It’s been a rough two years for the cruise industry, where fortunes have taken another downturn with the appearance of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, and in the wake of a recent recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to avoid leisure travel on the high seas.
With new infections showing no sign of relenting anytime soon, the CDC has said cruises should be avoided, regardless of vaccination status. The CDC increased the travel warning for ships to level 4 — the highest risk level — amid a surge of coronavirus outbreaks on seafaring vessels.
All of which should spell bad news for various cruise lines like Carnival (CCL), Disney (DIS), Norwegian (NCLH) and Royal Caribbean (RCL), which have ships on the CDC’s Cruise Ship Color Status. In a statement last week, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) criticized the CDC’s move as “particularly perplexing,” given that the total number of cases on ships were a “slim minority of the total population onboard.”
Yet the stocks of all of those companies ended sharply higher on Friday, underscoring how the industry is taking the long view on Omicron. The mutation is highly transmissible but less debilitating, especially among the vaccinated. And despite the CDC’s worrying call, ships have kept sailing from ports around the country.
“The science does not support the CDC. You’re actually safer on a cruise ship,” Stewart Chiron, a cruise expert, told Yahoo Finance on Monday.
“Everybody’s being vaccinated, everyone’s tested, frequently. We’re seeing an increase, which is 90% of these recent cases are crew, not passengers,” Chiron added.
He argued that cruises are doing what they can to mitigate risk, insisting it’s “more safe on a cruise ship than it is to be at home.”
It’s unclear how long the CDC’s travel advisory will be in place, but the agency has issued a Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) that’s been extended until January 15.
Omicron explosion on ships
However, the data paint a different picture. In figures provided to Yahoo Finance, the CDC found that between November 30 and December 14, only 162 COVID-19 cases were reported to the agency by cruise ships operating in U.S waters.
Yet between December 15-29, over 5,000 COVID-19 cases were reported from cruise ships — a whopping 31 times the number of cases from the comparable two week period.
“Unfortunately, a lot of people are not honest about their health situation,” Chiron explained. “And some people think that, ‘well, I’m symptomatic that I’ll be able to fake my way through it,’ but they don’t realize that your symptoms are only going to get worse.”
Cruise lines constantly test crew three to four times a week, and are expected to bump up testing as they move forward, he said.
“We also have to take into consideration that some of these ships with the 5,000 number [cases] aren’t even yet in service, and as [they] continue to add more ships, there’s a lot of these ships doing short cruises, three, four, and five night sailings, you’re gonna have higher increase,” Chiron said.
“The CDC’s color code really is meaningless because one crew, seven passengers, means you go from green to yellow, so it really doesn’t tell anything,” he added.
Last week, Royal Caribbean reported an increase in people testing positive, but without a corresponding increase illnesses — a sign of how the Omicron wave has been less grave in terms of medical outcomes.
People are still calling the travel agent. They’re still booking their cruises through the travel agent.Stewart Chiron, travel expert
Since the return of cruise ships in June of 2021, Royal Caribbean has ferried over a million guests with over 1,700 people testing positive — a positivity rate of 0.02%, according to company. The majority of those cases were mild symptoms, with 41 people being hospitalized.
In addition, none of the Omicron cases were severe or needed to be taken to hospital, signaling how guests were vaccinated and had negative tests before boarding the ship.
And since resuming operations in September 2020, Carnival, the largest cruise company, has carried 1.2 million guests onboard its ships. As of late November, 61% of the company’s capacity was operating with guests on board; the company expects the full fleet to back in operation in the Spring of 2022.
‘Not gonna be an issue’
As the travel industry slowly starts to recover from the pandemic woes, analysts believe the CDC’s stricter guidance would not impact business or travel bookings, especially for warm weather months when the virus tends to wane.
“People are still calling the travel agent. They’re still booking their cruises through the travel agent,” Chiron said. “Bookings for 2022 and 2023 are ahead of where they were in 2019 at record levels and at higher pricing.”
