Will this pandemic sink the ocean liners we know and love?
Story: Joe Angione
February is usually the month when the cruise business gets under full sail, with dozens of ocean liners carrying millions of passengers to exciting ports around the world. Not this year, not so far.
Although new vaccines are reducing the threat of COVID-19 infection, many cruise enthusiasts remain extremely wary of booking passage on ships that early last year were the scene of massive numbers of infections, and lockdowns of thousands of passengers in staterooms not much bigger than a prison cell.
The pandemic has yet to release its stranglehold on the cruise industry. The Centers for Disease Control’s “no sail” order helped drag business down nearly 50 percent across all cruise lines in 2020. And business hasn’t improved much this year. This lack of revenue is making many cruise ships financially impossible to maintain.
Keeping cruise ships in operation is a costly matter. Carnival Cruise Lines, the biggest cruise company, reports that even when their ships are operational but not in-service carrying passengers–docked and shut down–they cost Carnival more than $250 million a month to maintain. There’s little revenue to offset these tremendous costs. About 60% of Carnival’s fleet is still idled at anchor, traveling nowhere, and generating no money.
So Carnival sold off six of its older ships. The line is also working on additional agreements to dispose of 18 more from its inventory and is delaying orders for four new mega ships due to the COVID fallout.
Royal Caribbean is another major cruise line with similar COVID-driven sales and revenue problems. Most of its 26 ships, including the industry’s largest luxury liners, are also stuck in port, locked down by lack of passenger interest that has worsened due to COVID fearmongering by government and health care authorities.
What is a cruise-enthusiast to do? Best bet is to hold on to your cruising dollars a little longer, at least until fall, maybe even until year’s end, when COVID vaccines have proved their effectiveness, and most of the travelling public have vaccine protection. By then, cruise deals will have reached their peak, with major ticket discounts and bonuses including waived gratuities, free alcohol packages, reduced prices at on-board specialty restaurants, and on tour bookings. Cruisers’ patience will soon pay off in big savings.