In early June, more than 800,000 cruise bookings were impacted by new U.S. government rules for Cuba travel, which took away “people to people” travel (the regulation under which most cruise travelers had previously visited Cuba). Most cruise companies were forced to cancel upcoming port calls to Cuba or voyages originating in such destinations as Havana or Cienfuegos.
The mass cancellations created chaos for cruise lines, travelers and travel advisors. Ships bound for Cuba turned around and substituted other ports. Cruise lines compensated guests with a mix of future cruise credits, refunds and other perks. But many guests were very upset -- some having booked their cruise solely to travel to Cuba. '
In a follow-up story, Travel Agent spoke with travel agents and industry leaders about how they handled the challenges of rebooking clients and explaining the situation."The late change of itinerary eliminating Cuba has been deeply disappointing and shocking to have sudden stoppage of all travel to Cuba," said Tom Baker, president, CruiseCenter, a Signature Travel Network agency in Houston, TX. His firm had 144 Cuba bookings that were impacted. Baker projected a "deep" impact to the lines, erosion of Caribbean ticket prices and added capacity in an overcapacity market.
In March, Viking Cruises’ 930-passenger Viking Sky lost power during treacherous sea and wind conditions. Passengers onboard posted videos of the ship rocking and furniture sliding across the floor as the vessel neared the rocky coast. At one point, the captain sent a mayday call to Norwegian officials and rescue helicopters evacuated hundreds of guests to safety on land during scary weather conditions.
Eventually, aided by tug boats, Viking Sky regained some power so further evacuations were cancelled and the ship was escorted to a dock in Molde, Norway. All passengers were listed as "safe,” although some were injured in the ordeal, the line said in a statement.
The 47,800-gross-tonnage ship was sailing from Tromso to Stavanger when it encountered the horrific weather—in an area known for rough seas and shipwrecks. Winds were gusting to 43 mph; waves were as high as 26 feet.
During the past few years, new cruise line private isle experiences have opened, and existing private isles have received renovations. That said, many travel executives and agency owners believe that Perfect Day at CocoCay, Royal Caribbean’s revitalized private island experience in the Bahamas, is a cut above.
This past spring, Travel Agent visited Perfect Day at CocoCay and published a slide show showing the experiences. Entry to the island from the cruise pier is shown below; photo by Susan J. Young.
From one industry executive's perspective, “the island offers so much for guests of all ages to experience from the impressive Thrill Waterpark [to the] one-of-a-kind Up, Up and Away helium balloon, dining, the relaxing Oasis Lagoon and much more,” said Ashley Hunter, senior vice president of strategic operations and partnerships, Avoya Travel Network. “We even have more to anticipate with their Coco Beach Clubs opening later this year.”
Carnival Corporation reached a plea deal with U.S. federal prosecutors as it sought to avoid revocation of its probation on a 2016 criminal environmental case involving Princess Cruises. For the past two years, all ships from Carnival Corp.'s brands have been following a court-supervised, five-year environmental compliance program. The company also previously had paid a $40 million fine.
However, with recent, additional claims of environmental violations (dumping of grey water and plastics), U.S. Federal Judge Patricia Seitz had threatened to revoke the company's probation in that previous case. In an unusual step, she had ordered Micky Arison, Carnival Corp.'s chairman, and Arnold Donald, the company's president and CEO, to attend the June 3 court hearing on the new allegations.
However, by the time the hearing date arrived, Carnival Corporation had inked a plea deal with the federal prosecutor and agreed to pay an additional $20 million fine.That agreement then was approved by the court, upsetting environmental activists who wanted the company's probation revoked.
A Carnival spokesperson said: "We heard the concerns expressed by Judge Seitz and will do our utmost to ensure we meet all expectations...and continue to strive to be best in class on environmental compliance. Our environmental responsibility has been and remains a top priority for the company. Our aspiration is to leave the places we touch even better than when we first arrived. This is in the best interest of our guests, our company and the oceans upon which we travel. We look forward to clarifying any issues and demonstrating our commitment.”
In May, Celebrity Cruises debuted its new luxury mega-yacht, Celebrity Flora, a 100-passenger expedition vessel s purpose-built for sailing the Galapagos Islands. Top features? Every stateroom is a suite, cuisine is curated by a Michelin-starred chef, and the suites have personal suite attendants.
It’s another step in the elevation of the Galapagos sailing experience with newer tonnage, more onboard features and destination immersion.
Fresh from a $50 million renovation, Norwegian Cruise Line’s 167,725-ton Norwegian Joy has repositioned from Asia to the West Coast of North America, nearly doubling the line's capacity there. This story was cited because it shows that Asia, while growing in popularity for cruise lines, is not necessarily better than North America. In April, Travel Agent sailed on this nearly new, 3,804-passenger ship, which is operating Alaska cruises this summer.
