Carnival Cruise Line announced it plans to resume some voyages on August 1. Starting then, a handful of ships will set sail from Galveston, Texas, Miami, and Port Canaveral, Florida, according to a statement.
By that time, Americans will no doubt be itching to travel. However, experts say cruises present a special set of health and financial concerns. Carnival Corporation has endured scrutiny for the spread of coronavirus on its ships, including a Diamond Princess cruise ship off the coast of Japan where passengers were quarantined to their rooms for two weeks and almost one-fifth of the ship's manifest contracted the virus.
Carnival is "committed to supporting all public health efforts to manage the Covid-19 situation," according to its statement.
Many cruise enthusiasts are ready to return to sea. Almost 75% of cruisers on the cruise review site CruiseCritic said that after the pandemic they will cruise as much as or more than they did before, according to an online poll from late March. And within a few days of booking, Carnival bookings surged, according to a report from TMZ. A rep from Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel affiliate, told the news outlet that its Carnival bookings were up 200% compared with last August.
A typical seven-day Carribbean cruise on a major cruise line can cost between $400 and $1,400 per person. Before you spend your travel budget on that kind of trip, it's important to understand the health risks and if there are any financial precautions you should take to protect your investment.
On March 14, the Centers for Disease Control announced a No Sail Order for cruise ships, and on April 9 extended the order through July 25. "Semi-enclosed environments onboard ships can facilitate the spread of person-to-person, foodborne, or waterborne diseases," according to a Travelers' Health book by the CDC.
Carnival Corporation, the most profitable cruise line in the world, has not released specific details for how it will protect crew members and passengers from a coronavirus outbreak on board. A spokesman tells Grow that the company will consult with government and public health officials to "build new operational protocols, enhanced health and sanitation measures, and service offerings" to limit the spread of illness.
"We have already submitted our plan to the CDC to manage and support public health priorities, and over the coming weeks and months we'll be sharing more details with all of our stakeholders," the Carnival spokesman says.
However, the CDC does not have enough information to say when cruising will be safe again, according to Scott Pauley, a spokesman for the agency. Even though Carnival has submitted a plan, the "CDC has not consulted with any of the cruise lines on timelines for resuming cruise travel for passengers," he tells Grow.
Doctors agree that there is not yet enough information to make a decision as to when it will be safe to get on board.
"I personally would not" go on a cruise, says Dr. Amy Edwards, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at University Hospitals, who works with the UH Roe Green Center for Travel Medicine & Global Health. "Cruises are crowded, there are thousands of high-touch surfaces, and there is no way you can keep those clean. They clean the ships at port and at night but still, there is so much traffic during the day."
It's also unclear how cruises will alter their operations in order to decrease passengers' risk of contracting viruses. "I don't think they will be allowed to book more than 30% capacity," says Ross Klein, a professor with Memorial University's Maritime Studies Research Unit who documents illness outbreaks, accidents, and other cruise incidents on his website CruiseJunkie. Cruises could need to redesign certain spaces and may have to take out slot machines, for example, so people aren't elbow to elbow, he says.
Considering going on a cruise soon after they resume? Experts say it's important to buy the right insurance from the right company. Keep in mind that trips are resuming during hurricane season, so it's not just coronavirus you'll need to worry about.
"I'd never buy insurance from the cruise line," says Klein. Cruise line insurance policies are comparable to third party insurance policy prices but usually offer less protection, according to CruiseCritic.
If you're booking a cruise in August, you should buy cancel-for-any-reason insurance, says Megan Moncrief of travel insurance comparison site Squaremouth. "The issue with Covid-19 is there aren't a lot of specific coverage written into policies yet on these types of viral outbreaks," she says, so you want cancel-for-any-reason coverage to be sure you are covered for backing out of a trip over reasons related to the virus.
That peace of mind will cost you. The typical travel insurance policy usually costs between 4% and 8% of the price of the trip, according to Travel Insurance Review. Premium plans, including "cancel for any reason" coverage, can cost closer to 10% to 12% of the total trip.
Even top-notch travel insurance may not help you avoid a financial loss. Most cancel-for-any-reason policies require you to cancel your trip at least 48 hours before setting sail.
Before the pandemic led to cancellations, many cruise ships had been taking passenger temperatures at ports before boarding, Moncrief says. Those with fevers were not allowed on board. Assuming this policy continues as sailings resume, being denied entry at the last-minute may not be covered under your policy.
If you're unsure about exactly what a plan covers, call the carrier, Moncrief says: "Speak to customer service, because it is an evolving situation."
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