And Wall Street is optimistic that the industry will continue to sail on as it tries to overcome the pandemic’s latest hurdle.
“The view is this is just not gonna be an issue in six months when people go on their summer vacation,” Chris Woronka, a senior analyst at Deutsche Bank who covers the cruise lines and other travel sectors, told Yahoo Finance in an interview.
The impact from Omicron and the CDC’s latest advisory is likely to be less of a factor as the year rolls on — and certainly not in 2023, according to Deutsche’s research.
“The market is just taking a much bigger, longer term view of this and saying that guidance, maybe won’t be out there forever and customers are making their own decision[s],” Woronka said.
Last week, Royal Caribbean reported a decline in bookings and increased cancellations for near-term sailings, but said it was less than they experienced during the summer’s Delta variant surge. The first half of 2022 bookings remains below historical levels, but the second half of 2022 continues to be booked with historical ranges at higher prices.
“People couldn’t go on a cruise for basically 15 months and again, they’re not all back yet, so there’s still that pent up demand,” Woronka said, even as he said investors are worried about the appearance of a new variant.
The course of the pandemic has “been unpredictable and nobody’s gotten it exactly right,” Woronka said.
Meanwhile, Carnival’s short interest has increased 21% since its last report, a sign that some investors are betting on the stock to fall. Woronka has a “Hold” rating on Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian. Despite Friday’s rally, all of those have sold off more than 10% since early November.
“We don’t see sufficient enough upside right now,” Woronka said. “There is still uncertainty with the virus out there.”
Dani Romero is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @daniromerotv
The document provides several examples, mostly involving breakthrough cases, including one in which a symptomatic passenger who tested positive on a ship in late July was linked to 20 more confirmed cases over two sailings. In that case, 18 service workers and two passengers were infected. One ship reported 58 positive cases between July 24 and Aug. 28, and another reported 105 confirmed cases on four back-to-back trips between Aug. 19 and Sept. 7. One reported 112 cases on four voyages between Aug. 21 and Sept. 7.
Saga has confirmed the appointment of Fran Collins as the newest member of Saga’s cruise board.
The company hopes to benefit from Collins’ more than twenty years of experience in the shipping and travel industries.
The appointment gives Saga access to her insight and perspective as it continues its transformation of its cruise business.
Collins joins following the resumption of Saga Cruises earlier in the year and the launch of Saga’s brand-new boutique cruise ship, Spirit of Adventure, in July.
She will join the board in addition to her role as chief executive of Isle of Wight-based ferry company Red Funnel, at which she has served in her current role since 2018.
Before this, Collins spent 16 years in a number of operational and management roles at Condor Ferries, having started her career as a cadet in the Merchant Navy.
She will replace Tom Allan on the board of Saga Cruises, who will be retiring in the new year after serving ten years in the role.
Commenting on the appointment, Nick Stace, chief executive of Saga Travel, said: “We’re delighted that Fran has agreed to join the board of Saga Cruises.
“This comes at an incredibly exciting time for Saga as our strategy continues to drive simplicity, efficiency and growth in our business, and exceptional experiences to our guests.
“This appointment means we’re able to access Fran’s invaluable counsel as we continue in our strategy.”
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TUI River Cruises has announced its summer 2023 programme, which goes on sale from today.
Three new itineraries will be added to the sailings bringing the total number available for customers to choose from to 21, with a range of durations from three-14 nights.
The river cruise line, which launched in August, will be adding two new Rhine itineraries and one sailing on the Main.
Legends of the Rhine, North Rhine & The Netherlands Explorer and Jewels of Germany will all set sail down the Rhine River visiting popular German hotspots including Frankfurt, Dusseldorf and Cologne as well as lesser-known destinations such as Boppard, Koblenz and Oberwesel.
The Legends of the Rhine itinerary will call at the river cruise line’s new port of call, Andernach.
A picture-perfect town located in the middle of the Rhine Valley, home to a striking tower that has been keeping a watchful eye over the town since the 15th century.
