Coronavirus leads Tampa cruise lines to ease cancellation policies

Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Holland America and Celebrity have all relaxed their cancellation policies because of the outbreak.
Passengers wait to catch rides outside Cruise Terminal 3 after disembarking from The Carnival Paradise at Port Tampa Bay last year. JAMES BORCHUCK  |   Times (2017)
Passengers wait to catch rides outside Cruise Terminal 3 after disembarking from The Carnival Paradise at Port Tampa Bay last year. JAMES BORCHUCK | Times (2017)
Published March 9, 2020|Updated March 9, 2020

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TAMPA — Norwegian on Monday became the latest cruise line sailing out of Port Tampa Bay to relax its cancellation policies in response to the spreading coronavirus health crisis.

“Cruise vacations should be carefree, and the uncertainty around the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak is weighing on guests’ minds, providing a less than ideal start to their vacation," Norwegian president and chief executive officer Frank Del Rio said in announcing the policy.

The announcement came a day after the U.S. State Department warned that “U.S. citizens, particularly travelers with underlying health conditions, should not travel by cruise ship” in light of “an increased risk of infection of COVID-19 in a cruise ship environment.”

Related: State Department issues a warning to travelers: Don't take a cruise

Norwegian said passengers can cancel their cruises up to 48 hours prior to embarkation. The new policy applies to new and existing bookings for cruises through Sept. 30. Passengers who cancel will receive a future cruise credit for 100 percent of the cruise fare paid that can be applied to any future cruises Dec. 31, 2022.

Related: Cruise ship docks at Florida port after coronavirus test clears crew

“We understand the constantly evolving nature of the current environment is challenging and frustrating for our loyal guests and valuable travel partners,” Del Rio said. “Our relaxed cancellation policies are designed to put our guests at ease with the flexibility to cancel their booking and sail at a date in the future."

Last week, Royal Caribbean , Celebrity Cruises, which is scheduled to return to Port Tampa Bay for the first time in more than a decade in October, and Holland America, which is scheduled to return in November, announced similar policies.

Related: Coming this winter: Six cruises lines calling at Port Tampa Bay

As of Monday, cruise lines had not informed the port of any changes to their schedules.

“We’re not hearing anything regarding cancellations at this point in time,” port spokeswoman Lisa Wolf-Chason said.

Meanwhile, Port Tampa Bay is stepping up the deep-cleanings that its three cruise ship terminals get after each sailing, with particular emphasis on high-touch areas like railings, door knobs and countertops, and is making more hand sanitizer available for passengers at the terminals.

The port also is hiring a contractor, mPact Environmental Solutions, based near Greenville, S.C., to apply an antimicrobial treatment to its terminal’s surfaces that the company says attracts and kills germs for up to a month. When mPact is applied and allowed to dry, the company says, it leaves a thin bonded film that, at the nano-molecular level, looks like millions of sword-shaped road spikes. Those spikes attract and kill microbes, including bacteria and viruses, according to the company,

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Because the treatment kills germs mechanically rather than chemically, the company says microbes do not have the chance to develop into “super bugs” that are immune to mPact.

Related: Florida asks travelers who have been to China, Italy, Iran or South Korea to self-isolate for 14 days amid coronavirus fears