Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean, two of the cruise industry’s largest global operators, are temporarily halting certain cruises, marking the first mass cruise cancellations due to the omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Royal Caribbean said Friday it’s canceling cruises on three of its ships starting Saturday and postponing voyages on a fourth ship until March 7. One of the ships will remain out of service until April 26.
Norwegian had already said it was canceling voyages on eight cruise ships, nearly half its fleet, after the Norwegian Pearl on Wednesday returned early to Miami due to a COVID-19 outbreak among crew members.
In March 2020, the cruise industry was brought to an abrupt halt at the onset of the pandemic and it didn’t operate for over a year.
Cruising only restarted about six months ago, but the rapid spread of the omicron variant that emerged in the United States in late November is hammering the industry, as well as many other business sectors.
Miami-based Royal Caribbean said on its website that cancellations were “a result of the ongoing COVID-related circumstances around the world.”
The company is canceling sailings that were scheduled to leave Saturday on the Serenade of the Seas and the Symphony of the Seas. Also, the Jewel of the Seas voyage that was supposed to depart Miami on Sunday is canceled.
Passengers will be issued refunds, but the company warned that due to the high volume of refund requests, it may take up to 45 days for travelers to get their money back.
Meanwhile, Norwegian said certain ships only will stop sailing the remainder of January, while others will suspend trips through late April. Miami-based Norwegian, the world’s third-largest cruise line, operates 17 cruise ships.
All booked passengers will get a full refund plus a certificate for a future voyage.
“Our first priority is the health and safety of our guests, crew and the communities we visit,” the cruise line said in a statement. “Due to ongoing travel restrictions, we’ve had to modify a few sailings and unfortunately have had to cancel” certain voyages.
In recent weeks, several U.S. cruise ships hit with COVID-19 outbreaks have been denied entry to ports in Aruba, Curacao, Bonaire and Cartagena, concerning cruise industry leaders.
“The one worry, I’ll be honest, is that a number of destinations in the Caribbean are concerned and denying entry to cruise ships,” said Brian Salerno, senior vice president of maritime policy at Cruise Lines International Association, the cruise industry’s largest trade group.
“There’s an ongoing effort to work with Caribbean destinations,” Salerno said. “Cruise ships need places to sail to. Arriving at ports and getting turned away at the last minute is a very difficult thing for cruise ships to deal with.”
On top of turning around the Norwegian Pearl on the second day of an 11-day Caribbean cruise and arriving Wednesday back at PortMiami, the company also canceled a Jan. 5 voyage on Norwegian Getaway.
Many of those passengers got notice of the cancellation on the morning the cruise was supposed to depart, after some of them had already traveled to Miami from around the country.
Since Dec. 18, Royal Caribbean has experienced coronavirus outbreaks on at least three ships that left Florida ports, and Carnival Freedom also had infections occur during a voyage from Miami.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that between Dec. 15 and 29 there were 5,013 cases of COVID-19 among passengers and crew members on cruise ships, compared to just 162 in the previous two weeks.
Despite the resurgence of the pandemic disease and the Dec. 30 CDC advisory for people to avoid cruising this winter, no matter their vaccination status, other major cruise lines as of Friday had no plans to cancel voyages.
A spokesperson for Miami-based Carnival Cruise Line said all the ships are sailing as scheduled, acknowledging that even with the requirement for passengers over age 12 to be fully vaccinated, and other strict public safety measures in place, it’s “possible” there will be coronavirus infections on board.
Officials at MSC cruise line said that they are not halting any cruises.
Cruises on the following Royal Caribbean ships are canceled until the listed date:
• Vision of the Seas cruises postponed until March 7;
• Serenade of the Seas cruises from Jan. 8 to March 5 are canceled. The ship will resume cruising on April 26;
• Jewel of the Seas sailings from Jan. 9 to Feb. 12 are canceled. The Jewel will resume cruising on Feb. 20;
• Symphony of the Seas sailings from Jan. 8 to Jan. 22 are canceled. The Symphony will resume cruising on Jan. 29.
Cruises on the following Norwegian ships are canceled until the listed date:
• Norwegian Pearl cruises through and including Jan. 14;
• Norwegian Sky cruises through and including Feb. 25;
• Pride of America cruises through and including Feb. 26;
• Norwegian Jade cruises through and including March 3;
• Norwegian Star cruises through and including March 19;
• Norwegian Sun cruises through and including April 19;
• Norwegian Spirit cruises through and including April 23.
BY ANNA JEAN KAISER