Cruise lines begin cancelling China sailings as virus worries grow

Jan 28, 2020

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Several major cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean and MSC Cruises, have canceled voyages out of China this week as fears grow about the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus.

Citing concern for the health of its passengers and crew, Royal Caribbean over the weekend said it was dropping both today’s and Friday’s departure of its giant, China-based Spectrum of the Seas –one of the world’s 10 biggest cruise vessels. MSC Cruises has canceled Tuesday’s sailing of its China-based MSC Splendida. Both ships sail out of Shanghai.

Also stopping operations out of China are Costa Cruises, Dream Cruises and new China cruise brand Astro Ocean. Costa has four vessels operating out of Chinese ports. Dream Cruises and Astro Ocean each have one.

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“The health and safety of our guests and crew is our primary concern”, Royal Caribbean said in a statement to The Points Guy. “We continue to work with the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and government health authorities to monitor the situation”.

In a statement to The Points Guy, MSC Cruises suggested the cancellations were at the behest of the Chinese government.

“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 28 January”, the line said. “At the time of writing, MSC Splendida is planned to remain in port for the duration of the cruise from 28 January until 1 February”.

Both Royal Caribbean and MSC Cruises said passengers on the canceled sailings would receive full refunds. Costa Cruises didn’t address refunds in its statement.

Royal Caribbean’s giant Spectrum of the Seas, shown here in Hong Kong, currently sails to Japan out Shanghai. The ship just debuted in 2019 and is the 10th largest cruise ship in the world. (Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean)

For now, the cancellations are having little impact on North American travellers, as the affected sailings were aimed at the Chinese market. But a prolonged shutdown of cruises out of Chinese ports could begin to affect North American travellers relatively soon.

Several ships that cater mostly to Westerners, such as Holland America’s Westerdam, Oceania Cruises’ Nautica and Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Millennium, are scheduled to arrive in China starting in mid-February as part of their winter Asia seasons.

The first ship aimed at Westerners that could be affected is Holland America’s Westerdam. It’s scheduled to depart from Hong Kong on Saturday on a 14-night voyage to Taiwan and Japan that ends in Shanghai. For now, cruises from Hong Kong still are departing, even as some attractions and venues in the city, such as Hong Kong Disneyland, have closed.

Westerdam will follow the trip with a 14-night voyage out of Shanghai that is scheduled to include calls at the Chinese ports of Qingdao and Tianjin (the port for Beijing) as well as stops in Japan and South Korea.

As of Monday morning, Holland America hadn’t announced any changes to the itineraries.

“Although the risks to our guests, crew and business are very low, we are closely monitoring the situation”, the line said in a statement sent to The Points Guy.

In light of the outbreak, Holland America said it was implementing stepped-up screening procedures for all of its ships, including a requirement for temperature and questionnaire screening for persons from affected areas. (This is how airports are screening travellers for this coronavirus.)

Cruise lines have expanded rapidly in China over the past decade with sailings that mostly are aimed at the Chinese market. While sailings out of Shanghai on Royal Caribbean’s Spectrum of the Seas are bookable on the line’s U.S. website, the trips have been designed with the Chinese traveller in mind. The vessel operates short, four- to seven-night getaways to Japan.

MSC Splendida’s round-trip voyages out of Shanghai aren’t even bookable on the line’s U.S. website. Costa Cruises’ four China-based ships also aren’t bookable from North America.

Costa Cruises is by far the line most affected by the outbreak so far. A division of cruise giant Carnival Corp., it already has canceled nine sailings from the Chinese ports of Shanghai, Shenzhen, Sanya and Tianjin scheduled to depart through 2 February.

Such widespread cancellations of cruises from an entire region are rare. The situation recalls the widespread cancellations of cruises out of Florida that occurred in 2017 as Hurricane Irma approached the state. More than a dozen sailings from major lines were canceled at the time.

The Wuhan coronavirus is part of a family of viruses that includes everything from the common cold to severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. Symptoms include nasal congestion, headache, cough, sore throat and fever.

As of Monday morning, the virus — officially called 2019-nCoV — had killed 81 people in China, according to government figures. There had been nearly 3,000 confirmed cases.

Featured image courtesy of Royal Caribbean 

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