Cruising Marks a 100 Ship Milestone in the U.S., But Will Omicron Hurt the Return?

There’s no arguing that cruising isn’t quite back to what it was before the pandemic. However, it is clear that the industry is making major headway as it returns to sailing.

Cruise ship in port
Ships are back sailing in large numbers, but will a new variant cause issues?

Case in point: According to CDC data there are now 100 cruise ships either sailing or preparing to sail from the United States.

This data comes from the CDC’s “Cruise Ship Color Status” monitor. Each day cruise ships currently sailing with passengers and visiting a U.S. port — or that plan to do so in the future — submit health data to the CDC for health monitoring.

The number of ships tracked has grown steadily over the past months. As of early August, there were only about 65 ships tracked. But by November 22, that number reached 100. (Today it sits at 101.)

Now, not all of these ships are back sailing with passengers. At last count, 76 were listed as sailing voyages with paying passengers. The remainder have crew only on the ship as they await their official return.

The ships that have returned come from every major cruise line, including popular names like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Disney, Celebrity, Princess, and more. In total, nearly 20 different cruise lines are represented within the 100+ ships.

Considering that this time last year no ships were sailing in the United States — and it wasn’t even sure when they would sail again — this marks significant progress in their return.

But will that progress slow due to a new threat?

Sudden Worries of a New Variant

As mentioned, cruising has been methodical in its return. Lines have started back with reduced capacities while also regularly adding new vessels. Now there is another obstacle to potentially deal with. A new variant dubbed “Omicron” has suddenly made headlines around the world.

Seemingly overnight, headlines have spread with worries about its potential impact on public health. Some headlines have called it the “worst-ever” variant, while others questioned if it could make vaccines less effective or lead to worse outcomes for those who get sick.

In shortened trading on Friday, the S&P 500 fell 2.3% on the news, while all the major cruise company stocks fell at least 10%. Countries including the United States and the United Kingdom quickly put in place travel restrictions from countries where the variant is widely found.

While there have been other worries about variants in the past (including Delta) the action surrounding Omicron has seemingly been the most sudden and far-reaching since the start of the pandemic.

Too Early to Tell What Will Happen Regarding Cruises and Omicron

At this point, however, while there is plenty of conjecture, there is little hard evidence about the variant. This includes if vaccines are still effective, how transmissible it is between people, and if cases are more severe than with other variants.

That also means there’s no word yet on how cruise lines will react to the news, if at all for right now. Already vaccinations are widely required across lines, as is testing within two days of setting sail from the United States. Some cruises also require testing at the terminal right before boarding.

But with cases of the new variant being found in more countries, there is concern that it’s already begun to spread widely. And with countries putting in travel restrictions, then there is a chance that cruises could be impacted — whether it be having to adjust schedules and ports, having to implement different protocols on the ship, or both.

To be clear, at this point there have been no major changes. As we’ve seen with this entire health crisis, however, the situation can change quickly. Given the sudden concern over this new variant and the moves already being made, it deserves watching.

The good news? As we saw earlier in the pandemic, if there are cancelled cruises due to Omicron, then passengers should expect a refund. As well, if you are worried about the virus, many lines offer relaxed cancellation policies that will allow to you cancel and receive a credit for a future booking.

In the meantime, all we can do is wait and see just what will happen. We’ll continue to monitor the news for any changes to cruises in response to this new threat.

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