9 Answers About Cruising During the Coronavirus Outbreak

For weeks the headlines about coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) and cruises have dominated the news. With several ships either quarantined or having trouble porting to disembark passengers, it’s been a big story.

Not only is there the Diamond Princess, where more than 600 passengers fell ill to the virus, but there have also been dozens of cancellations of cruises in the Asian region and drastic curbs put on who can even board a cruise ship anywhere in the world.

Of course with so much going on with cruising and the coronavirus, it’s understandable that people have a lot of questions about their upcoming trips. For instance, can you cancel a cruise if you are worried about the coronavirus? Will you be able to board if you have a fever? What can you do to stay healthy during a cruise?

We answer these questions and more below…

Can I Cancel My Cruise If I’m Worried About the Coronavirus?

If you have a cruise that’s set to sail in the next several months, then you are likely in luck. 

In response to the crisis, cruise lines have introduced much more flexible policies that allow you to cancel and get your fare back as a credit to use on a future trip. For instance, some lines allow you to cancel up to 48 hours before your cruise and get 100% of your cruise fare back as credit. Typical policies didn’t allow you to cancel less than 30 days before or risk losing all of what you paid. That’s changed.

We’ve compiled the new cancellation policies of each cruise line here. We suggest calling your cruise line directly to see exactly what your options are, as there is some fine print on when you can cancel.

Just keep in mind that the information regarding what cruise lines are doing for passengers can change quickly right now. The latest information about your specific cruise will come from your cruise line.

Can I Cancel For a Refund If I Have Travel Insurance?

If you have travel insurance and decide to cancel, refunds will depend on your specific policy. Most plans have a set list of predetermined reasons that you can cancel a trip and be compensated, such as illness or death. Simply cancelling because of what “could” happen normally isn’t covered.

Travel insurer AIG has this to say on their website, relating to the coronavirus:

“If you are considering canceling your trip due to the Coronavirus, please read your insurance policy thoroughly. Generally, fear of travel is not a covered event under most of our policies. Please also note that Coronavirus became a known risk on January 24, 2020 and, as such, any claim arising from Coronavirus may not be covered if the policy was purchased or the trip was arranged on or after January 24, 2020.”

That said, some policies offer “cancel for any reason” coverage. It typically costs a bit more and has some stipulations, but could offer some compensation if you decide you cancel your trip.

If you have this sort of coverage you might be able to cancel and get some money back. As AIG also says:

“If you purchased Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) coverage, you could be covered for a percentage of the loss, depending on the level of CFAR coverage purchased, and provided the trip is cancelled more than 48 hours prior to scheduled departure. Please refer to your insurance policy (or Description of Coverage) for details.

Before you cancel, double check your policy to make sure your situation qualifies.

Who Can’t Sail on a Cruise Due to the Coronavirus?

The specific policies of each cruise line can differ slightly, but they are largely similar. Cruise lines now have a general policy of denying boarding to the following passengers:

  • Anyone who has been to (including through airports) China, Hong Kong, Macau, Iran, South Korea, and areas of Italy under lockdown within at least 14 days before embarkation.
  • Anyone who has had contact with or helped care for anyone suspected or confirmed to have the virus, or who are currently being monitored for the virus.
  • Anyone who doesn’t pass a health screening called for by the cruise line at the terminal, which can include examining symptoms and taking a temperature.

Some cruise lines (specifically Royal Caribbean) are instituting more stringent requirements. This includes denying boarding to anyone who has recently been to or traveled through China, Iran, South Korea, and Italy. As well, passengers who have also come in contact (within six feet) of someone who has been to these regions in the last 15 days will be denied boarding. Health screenings will also be given to anyone who has traveled through Japan or Thailand in the past 15 days.

Other cruise lines are denying boarding to passengers who have been to affected regions in the past 21 days, just to be on the safe side.

Your cruise line should be in contact regarding who will be denied boarding due to the sickness. These rules are constantly evolving.

What If I’m Denied Boarding?

