Should You Cancel Your Cruise Given the Crisis? Here’s What We Suggest, Depending on When You Sail

Wondering if you should cancel your upcoming cruise that you have booked?

It’s a big decision, but with the current crisis, some passengers are considering it, and for good reasons.

View from a cruise ship of blue water

For some passengers, stay-at-home orders mean that getting to the cruise ship — definitely not deemed “essential travel” — is impossible. Others may simply be worried about the headlines surrounding the virus. Having thousands of people in any small space, whether it be a concert, an airport, or a cruise, runs a risk while the illness is circulating.

No matter the reason, there are many people that have booked cruises and simply aren’t sure about their upcoming trip.

Remember, the coronavirus has been in the public’s conscious for just about two months (it seems much longer). Many passengers book cruises months or more than a year in advance.

In other words, many people with cruises coming up in the next few months booked the trip in 2019 — well before the outbreak started.

So if you are in the situation of having an upcoming cruise, should you go ahead and cancel it now?

In our opinion, what you should do depends on when your cruise is setting sail…

Cruises scheduled to depart in the next 1-3 months

If you are setting sail soon, we’d suggest that most people don’t cancel their cruise right now. You could get a better deal by waiting.

Cruise lines first suspended sailings starting in mid-March, with tentative dates to return in mid-April. Since then, the major cruise lines have extended that return date to mid-May.

Now the CDC has extended its own “No Sail Order” that is expected to last until at least July. Most cruise lines have yet to officially extend their suspension, although Carnival has cancelled cruises until late June.

If you have a cruise that sails within the next three months, we think there is a good chance it will be cancelled by the cruise line. In that case, we suggest waiting for the cruise line to cancel instead of being proactive.

When other cruises have been cancelled, cruise lines have been generous with refunds. Most have given the option of a 100% refund, or a 125% cruise credit to use on a future trip. So if you paid $1,000 for your cruise, you would get your money back, or $1,250 to spend on a future trip.

Cruise lines have also implemented more lenient cancellation policies. For instance Royal Caribbean has its “Cruise With Confidence” deal that lets you cancel up to 48 hours before the trip for no penalty. Even so, if you cancel then you only get the option of a 100% cruise credit — and no option for a cash refund.

Bottom line: You’ll likely get a better deal if you wait to let the cruise line cancel your cruise. There’s no guarantee more trips will be cancelled, but with the recent CDC order, it seems a foregone conclusion.

If your cruise isn’t cancelled yet and you are covered by one of the more friendly cancellation policies, there is little harm in waiting until later to make your decision to cancel.

Cruises scheduled to depart in the next 4-6 months

View of ships departing Nassau

The good news if you have a cruise booked later on is that it will give more time for the world to hopefully get past the outbreak. The bad news is that it’s still unclear exactly when the crisis will abate and cruises get back to sailing.

If you have a cruise in the medium term, we’d suggest waiting until a little later to make a decision on cancelling.

First, there is the possibility that cruises may be suspended even into the next four to six months. The world has not seen a pandemic like this in recent history, so it’s tough to say exactly what will happen. If your cruise is cancelled, you should receive a generous cruise credit or your money back.

Beyond that, some cruises may be covered under the more lenient cancellation policies. Royal Caribbean’s “Cruise With Confidence” offer applies to sailings to September 1. Norwegian’s similar program runs to September 30.

If your cruise is covered under one of these policies, there is little harm in waiting. Also keep in mind that these policies could be extended as well, and a cruise that wasn’t covered might be covered in the future.

If you have a cruise that’s not covered, then you’ll want to consult your cruise line’s regular cancellation policy. They will have lower refund amounts closer to the sail date. For instance, a cruise with Carnival can be cancelled up to 56 days before sailing with only the deposit as the penalty. That still gives you plenty of time from now.

We’d suggest waiting (with the cancellation policy in mind) to see if cruise lines extend their lenient policies should the outbreak continue. If not, and you still want to cancel, then try to do it before the penalty date.

Cruises scheduled to depart in 6+ months

If your cruise is more than six months out and you are interested in cancelling, then there is good news.

First, you have flexibility. Cancellation policies typically offer all your money back (usually less a deposit) if you cancel 2-3 months in advance. In other words, you can still wait a few months and make your decision later. You can likely get the bulk of your money back even without any special concessions from the cruise line.

Second, with that much time between now and when your cruise sails, it’s possible that things could look very different than they do today. In terms of this crisis, six months is an eternity. Six months ago was before Thanksgiving — prior to coronavirus even having its first case in the world.

There is simply no telling where things will be six months in the future.

We’d suggest not worrying too much right now about a cruise this far in advance, but keep an eye on things.

If the situation still looks bad in a few months and you’re uncomfortable cruising, you should have plenty of time to cancel and still get most of your fare back.

Frequently Asked Questions About Cruising & Cancelling During the Crisis

Aft view of the ship

When will cruises return to sailing?
As this point, no one knows for certain. Cruises first suspended sailing in mid-March, with plans to return in April. That’s been extended to May, but new CDC guidelines make that date seem unlikely. Put simply, the modern world has never been in this sort of situation. It’s tough to pinpoint exactly how things will play out.

In previous articles, we’ve estimated that cruises could come back in a limited capacity in August or later, but that’s just a guess. For now, it’s best just to assume it’s going to be at least several months before sailing resumes.

Are cruise lines going to do more to keep passengers healthy?
This is a near certainty. The stepped up sanitation and health screenings are likely to stay in place once travel resumes. But what we don’t know are the specifics of other steps the cruise lines might take. It has even been rumored that some lines may limit the number of passengers on a ship to better maintain social distancing between cabins.

Other features you can expect are more hand sanitizer stations, reminders about hand washing, and having staff serve all food instead of self-serve stations.

Can I cancel my cruise and get all my money back?
In some (but not all) cases. Many cruise lines have implemented more lenient cancellation policies for the time being. This includes some trips (typically those scheduled in the next several months) that you can cancel up to 48 hours before you sail and get a cruise credit to put toward a future trip.

As well, if you have a refundable fare and cancel well in advance, you can normally get your money back under traditional policies.

Where you won’t get your money back are with cruises that don’t fall under the friendlier cancellation policies (such as those leaving 6+ months from now) that aren’t cancelled well in advance. So if you have a cruise in November and don’t cancel until a couple of weeks before, you’ll likely see the regular penalties apply, which can be pricey.

How do I know what my options are for cancelling?
If you want to cancel and aren’t sure of your options, don’t worry. A lot has changed surrounding this crisis and it can be tough to keep up with. Simply call your cruise line and see what your options are. They will be able to explain any cancellation policies for your specific sailing.

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  1. You are quoted in the news saying cruising is no more dangerous than going to a sports event or concert. We don’t go to a concert for a week, which is what you’re doing on a cruise. You will get more than a hundred times the exposure from a cruise than a concert.

    • I definitely understand where you are coming from. But when I cruise, I don’t stand shoulder to shoulder with other people for hours on end like I would at a football game. And while you don’t go to a sporting event or concert for a week, over the course of a week you do have a ton of interactions. Say you went to dinner and a movie on Friday night, went to a concert on Sunday, an office Monday through Friday, and restaurants, grocery stores, and more during the week. Your interactions in day-to-day life add up.

      I’d be the first to say that you should be sure to practice good hygiene on a cruise. But that really goes for everywhere.


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