The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the State Department are urging Americans to avoid cruise ships as the coronavirus continues to spread, but most sailings are continuing as scheduled, leaving travelers unsure of whether to follow the government’s guidance or continue with their plans.
“Recent reports of Covid-19 on cruise ships highlight the risk of infection to cruise ship passengers and crew,” the C.D.C. said in its latest travel advisory. “Like many other viruses, Covid-19 appears to spread more easily between people in close quarters aboard ships.”
The State Department, in its advisory issued on Sunday, said that American citizens, particularly those with underlying health conditions, “should not travel by cruise ship.”
The warnings came after the leaders of the top American cruise companies met with Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday and agreed to work with the Department of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard and the C.D.C. to come up with new policies to help contain the coronavirus in the coming days.
At the meeting, Mr. Pence said cruise lines would enhance their entry and exit screenings, establish shipboard testing for the coronavirus, coordinate new quarantine standards for all ships with the C.D.C. and create a protocol for moving anyone who got the coronavirus or another serious illness to facilities on land.
With boats continuing to sail, what can travelers expect?
What are the cruise lines saying?
Carnival Corporation, the world’s biggest cruise company, said in a statement on Sunday that its brands, which include Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Cunard, enhanced their health screening protocols to include thermal scans and temperature checks before boarding and onboard, and were in conversation with the C. D.C. World Health Organization and other health officials, but were not taking further steps.
“While an advisory has been issued, no restrictions are in place for those who choose to take a cruise,” said Roger Frizell, a spokesman for Carnival. The company has had two of its ships, the Diamond Princess and the Grand Princess, quarantined with cases of coronavirus onboard.
Melissa Charbonneau, director of corporate reputation for Royal Caribbean Cruises, another big player in the cruise market, said that it was “staying focused on development of an aggressive, responsive plan as agreed to during the meeting with Vice President Pence.”
Can I get a refund if I cancel based on the government warnings?
Diane Fudge, a travel adviser at All Inclusive Travel Concierge in Homosassa, Fla., said she had six cancellations in three hours on Monday morning, based on the new government guidelines. “Most are seniors and concerned about their health,” Ms. Fudge said in an email, though a young couple also canceled — and sent her a copy of the State Department warning. All of her clients rebooked for later dates.
Traditionally, the cruise companies have set very strict refund policies, but they have loosened up in recent days, as cruise ships have been kept from entering certain ports or, like the Princess ships, been quarantined.
Many cruise lines, including Viking River Cruises, Norwegian, MSC Cruises, Silversea Cruises, Royal Caribbean and Seabourn are letting people delay their sailings, cancel within days of a trip or substitute another passenger for the one originally booked (usually a no-no). Policies vary by company and even by scheduled sailing, so travelers should contact their travel agent or cruise company.
Princess is allowing people with bookings before the end of May to cancel trips in exchange for full credit on a future trip. On Monday, the company said it will offer refunds to people who have been on the Grand Princess, including their costs for air travel, hotels, ground transportation, prepaid shore excursions, gratuities and other items. Princess said it will give guests a future cruise credit equal to the fare they paid for the trip and that “guests will not be charged for any onboard incidental charges during the additional time onboard.”
Would-be travelers have been asking about refunds on social media. Carnival, in response, has been telling them that trips are not canceled and that, “While advisories are in place, we are open for business and look forward to welcoming guests who choose to take a cruise vacation with us.”
What about changes onboard?
In recent weeks, many cruise companies have increased their health screenings and onboard cleaning procedures. Embarking passengers may face temperature scans and questionnaires about their travel and proximity to others who may have been exposed to the coronavirus. Cruise lines have also adjusted itineraries and kept crew members and passengers who have been in the hardest-hit countries from boarding ships.
Royal Caribbean said last week that if a passenger has a temperature of 100.4 degrees or more at embarkation, they have to undergo a secondary screening, which involves testing blood oxygen levels. A medical professional will then check the person for other flulike symptoms. The cruise line is encouraging people with chronic lung illnesses, like asthma, to bring a letter from a doctor stating their normal oxygen levels. Anyone not cleared will be denied boarding and receive a refund.
The new guidelines to be worked out after the industry meeting with the Vice President are expected to be announced before the end of the week.
What if I get stuck on a ship overseas?
In its advisory, the State Department noted that, “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.”
Ms. Fudge, the Florida travel adviser, said one of the couples who delayed their cruise cited this policy as their reason for not wanting to sail during the outbreak.
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