Guests sailing on August 4th, Legend of the Rhine itinerary can experience the festival of 1,000 lights with live bands and music shows during the day and a spectacular firework display in the evening which can be viewed in all its glory from the top deck of the ship.
Customers sailing on July 23rd can enjoy Mainz summer lights festival where the riverside promenade will be lined with food and souvenir stalls accompanied by live music and after sunset fireworks.
The Bavarian Discovery itinerary will be an Oktoberfest themed sailing departing from Frankfurt and taking in eight ports of call in Germany – Wertheim, Wurzburg, Marktbreit, Bamberg, Nuremberg, Boppard, Regensburg and Passau.
Guest experts will host on-board beer tastings as well hosting speaker events.
Guests will also be able to enjoy beer-focussed shore experiences from brewery visits and tastings to sightseeing tours.
After the successful launch of the new river cruise line with the christening of TUI Maya this summer, her sister ship, TUI Skyla will set sail on the Mistletoe & Rhine itinerary later this month with her inaugural sailing on November 23rd.
The third ship, TUI Isla, will complete the fleet next spring.
I recently shared extra tips to help prepare for a cruise in the case that you have anxiety, and several comments from readers really hit home. So many people in the US, and globally, suffer from anxiety and other mental illnesses, and this can make vacation planning so tough.
Why, though, if you have anxiety, would you want to plan a vacation where you’re essentially stuck on a ship full of people in the middle of the ocean? Let’s break down together the reason why this is actually a DREAM vacation, and not a nightmare scenario.
Let’s start with the big one: money.
I don’t know about you, but nothing makes me feel more anxious than big expenses. Vacation is one of those–it’s one of the few times a year we get to escape work, kick back, and not think about real life, so we want to make it as enjoyable and memorable as possible–and that costs money.
When we were “land-tripping,” we’d save up for our trips, but because we had to open our wallet at every stop (gas station or flight, hotel, restaurant, tourist trap, etc), the anxiety about how much we were spending never left me. I was constantly calculating how much we were spending, ordering the cheapest thing on the menu, forgoing that glass of wine with a romantic dinner, skipping out on places we wanted to go because it was the end of the trip and we were cashed out.
With a cruise, we start planning at least a year in advance. A deposit goes down, and we can set a payment plan and add it to our monthly budget right up until Final Payment Date.
Along the way, there are sales on excursions, drink packages, internet, etc that we watch out for. That way, we don’t have to buy everything all at once.
We also usually put it on a credit card, so we can earn points. By this point (I have under a month left to my next cruise!), the only thing I have left to pay for are some cruise wardrobe refreshes, and toiletries.
Once I get on the ship, we will carry cash to tip our favorite bartenders and waitstaff (most gratuities are included), and we will have a few minor expenditures in port, but mostly, there aren’t any money worries. I can totally relax in that sense.
While we are on the subject of planning, you can do as much of that before the trip that you want, as well.
Like I said, there are always sales for excursions well in advance of the cruise, so we will sit down and figure out what we want to do in port. Is it a beach stop, like Coco Cay & Labadee; or a tour port like San Juan? Do we want to just walk around and do our own thing, or actually purchase an excursion? We are even staying on ship for one of the ports this time.
There’s also plenty of activities on ship too! You can plan a trip to the spa, or a galley tour. What shows do you want to see? Some entertainment you can’t fully schedule beforehand, but looking at past Cruise Compasses from similar sailings can help you feel less overwhelmed by all the activities when you are onboard.
Remember, your Sea Day plans can always change. Leave some room for spontaneity–you may end up spending 3 hours drinking chocolate martinis on the Rising Tide with a fellow cruiser, instead of going to that trivia game you planned on…not that I know from experience or anything.
There’s more space than you think
The number one thing I hear from fellow anxious travelers, when I mention cruising, is this: “I could never do that, I’d be so claustrophobic, being surrounded by water, on a boat with thousands of other people.” And I cannot blame them, because that’s exactly what I thought when Mr. Mills approached me with the idea for our first cruise. But these ships are huge. Small cities, really.
