In the midst of a deadly coronavirus outbreak centered around Wuhan in Hubei Province, China, two voyages on Spectrum of the Seas from Shanghai, China, have been been cancelled. These short “Best of Japan" cruises were slated to depart today as well as on January 30.
Jonathon Fishman, manager, corporate reputation, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., told Travel Agent this morning: "In light of the latest developments with the coronavirus outbreak in China, we are suspending the January 27 and January 31 sailings of Spectrum of the Seas, currently our only ship homeported in China. We are working with our guests to provide full refunds for the cancellation. The health and safety of our guests and crew is our primary concern, and we continue to work with the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, and government health authorities to monitor the situation."
Costa Cruises also cancelled last Saturday's cruise of Costa Serena from Tianjin. Cruising in Chinese waters carrying Chinese guests, the ship berthed at Tianjin Port but "turnaround operations have been precautionarily stopped upon earlier order received by local relevant authorities in accordance with the plans developed to manage the nCoV coronavirus issue," the line's statement said.
On Monday, a spokesperson for Costa said that the line has also cancelled Costa Serena's January 31 cruise out of Tianjin, as well as Costa neoRomantica's January 25 and 30, as well as February 2, cruises out of Sanya; Costa Venezia's January 26 and February 2 cruises out of Shenzhen; and Costa Altantica's January 27 and 31 cruises out of Shanghai.
Costa also said it's "committed to provide a safe and healthy travel environment for all passengers and crew on board. We maintain long-term close cooperation with relevant public health authorities and ensure that all cruises adopt strict health precaution measures and procedures. All the ships in our fleet are subjected to strict hygienic precautions and employ stringent recommended sanitation protocols to minimize the possibility of transmission of infectious diseases."
MSC Cruises’ MSC Splendida, which also sources Chinese travelers, has cancelled its January 28 departure from Shanghai. That ship will remain in port for the duration of the cruise from January 28 until February 1.
Paige Rosenthal, communicators manager, MSC Cruises USA, told Travel Agent: "Due to urgent guidelines from the Chinese government to combat the spread of the coronavirus, MSC Cruises is required to cancel the upcoming cruise with MSC Splendida on January 28. Guests booked on this cruise have the option to receive a full refund of their cruise ticket and port charges, or book an alternative sailing with an equivalent price and receiving additional onboard credit – with an embarkation date before the end of the year."
Rosenthal said the line "will continue to closely monitor the public health and safety situation in China and are consulting with international and local health authorities, as well as the Ministry of Transport of the People's Republic of China, and strictly follow their advice and recommendations," she said, noting that guests and travel partners have been informed and will be kept abreast of any further changes as the situation evolves.
While these ships with cancelled cruises typically source Chinese guests, not cruisers from North America, some travel advisors wonder if it’s just the first of many changes planned in Asia cruise itineraries. Some clients are rattled, it's clear, even if their ship isn't headed to Shanghai.
“Clients are nervous,” acknowledges Ruth Turpin, owner, Cruises Etc., a member of Virtuoso, Fort Worth, TX. “I have four clients currently sailing on Crystal ending in Hong Kong. They have e-mailed me that they may want to fly home from Manila instead of ending in Hong Kong.”
Turpin's clients do have insurance, but Turpin has been told by the insurer that her clients won’t be covered for expenses in getting home if they end the cruise early even if a travel advisory is issued. They’ll only be reimbursed if they are quarantined, she learned from the insurer. “We are currently waiting for more information before they [the cruisers] decide" what to do, she said.
The virus situation is also impacting some China river cruises as well as tours. While Avalon Waterways does not operate river cruises in China, its parent company Globus does have some Yangtze River cruise offerings. Globus issued a statement for Globus, Cosmos and Monograms.
The statement said: "As a result of the recent coronavirus cases in China and the subsequent Chinese government-imposed closures to key tourist sites throughout the country, we are allowing any Globus family of brands guests with travel to mainland China that is scheduled through March 31, 2020, to re-book their vacation to an alternate date or destination in 2020 or 2021. The full value of their original China vacation (land portion) will be applied to the new one, although airfare changes may be required."
A spokesperson for Victoria Cruise Lines tells Travel Agent that China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism has issued a notification to companies in the tour sector requesting a temporary suspension of operations. As a result, the line is cancelling all sailings through February 16, a total of six off-season winter departures. Previously, the American-managed company’s operations had not been affected by the outbreak in Wuhan, which is more than 500 miles away from its office, which is in Chongqing.
“Victoria Cruise Lines will monitor the situation in the interim and continue to prioritize the safety and enjoyment of its valued guests,” the line said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is monitoring the situation. Coronavirus is a family of viruses that includes the common cold and viruses such as SARS and MERS. Thus far this new strain of virus has killed 56 people in several Chinese provinces.
In the latest update, the WHO says there have been more than 2,000 confirmed cases in China and 23 other cases in 10 countries across the globe. Quarantines in China have impacted tens of millions of people.
