Cruise Ships and the Coronavirus: Everything You Need to Know

Update: The fast-spreading coronavirus has moved so quickly that much of the article below is now out of date. All sailings from the United States are suspended until mid-April. For more, see our update here.

You’ve no doubt seen the headlines about cruise ships and coronavirus. From quarantines to cancelled sailings to passenger examinations, there has been a constant stream of stories related to the illness and its impact on cruise travel.

Overall, the virus continues to spread. Current figures put the death toll above 600, with more than 31,000 falling ill globally. While these figures pale in comparison to those impacted by other sicknesses such as influenza (which is thought to have infected more than 22 million in the United States alone this season), the threat of an outbreak is a real danger.

Given all the news stories, you might be wondering how coronavirus is impacting cruise ships and what it might mean for your specific cruise. To help shed some light on the situation, we’ve covered a number of common questions about the illness and cruising.

Which Cruise Ships Have Been Impacted by the Coronavirus?

As of now, we know of four different cruise ships that have been affected by the coronavirus outbreak in some way (other than simple cancellations of sailings).

Diamond Princess

Diamond Princess: The Princess cruise ship has garnered the most headlines as it is currently quarantined off the cost of Japan for the foreseeable future. Media reports have confirmed 61 cases on coronavirus on the ship, a figure that has grown steadily over the past few days.

Holland America Westerdam: The Westerdam is effectively quarantined as well, but no passengers are confirmed to have the illness. The ship has been denied access to disembark by four countries, according to reports. This includes Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and the U.S. territory of Guam.

Anthem of the Seas: The Royal Caribbean ship is the latest to make headlines when it had several passengers screened for the coronavirus, including some taken for further evaluation. The story made headlines as the Anthem of the Seas was docked in Bayonne, New Jersey, making it the first case of a U.S.-based cruise to be impacted.

According the mayor of Bayonne, he was told him this was a “below low risk” situation.

The ship is currently scheduled to sail again on Saturday, February 8, according to the cruise line.

Update: Anthem of the Seas is now scheduled to depart on Monday, February 10 on a shortened itinerary. Results from coronavirus testing came back negative, meaning it wasn’t found among the ship’s passengers.

World Dream: The World Dream from Dream Cruises is reportedly in quarantine with 3,600 people near Hong Kong after eight former passengers tested positive for the coronavirus.

In addition to these ships, there have been a number of cancellations among cruise lines. For example, Royal Caribbean cancelled eight sailings aboard the Spectrum of the Seas, which is based in China. That cruise ship won’t sail again until March at the earliest.

Why Are Cruise Lines Being Impacted?

For all the fun they offer, cruise ships also put thousands of people in a relatively small space. With so many passengers (often from all around the world) and so many public shared spaces, there is a lot of close contact, which can spread illness.

As the CDC website says, “Although cruising has many obvious pleasures, potential health hazards are also a risk with cruise ship travel.”

In the past, we’ve seen issues with norovirus on cruise ships. But spreading illness isn’t limited to just stomach bugs. Other viruses can spread as well.

What Are Cruise Lines Doing About Coronavirus?

Despite the headlines, we think you can’t fault the cruise lines for not doing anything. As any illness on a cruise ship is bad publicity and not good for passengers, cruise lines are serious about containing the spread of any virus.

We’ve seen cruise lines already cancel sailings out of caution, even if the ships weren’t impacted by the coronavirus. As well, the industry as a whole has taken steps to stem the spread.

The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) is an industry trade group representing all the major lines. Its members have implemented all of the following:

  • “CLIA Members are to deny boarding to all persons who have traveled from, visited or transited via airports in China, including Hong Kong and Macau, within 14 days before embarkation.”
  • “CLIA Members are to deny boarding to all persons who, within 14 days before embarkation, have had close contact with, or helped care for, anyone suspected or diagnosed as having Coronavirus, or who is currently subject to health monitoring for possible exposure to Novel Coronavirus.”
  • “CLIA Members are to conduct preboarding screening necessary to effectuate these prevention measures. Enhanced screening and initial medical support are to be provided, as needed, to any persons exhibiting symptoms of suspected Novel Coronavirus.”

We’ve also seen some individual cruise lines take even stronger steps, including denying boarding to any passengers holding a Chinese, Hong Kong, or Macau passport, and denying boarding to anyone who has even been to the area in the past 30 days. Guests with any fever are also being denied boarding in some cases.

Cruise lines are also taking extra steps to sanitize their ships to help stop the potential spread of any virus.

Are Cruises From the United States Continuing to Sail?

As of now, it’s largely business as usual for cruises from the U.S., apart from the restrictions on passengers with illness, fever, or who have visited China/Hong Kong/Macau.

Anthem of the Seas in port

Anthem of the Seas has delayed its departure until February 8 to receive results from the CDC, but has been cleared by the authorities to depart according to the cruise line.

Update: Anthem of the Seas delayed its departure until February 10, and received negative results from the CDC.

Apart from that, the coronavirus seems to have little impact on U.S.-based cruises, at least for the time being.

Am I Going to Get Coronavirus on my Cruise?

We are not medical professionals. That said, in our opinion there seems to be little risk to U.S.-based cruises right now. The only word of a cruise from the United States having an issue is the Anthem of the Seas. The cruise line has said the four people being tested by the CDC showed no “clinical signs or symptoms of coronavirus.”

Cruise lines have also taken strong steps to keep their ships healthy, including bans on passengers who live or have traveled to the epicenter, and health screenings before boarding.

No one wants you to stay healthy on a cruise more than the cruise line. That said, there are certainly no guarantees, but we would not personally be anxious sailing on a cruise from the United States. 

Can I Cancel my Cruise Due to the Virus?

This is a question best left to calling your specific cruise line. We’ve heard of no line offering refunds for cancellation at this time on an unaffected ship. That said, the situation can change quickly.

Royal Caribbean has allowed passengers to cancel its scheduled sailing aboard Anthem of the Seas on February 7 (now sailing February 10), for a full refund.

If you are about to take a cruise and no longer wish to sail due to the coronavirus, check with your cruise line to see what options you might have.

When Will the Situation End?

No one knows when the issues around coronavirus will end. Even with drastic quarantines on travel in China and screening around the world, the illness continues to spread.

For everyone’s sake, we hope that it will end sooner rather than later.

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