Royal Caribbean is a master of traffic control, so there are very few times you will be in a crowd. There’s only two times I can think of when I have felt overwhelmed by a crowd on a ship:
- Muster Drill, which was in the Pre-COVID days when we all had to gather in the same area for the safety information. Now it’s on your phone, so that is no more
- Getting off the ship first thing in the morning on a busy port day. That’s easily remedied by waiting an hour or two after the gangplank opens, but Mr. Mills and I are early risers, so I mostly just grin and bear it.
As for the ocean, it was a little intimidating the first time out. We like to keep the live ship tracking map up in our stateroom, so we can see where we are. This helps because I can see what islands are around us at any time. You almost always can see other ships off in the distance too, so you rarely feel alone.
By the end of that first cruise, I was totally in love, and now I find the ocean so peaceful. I crave that peace when I’m away from it, and it’s been a VERY long 2 years.
Travel with a home base
Cruising is one of only two vacations that I know of (RVing being the other), where you travel with your own home base.
Imagine visiting three different countries in a week, but never having to move hotel rooms, drive between them, check customs between each country, etc. Instead, you have one giant floating all-inclusive resort that takes you there.
So often with anxiety, we get in our heads that these big trips aren’t worth it, because they are so overwhelming. But because you have a place to go back and rest, it makes it so easy! There are often days where I will go out to port in the morning, come back and take a nap, and then find some fun activity to do in the afternoon before dinner.
Staff prepared to help you
Lastly, Royal Caribbean’s staff is the absolute best I’ve ever come across in the service industry. They make you feel at ease from the moment you step into the terminal. If you have any concern, they will do everything they can to put it to rights.
As anxious people, we naturally have a tendency to avoid asking questions or causing a stir if something isn’t to our liking, but I have found every single person to be extraordinarily helpful and genuinely kind. The staff wants you to enjoy your vacation, and they will do what they can to make that happen.
I did not want to go on our first cruise. I tried to get Mr. Mills to book an all-inclusive resort instead, but we had a special deal for Royal Caribbean. I was so nervous, and was sure I was going to be miserably anxious and overwhelmed the entire time. I came out of that experience not only happy we went, but absolutely in love with cruising.
In my opinion, it is the best vacation someone with an anxiety condition can take, because there’s so much preparation that is done to make sure you have a good time. Give cruising a chance, and come back and tell me how it goes! I can’t wait to hear from you!
Carnival Corporation has announced John Padgett will step into the role of president with Princess Cruises, effective immediately.
He will oversee all performance and operational functions of the line and its global fleet of 14 ships sailing cruise guests to nearly 400 destinations around the world annually.
He will report directly to Jan Swartz, group president of Holland America Group, which includes the Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Seabourn and P&O Cruises Australia brands.
Swartz herself has served as president of Princess Cruises since 2013.
Since July 2014, Padgett has served as chief experience and innovation officer for Carnival Corporation, responsible for guest experience innovation, development, creation and operations integration.
In this role, he helped transform the approach to creating differentiated guest experiences based on personal interactions and tailored to the interests and preferences of individual guests.
“John is the mastermind behind our state-of-the-art Ocean platform and was a key player in our fleet transformation, working closely with Princess team members in virtually every area of our operation to enable the MedallionClass experience for all our guests,” said Swartz.
Prior to becoming chief experience and innovation officer for Carnival Corporation, Padgett worked for 18 years with Walt Disney Parks & Resorts where he spearheaded the invention, development and implementation of guest engagement innovations.
“Carnival Corporation’s cruise brand portfolio, global fleets, destinations and most importantly dedicated shipboard and shoreside teams have provided an unmatched platform to drive guest-focused innovation,” said Padgett.
“The opportunity to lead the iconic Princess brand and to help take the cruise content – including hotel, food and beverage, entertainment, merchandise and destination experiences – to new levels is an absolute honour.”