by Dana George | Updated July 25, 2021 - First published on June 16, 2021
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Anxious to get out to the open seas? Most cruise lines require that you be vaccinated.
Whether you missed your annual cruise experience in 2020 or are saving credit card travel points to pay for your first time at sea, Carnival Cruise Line has confirmed plans to resume cruises from Galveston, Texas in July. The one catch? All passengers must be fully vaccinated 14 days or more prior to the start of their voyage.
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has clearly outlined requirements for cruising under their Conditional Sailing Order. Per these outlines, 95% of passengers and crew must be fully vaccinated. Some cruise lines -- like Carnival -- have decided that 100% of all passengers and crew must be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Carnival Vista is slated to resume service on July 3, and Carnival Breeze will accept passengers on July 15. According to Carnival, the cruise line is focused on the resumption of sailings out of Port Miami in July as well.
There are more than 50 cruise lines worldwide, with more than 270 ships ferrying passengers around the globe. As COVID-19 cases broke out onboard crowded ships in 2020 and countries closed their borders, thousands of passengers were stuck at sea. By March, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand banned ships arriving from foreign ports.
Cruising is big business. The industry brought in $34.2 billion in revenue in 2018 alone, according to KPMG, a global financial audit, tax, and advisory service. What's more, 62% of total revenue came from ticket sales, and the other 38% came from things like spa treatments, casino gambling, and short excursions. And it's not just the cruise lines that make out. For example, $2 billion is contributed to Caribbean islands due to cruise passenger purchases. For some Caribbean nations, that's nearly 6% of their GDP. An inability to cruise also impacts suppliers, like those that provide food to cruise lines. In short, the sooner cruise lines safely open for business, the sooner money will begin to flow back into local economies and businesses.
It doesn't help that in February 2020, the largest outbreak of COVID-19 outside of mainland China was on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, owned and operated by Princess Cruises. Roughly 20% of the ship's population tested positive for COVID-19, and 13 people died as a result. And just last week, as cruises resumed from the U.S., two passengers aboard the Celebrity Millennium, owned by Royal Caribbean Group, tested positive for COVID-19.
For passengers whose trips were canceled due to the pandemic, some cruise lines offered a special deal to keep their businesses afloat. Rather than accept a cash refund, these passengers could opt for "bonus credits" of 110% to 125% of the booking cost. For example, if they spent $1,000 on a ticket, the cruise line would give them a bonus credit of $1,100 to $1,250 toward their next cruise. By March 2020, around 76% of those offered the boosted bonus accepted the offer, which makes sense. For dedicated cruisers, a return of 10% to 25% beats any interest they might have earned by slipping their cash refund into a savings account while awaiting the reopening of cruise lines.
Carnival Cruise Line President Christine Duffy reports that the company has received support from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbot. It's worth noting that both Republican governors fought stringently against mask mandates as COVID-19 raged. In addition, according to the Tampa Bay Times, DeSantis's office sought to hide the fact that DeSantis received his first vaccination in April, perhaps to appeal to voters distrustful of the vaccines. And according to reports from the Texas Tribune, Abbott has banned the use of vaccine passports or other forms of proof that a person has been vaccinated.
It's impossible to know how either politician feels about Carnival's plan to require all passengers to prove they've been vaccinated. Because the CDC's Conditional Sailing Order requires only 95% of customers to be vaccinated, Carnival is going above and beyond. In fact, Florida is currently suing the CDC to have federal agency guidelines lifted.
While Royal Caribbean has backed away from requiring proof of vaccination, both Celebrity and Norwegian Cruise Lines say only vaccinated passengers may board their upcoming cruises.
Like everything else in society, the cruise industry may sputter back to life in fits and starts. As new situations arise, cruise line operators will look for more efficient ways to deal with them. In the meantime, cruise lovers can see the light at the end of the tunnel as more opportunities to cruise become available.
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