Confirmed cases have also been reported in Thailand, Korea, Vietnam, Japan, Nepal, Singapore, Australia, France, Malaysia and the United States. Five cases have been confirmed in Arizona, California, Illinois and Washington.
Airports around the world have opened up major screening checkpoints. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is monitoring the situation and has raised its travel warning to Level 3. It says travelers should avoid all nonessential travel to Hubei Province, China including Wuhan.
Hong Kong Cruises
While Shanghai is one port with ships that are mostly sourced with Chinese guests, Hong Kong is China’s most active cruise port in terms of international ship calls or turnarounds. To get a sense of how many vessels are involved, here's a list of cruise ships calling this coming week or during February in Hong Kong, according to CruiseMapper.com:
- Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Millennium;
- Crystal Cruises’ Crystal Symphony;
- Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2;
- Holland America Line’s Westerdam;
- MSC Cruises’ MSC Splendida;
- Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Jade;
- Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Seven Seas Voyager;
- Royal Caribbean International’s Spectrum Of The Seas and Quantum of the Seas;
- Silversea Cruises’ Silver Spirit; and
- Seabourn’s Seabourn Ovation.
Travel Agent reached out to all for any changes in schedules or other precautions being taken.
Silversea Cruises' statement said: "Our guests and crew are receiving enhanced health screenings before boarding. The health and safety of our guests and crew is our top priority. We are monitoring the situation closely together with health authorities, and our ships are prepared to take additional preventive measures as circumstances indicate."
On Saturday, Holland America Line – which operates Westerdam (shown in the photo below) on several voyages that visit both Shanghai and Hong Kong in February – told Travel Agent in a statement: “Although the risks to our guests, crew and business are very low, we are closely monitoring the situation. Our medical experts are coordinating closely with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to implement recommended screening, prevention and control measures for our ships.
The statement continued: “This will include pre-boarding health reporting for all guests, temperature and questionnaire screening for persons from affected areas and denial of boarding as necessary. Additionally, guests visiting our onboard medical centers for respiratory cases will be evaluated for the illness. Routine environmental disinfection onboard will also be done in addition to our regular stringent cleaning and sanitation protocols.”
That language mimics what parent company Carnival Corporation said in its own statement. Sister lines Cunard Line and Princess Cruises also said much the same in their statements. To date, none of those brands have announced schedule changes.
Norwegian Cruise Line is now checking temperatures for all guests planning to embark from a Chinese port. If guests have a temperature of 100.4 or higher, they won’t be permitted to board, nor will those either traveling from Wuhan or having visited there in the past month. Seabourn is taking similar precautions, according to the line's statement.
As for Crystal Cruises, in a statement issued Friday, the line said: "Crystal’s utmost priority is the health, safety and security of our guests and crew. As such, the company is closely monitoring developments related to the coronavirus including recommendations from the World Health Organization, whose latest update (issued January 24) continues to advise against the application of any restrictions on international travel as a result of the illness.
"In an abundance of caution and as preventive measures, Crystal has updated its pre-boarding public health questionnaire to include questions concerning the coronavirus as well as screening guests at the pier before they board for body temperatures of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher and/or showing signs of respiratory issues. If guests are determined unwell to travel, they will receive a full refund of their cruise fare, if they do not have insurance.
"Additionally, the line will deny boarding of any person who has traveled to Hubei Province or Wuhan, China in the 14 days prior to embarkation. The company has also canceled non-essential day visits to its ships when they are in port. As with any trip, travelers should check with public health authorities to be informed regarding health matters at the destinations they will visit, and exercise appropriate precautions."
Recently the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) cancelled the Cathay Pacific International Chinese New Year Carnival, after what it said was “the need to protect the health and safety of local residents, visitors, performing groups and working staff.” That celebratory event was originally scheduled to take place from January 25 to 28.
In addition, HKTB’s site says that “access control measures are being taken at terminals” so Hong Kong airport travelers are advised to arrive three hours prior to flight departure.
Tom Baker, president, CruiseCenter.com, in Houston, TX, is seeing “lots of concern over travel anywhere, and in general.” His agency has had one client cancellation for a Viking 2021 China cruise tour. So far, though, he’s hearing “lots of questions and concerns, but no rapid action.”
Christy Scannell, travel designer and franchise owner, Dream Vacations, San Diego, CA, has two well-traveled couples booked on separate Viking River Cruises trips to China later this year. Both mentioned coronavirus but neither is considering cancellation, since they have eight months yet prior to departure.
Scannell hopes the bookings stick, but says: “It’s always sad to lose business but my clients’ safety is my top concern so we will watch and adjust as needed.”
Coincidentally, Scannell’s best friend is now visiting family in Taiwan for the Chinese New Year. “She reports that the panic we are seeing is not how it actually is there, but everyone is being mindful of washing their hands often, and some are wearing masks,” said Scannell.
Stay tuned here for cruising updates. We'll post new updates as they're received.
Meanwhile, the WHO offers an online page with precautionary information and tips for international travelers. as well as Situation Reports that are daily updates about the virus' spread and severity.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also has a page with updates and information.