Johanna Jainchill
Johanna Jainchill

Last week's cruise cancellations were a reminder that the industry is not immune to the struggles faced by airlines, hotels and other hospitality venues that have had to cut service or even temporarily close due to the global surge in covid cases.

Royal Caribbean International canceled sailings on four ships departing from Florida this weekend, citing "ongoing Covid-related circumstances around the world." Travel advisors and passengers were informed of the change on Jan. 7, just one day before two of those ships were to set sail. Earlier last week, Norwegian Cruise Line canceled sailings on two ships from Miami, the Norwegian Getaway and Norwegian Pearl, through Jan. 14 and Jan. 17, respectively.

Sister brands Oceania Cruises canceled all of the Marina's South America sailings this month and next, extending to the Feb 26 cruise, and Regent Seven Seas delayed the return to service of two of its ships, the Seven Seas Navigator until March 9 and Seven Seas Voyager until March 26. Norwegian Cruise Line also pushed back the restart dates of six ships.

The cancellations have a particular sting because the cruise industry has maintained such stringent Covid protocols, which many consider to be the tightest in the business. Cruise is the only industry that tests every guest and where around 95% of the crew and passengers on a sailing are vaccinated.

The challenges of crewing up

It illuminates the particular challenge cruise lines have when a large number of crew test positive. Unlike airlines or hotels that have canceled or cut back service for the same reason last week, cruise lines can't send their staff home and bring on additional workers. Their staff is from hundreds of countries around the world. In fact, Royal Caribbean is using the now out-of-service ships the Vision of the Seas and Rhapsody of the Seas to house and care for Covid-positive crew. Those fully-vaccinated crew members are monitored by the medical team onboard while completing their 10-day quarantine period and then return to their assigned ships, Royal said. 

And cruise lines can't easily replace its crew on one ship with workers waiting landside. Replacement crew need to be flown in from their home country, and then they are subject to regular, Covid-era quarantines.

The hope within the cruise and travel industry -- and every other part of society -- is that omicron is widely expected to peak and come down almost as quickly as it surged. And just as officials landside are reminding us that while the surge might be reminiscent of the pandemic's onset in March 2020, a smaller percentage of infected people are ending up in the hospital with serious infections, thanks to vaccinations and omicron generally being more mild.

Cruise lines have been saying for weeks that most of its infected crew and passengers are either asymptomatic or have mild symptoms, which will hopefully enable them to cycle back into rotation, with increased immunity.

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