As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread in the U.S. and abroad, Princess Cruises and Viking Cruises have become the first cruise lines to temporarily suspend all sailings in order to help stop the spread.
Thursday morning, Princess Cruises announced via a statement on their website that they would be voluntarily suspending all cruise ship operations worldwide for the next 60 days, impacting voyages departing March 12 to May 10.
Noting that it is a “difficult business decision,” Jan Swartz, the president of Princess Cruises, writes that it is “widely known that we have been managing the implications of COVID-19 on two continents,” referring to the highly-publicized outbreaks — and subsequent quarantines — on two of their ships (Diamond Princess and Grand Princess).
“By taking this bold action of voluntarily pausing the operations of our ships, it is our intention to reassure our loyal guests, team members and global stakeholders of our commitment to the health, safety and well-being of all who sail with us, as well as those who do business with us, and the countries and communities we visit around the world,” Swartz continued.
“Those currently onboard a Princess cruise that will end in the next five days will continue to sail as expected” the statement reads — a decision made to ensure that post-cruise travel arrangements are not disrupted. Current cruises that were supposed to extend beyond March 17 will be cut short, and guests will be dropped off at the most convenient location.
Those with cruise plans that are now suspended will receive their money back in one of two ways: either a full cash refund, received after completing “an electronic form on Princess.com,” or through transferring the money to a future cruise of the customer’s choice. If the customer decides to apply their money to a future cruise, the company says they will add an “additional generous future cruise credit benefit” as an added incentive. The company says the future cruise credit can be used on any voyage departing through May 1, 2022.
Viking Cruises announced on their website Wednesday night that they would be “temporarily suspending operations of our river and ocean cruises, for embarkations taking place between March 12 to April 30, 2020.”
The statement indicates that passengers whose itineraries will be affected will be notified by Viking Customer Relations. Guests will have the choice between a full cash refund, or a voucher worth 125 percent of what they paid for the cruise to be used on a future sailing, which must be used in the next 24 months.
“I am writing today because the situation has now become such that operating as a travel company involves significant risks of quarantines or medical detentions, which could diminish the travel experiences for which our guests have been planning,” Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen wrote in the statement. “As a private company with strong finances, we do not have to worry about quarterly profit expectations – and that flexibility allows us the ability to do what is best for our guests and our employees, as we have always done.”
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On Monday, PEOPLE reported that the U.S. State Department had issued an official warning against traveling on cruise ships.
“U.S. citizens, particularly travelers with underlying health conditions, should not travel by cruise ship,” the statement read, noting that the “cruise ship environment” can foster an “increased risk of infection.”
The CDC also issued a similar warning, citing the “unusual nature of the novel coronavirus,” which “appears to spread more easily between people in close quarters aboard ships.”
“It has become clear that people with underlying conditions such as heart disease, chronic lung disease, diabetes, and other conditions that cause suppression of immune system particularly among older adults, are at a high risk of serious disease if infected with the novel coronavirus,” the CDC warned.
In their statement, the State Department also pointed out that those traveling onboard cruise ships could also be subjected to travel restrictions by local authorities at their ports of call outside the U.S., and that “repatriation flights” — flights sometimes used to bring Americans safely back to the States in times of crisis — “should not be relied upon as an option” to return home.
They also encouraged passengers planning on traveling by cruise ship to “contact their cruise line companies directly for further information.”