As a Breakaway Plus-class ship, Norwegian Joy (shown in the photo above) – while just two years old – completed a three week drydock in Singapore and a three-day wet dock in Seattle. The goal was to ensure that the ship had spaces appealing to the North American market. Norwegian Joy was updated with 13 new dining, bar and lounge venues.
Notable for clients? This is the only ship in Norwegian's fleet with Concierge Level accommodations and a virtual reality Galaxy Pavilion.
After losing power due to a "technical difficulty" while docking in Venice, Italy, MSC Opera scraped the dock and plowed into River Countess, a Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection river vessel. Video taken by bystanders shows the MSC Cruises' oceangoing ship blowing its horn continually to warn people, who were seen running as the large oceangoing ship hit the dock and damaged the river vessel.
MSC Opera was being guided into the dock by tug boats when the technical malfunction occurred and a tow line to one tug boat snapped. While an investigation is under way, the high visibility event contributed to local activist claims that big ships should not be allowed to sail within the Venetian Lagoon.
As a result of damage from the collision, Uniworld cancelled six cruises on River Countess, which was taken out of service for repairs. One cruise was cancelled on MSC Opera.
In a keynote address at Cruise360, Adam Goldstein, president of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., and global chair of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), told agents that the time is now to start learning about environmental and sustainability efforts – as clients are more likely to ask about those moving forward.
He told the trade audience that wherever he goes in Europe and across the globe, people ask about the cruise industry's environmental impact. Goldstein said the industry trusts agents in the sales arena and now is trusting them to become educated about sustainability and environmental issues so they can address client questions and concerns.
“It becomes part of your world slowly but surely,” said Goldstein, shown in the photo above. “Just as you train and receive certifications and learn about other crucial aspects of the business…so also will you come to this.”
A collision between a Viking River Cruises vessel, Viking Sigyn, and a smaller Panorama Deck sightseeing boat on the Danube in Budapest killed 28 people (most from South Korea) who were onboard that smaller tourist vessel. An investigation is under way. Video showed Viking Sigyn hitting the sightseeing boat from behind.
The tragic accident occurred near the famous Hungarian Parliament Building and the Margaret Bridge. At the time, Viking's spokesperson said: "Sadly, there have been reports of fatalities and we offer our heartfelt condolences to those affected by this tragic accident. There were no injuries to Viking crew or Viking guests. We have been and continue to cooperate fully with the authorities while they undertake their investigations."
There are revitalizations and refurbishments, and then there are refit projects that extend beyond the norm. One is the $200 million project to revitalize Carnival Cruise Lines' former Carnival Triumph, which was renamed and christened Carnival Sunrise in a ceremony in New York City.
The ship will sail from New York this summer and reposition to Port Everglades, FL, for the winter Caribbean season. Travel Agent talked one-on-one with Christine Duffy, Carnival's president and CEO, shown at far left with Kelly Arison, the ship's godmother, about what's new and special about the ship updates.
Overall, Carnival Sunrise is lighter, brighter and more contemporary in look than the former Carnival Triumph. It also gained 115 new accommodations. Many of Carnival's signature dining spaces were added. Plus, the theater was totally updated and reconfigured into a two-deck venue. During the first cruise after the christening, Travel Agent talked one-on-one with Duffy about the changes and what guests can expect.
Other Top Stories
Much other news happened in cruising this year too; these were also cited in feedback from travel agents and industry experts.
- Victory Cruise Lines re-launched on the Great Lakes under new owner American Queen Steamboat Company.
- Carnival Cruise Line kicked off its innovative WUATA (Why Use a Travel Agent?) initiative.
- Azamara rebranded and dropped "Club Cruises" from its name to focus more heavily focus on destination immersion.
- Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. will buy Grand Lucayan Resort and further develop Freeport harbor.
- Crystal River Cruises' first vessel, Crystal Mozart will leave the fleet for a new project in Asia planned by Crystal's owner, Genting Hong Kong.
- Oprah Winfrey christened Holland America Line's Nieuw Statendam at Port Everglades, FL.
- Silversea Cruises is developing a new S.A.L.T (Sea and Land Taste) culinary initiative, designed to immerse guests in global destinations via local cuisine.
- AmaWaterways introduced AmaMagna on the Danube; the new river vessel is nearly twice as wide as other European river vessels; Travel Agent will sail on this ship later this month.
- MSC Cruises inked a partnership with Martha Stewart for branded shore trips and onboard experiences.
- Virgin Voyages officially began selling cruises -- as reservations opened for its first ship, Scarlet Lady.
Stay tuned for cruise coverage throughout the rest of the year, and Top Cruise Stories of 2019 at year's end.