If you are denied boarding, then hopefully it won’t happen at the cruise port. Cruise lines have posted advisories, spelling out those that might not be able to sail. If you think you fall into one of these groups, it’s best to call your cruise line well ahead of time and let them know. They should be able to get you squared away, without having to travel all the way to the port.

That said, if you are denied boarding due to the rules around coronavirus, then you should receive a full refund on your cruise fare. As Norwegian Cruise Lines says on their website: “Guests who are denied boarding will be issued a refund when they provide proof of travel.”

Ask your cruise line for more specifics if this applies to you.

Will I Get Coronavirus On My Cruise?

Given the millions of people cruising, the chances of any one specific person coming down with the illness appear small, but there is a risk. We have seen coronavirus on cruise ships, and the virus continues to spread. 

In fact, the U.S. Department of State listed the following advisory on its website:

“U.S. citizens, particularly travelers with underlying health conditions, should not travel by cruise ship. CDC notes increased risk of infection of COVID-19 in a cruise ship environment. In order to curb the spread of COVID-19, many countries have implemented strict screening procedures that have denied port entry rights to ships and prevented passengers from disembarking.”

This is the most serious warning we’ve seen. To us, it’s not something to take lightly. Given the new cancellation policies with cruise lines, if your trip departs soon we think it’s a good idea to postpone at this time.

What If Someone Else Gets Sick on my Cruise?

Keep in mind that it’s not just your own health that can impact your cruise. Should someone else on your cruise come down with — or be suspected — of having coronavirus, it could cause issues with your trip.

The stories of extended quarantines and no approval to dock for cruises in Asia are well known. On these cruises, perfectly healthy passengers were caught up in the situation. We’ve also seen it with a Princess cruise off the coast of California.

A Carnival ship in Long Beach also had delays in debarking when a person on board required a coronavirus test. The test came back negative, but passengers had to spend an extended period of time on the ship until the results returned.

As well, Anthem of the Seas had a scare in February when it docked at Cape Liberty in New Jersey. Several people were tested for coronavirus. Although the tests came back negative, it caused a delay in the following departure, with the cruise line having to cut the next sailing short.

What Can I Do to Stay Healthy on my Cruise?

We all want to stay fit during a cruise, and with the headlines around the coronavirus, it’s especially top of mind.

The recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO) are simple: wash your hands regularly (or use hand sanitizer), avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth, and keep your distance from anyone coughing and sneezing.

Cruise lines have stepped up sanitation on the ship, and you’ll find hand sanitizer all around the vessel. 

When Will Things Get Back to Normal?

No one knows. While some metrics show there is progress as the infections in China and South Korea appear to be slowing, the virus continues to spread. This includes flare-ups in Italy and a spread in the United States.

As of now, Royal Caribbean’s Spectrum of the Seas — a China-based cruise ship which had several trips cancelled — is scheduled to sail from Shanghai at the beginning of April. Diamond Princess, which was quarantined, has its next cruise scheduled for late April.

Only time will tell if the outbreak is under control enough to let these ships resume sailing or if continued outbreaks will cause more issues.

Where Should I Go for Updates on the Coronavirus and Its Impact on My Cruise?

The best resource for your specific cruise is your cruise line. Since each line has its own rules about who can and can’t sail, and makes their own decisions about cancelling or adjusting itineraries, they should be your source for information about your trip. Your cruise line can also answer questions about cancellations or refunds if your sailing is impacted by the virus.

Below, we’ve listed links to the coronavirus advisories for several major cruise lines:

Have more questions about cruising during the coronavirus outbreak? Let us know in the comments below.

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  1. I cannot reach my cruise line by phone; the recorded message says the lines are down. How can I get information? I have tried several times, starting 2 weeks ago. I am not canceling, just want to upgrade. Pleasehelp!!

    • That’s a good question. It seems right now they are very busy. We’d suggest calling at off hours. Our phone call to a cruise line today placed us on hold for about 10 minutes before we hung up.


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