Is cruising done until 2021? This cruise line thinks so

Jul 3, 2020

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It’s official: Cruising is cancelled for 2020.

Well, at least for one line.

Greece-based Celestyal Cruises on Tuesday became the first significant cruise operator to cancel all remaining sailings for the year. It said it wouldn’t resume service until 6 March 2021.

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The two-ship line, which specializes in Eastern Mediterranean voyages, is making the move in the wake of signals from European Union officials that American travellers may not be able to enter Europe for many months.

Celestyal relies on a significant number of Americans and other international travellers to fill its ships.

“We were optimistic that we would be able to resume our cruise operations later this summer”, Leslie Peden, Celestyal’s chief commercial officer, said in a statement. “However, given the prevailing uncertainty regarding travel restrictions through the balance of our operating season from our largest international source markets, coupled with the continuing discussions at the European Union level regarding the enhanced health protocols that will apply to EU cruise operations, we made the difficult but prudent decision to postpone resuming cruise operations until the scheduled start of our normal spring season next year”.

Celestyal’s announcement came the same day the European Union confirmed that American travellers would be banned from Europe until further notice due to the high number of coronavirus cases in the United States.

Celestyal normally only operates trips from March through December. Until Tuesday, it only had cancelled sailings through 30 July.

Like many lines, Celestyal until now had been cancelling cruises in waves, a few weeks at a time. But Tuesday’s announcement marked a significant shift in strategy. In one fell swoop, the line pushed back its return date by seven months.

The Celestyal Cruises ship Celestyal Crystal. (Photo courtesy of Celestyal Cruises)
The 1,200-passenger Celestyal Crystal is one of two vessels in the Celestyal Cruises fleet. (Photo courtesy of Celestyal Cruises)

“We felt that as a company, we have already put our travel partners and guests through enough date changes on when cruising could return safely”, Peden said.

“We will now shift our full attention to developing both 2021 and 2022 business where we are already seeing encouraging signs of pent-up demand”, he added.

Celestyal’s announcement comes as a few small cruise ships — mostly river ships — begin to resume operations in Europe. But the cruise vessels restarting trips in Europe are catering to local travellers who, in many cases, can drive to the ships. The sailings aren’t accessible to Americans and many other international travellers.

The ships restarting service also are limited in where they can go due to port restrictions. On Friday, Norwegian expedition cruise company Hurtigruten began 14-day sailings to Norway out of Hamburg, Germany, that — for now, at least — won’t include a single port call. The trips are aimed at local German travellers who can reach Hamburg easily by car or train.

Cruising in Europe for Europeans only is resuming earlier than cruising in North America and some other regions due to Europe’s success in reducing coronavirus case counts. Germany on Tuesday recorded just 498 cases of coronavirus. The United States recorded nearly 50,000 cases.

No cruise vessels have resumed operations in North America.

Celestyal’s extended cancellations point to the difficulty that many lines that rely on international travellers will have in restarting operations in the coming months if barriers to international travel remain.

Many of the world’s biggest cruise brands including Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises and Holland America have cancelled all or most sailings into September or October. But that doesn’t mean these lines will restart operations in the fall.

Executives at several of the biggest cruise companies have told TPG in recent weeks that a restart to cruising will depend on the course of the coronavirus pandemic.

While Celestyal is the first significant line to cancel all sailings into 2021, several other brands have cancelled trips on at least a few ships into next year.

Most notably, Windstar Cruises has cancelled sailings on three of its six vessels into 2021. One of the line’s three sailing ships, Wind Star, isn’t scheduled to return to service until January. Two of Windstar’s three motor ships — Star Legend and Star Pride — are slated to restart operations in March and July 2021, respectively.

Celestyal is offering passengers on the cancelled sailings the choice of a full refund or a credit for a future cruise in the amount of 120% of what they paid. Credits must be redeemed by 31 December 2021 for a sailing departing before the end of 2022.

Feature image courtesy of Celestyal Cruises.

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