a single ship earlier this month. The trips are aimed at local Germans who can reach the ship by car or train.
On Tuesday, Norwegian cruise and ferry company Hurtigruten restarted its famed ferry service along the coast of Norway, which often draws traditional cruisers as well as locals traveling between Norwegian towns.
Some small-ship cruising also is about to start up in French Polynesia.
There is a growing consensus in the cruise industry that river ships and small vessels that sail coastal routings will be able to resume semiregular operations this year far earlier than bigger ships that offer long-distance ocean trips.
In part, this is because small vessels offer a sort of small-group travel that is easier to manage in an era of social distancing than the mass tourism of big ships. The typical river ship in Europe, for instance, has fewer than 100 cabins. It essentially operates as a small boutique hotel — albeit one that happens to move from town to town. Touring always is in small groups or on an individual basis. Onboard spaces rarely are crowded.
Jim Hepple is an Assistant Professor at the University of Aruba and is Managing Director of Tourism Analytics.