Cases Rise, Criticism Mounts, but Ships Keep Cruising (Published 2022) (2023)


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One day after the C.D.C. advised against all travel on cruise ships, thousands of cruisers partied like it was 2019. But worries about onboard policies — and frustration over quarantines — are rising.

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Cases Rise, Criticism Mounts, but Ships Keep Cruising (Published 2022) (1)

By Ceylan Yeginsu

(Video) How $300 Million Cruise Ships Are Demolished | Big Business

On the fourth day of a seven-day Mexican Riviera cruise, Jesse Suphan and other passengers onboard the Carnival Cruise Line’s Panorama were denied entry at the port of Puerto Vallarta, because of the number of onboard coronavirus cases. That was the first Mr. Suphan heard about the virus spreading on the ship.

“The captain announced that five people had tested positive for Covid and were quarantining,” Mr. Suphan, a 39-year-old revenue cycle manager, recalled in a telephone interview. “But, then, talking to the crew, they told me there were between 100 and 150 crew members who also tested positive, but the captain didn’t mention that.”

Two days later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told Americans to avoid travel on cruise ships, regardless of their vaccination status. The advisory, the agency’s highest coronavirus warning, came in response to a surge in cases in recent weeks, caused by the spread of the contagious Omicron variant.

But even as case numbers rise, and criticism mounts about the safety of cruising and over cruise line protocols in reporting cases to passengers, ships keep sailing and guests keep embarking, adamant that the onboard environment is safe because of stringent health and safety requirements, including pre-departure testing and vaccine mandates.


Consider the New Year’s Eve festivities held on ships around the world. One day after the C.D.C. announcement, as dozens of crew members and other passengers were confined to small cabins, infected and quarantined, thousands of revelers packed into ship bars, casinos and deck venues, partying like it was 2019.

Harvey Freid, 56, recently returned from a 17-day sailing to Antarctica, during which one positive case was reported. But Mr. Freid, an avid cruiser, is undeterred and is scheduled to go on a Caribbean cruise in late January.

“The cruise ships do a very good job of handling Covid, and I think it’s safer than my building in Miami and most places that I go on land, because people are vaccinated and cases are quickly identified and isolated,” he said.

On Wednesday, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line canceled several voyages in response to the growing number of coronavirus cases onboard some of their ships.

The cruise industry’s trade group, Cruise Lines International Association, called the C.D.C.’s warning “perplexing,” and said that cases identified on ships “consistently make up a slim minority of the total population on board — far fewer than on land.”

“No setting can be immune from this virus — however, it is also the case that cruises provide one of the highest levels of demonstrated mitigation against the virus,” the group said in a statement.

But some passengers are starting to question the effectiveness of health and safety protocols, and say they aren’t being informed of the full extent of coronavirus cases on board. They say they learn of the positive cases only after returning home and would have been able to make more informed decisions about their behavior and participation in activities, if they had been made more aware.

When Mr. Suphan booked his vacation, he felt confident that Carnival had good protocols in place, which included pre-departure testing and requiring vaccines for all crew and most passengers. But as the ship sailed, Mr. Suphan was surprised by the number of people he met who said they had been exempted from the vaccine mandate. He said there were not enough crew members to enforce indoor mask rules for more than 3,000 passengers on board.

Carnival said only a small number of passengers had been exempted from the vaccination requirement, but did not specify how many.

Mr. Suphan was also struck, he said, when a crew member told him that several infected crew were isolating on board when the ship departed from Long Beach.

“The fact that they had infected staff on board when the cruise left Long Beach means that they knew there was the possibility of more cases coming up after we left,” Mr. Suphan said. “But they still continued with the cruise so they could take everyone’s money. It feels like a cash grab to maintain payments.”

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Carnival said four asymptomatic crew members were in quarantine when the cruise departed, while others had been taken off the ship.

Reporting positive cases

Most major cruise lines do not publicly announce the number of coronavirus cases on board their ships, but they are required to submit daily figures to the C.D.C. Currently, the agency is monitoring more than 90 cruise ships, because of reported cases that have reached the agency’s threshold for an investigation. (An investigation is undertaken when a certain number of cases is reported among a percentage of passengers.)

Carnival has denied that the number of infected crew was as high as 100 on Mr. Suphan’s sailing, but has not disclosed the total number of people who tested positive. On Dec. 28, when the cruise was denied entry to port, the Jalisco state health ministry said 69 cases had been detected among the ship’s 1,450 crew members. That day, Christine Duffy, the Carnival president, called into the ship and briefed guests on the situation. Passengers said she did not give updated figures for positive cases, which many found concerning.

Chris Chiames, chief communication officer for Carnival, said the company takes its responsibility for public health “very seriously” and has implemented protocols that exceed C.D.C. guidance since restarting operations in the United States in June.

“The extreme majority of the crew who test positive are asymptomatic and detected through the random testing protocol, and they and their close contacts are put into isolation or quarantine,” Mr. Chiames said. “None have required escalated medical attention or hospitalization, and we have also moved most crew off the ship to complete their isolation or quarantine.”

Carnival declined to comment on its policies for reporting daily cases to passengers onboard its ships, but Mr. Chiames said, “the additional complications caused by the fast-spreading Omicron variant will require us to evaluate how to communicate moving forward.”

Testing positive

For many, the idea of testing positive for the coronavirus on a cruise ship conjures up the horrors of the major outbreaks in the early stages of the pandemic, when thousands of people were confined to their rooms for endless days while the pandemic raged through the ships.

The health and safety protocols that allowed U.S. cruise ships to restart operations in June have helped cruise lines contain the virus and avoid large outbreaks, and until now, many of the small percentage of guests who tested positive during sailings have been satisfied with the handling of their cases. Some even received complimentary food and champagne to their rooms and were flown home by charter plane.

But since more contagious variants like Delta and Omicron have emerged, causing cases to increase among passengers and crew, guests have started to complain about quarantine conditions.


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Richard Lewis, the chairman and chief executive of Savile Row Travel group, recently caught the coronavirus during two back-to-back Caribbean cruises with his family on board Celebrity Apex. It was his first cruise during the pandemic and initially, the protocols met his expectations and the experience felt relatively normal.

On day two of the cruise, the captain announced that there were two coronavirus cases on board the ship, which Mr. Lewis appreciated for keeping him informed. But there were no further announcements for the remainder of the week. That is when both he and his family started noticing changes.

“The staff were masking up a heck of a lot more, social distancing was being enforced between passengers and things did not seem right,” he said. “As we moved into the second week, some of the staff we became friends with disappeared and we found out they had gone into isolation. Then I started developing symptoms and tested positive and that’s when it became a nightmare.”

Mr. Lewis was moved from his “concierge class infinite veranda cabin” room to a standard cabin allotted for quarantines, which he said had a slightly oversized porthole and no fresh air. He had been under the impression that he could quarantine in his own room, saying the cruise line encourages people to book bigger rooms in the event that they will have to isolate.

Celebrity Cruises said its policy from day one was to move coronavirus-positive guests to a quarantine zone. Those identified as close contacts are permitted to isolate in their state rooms for 24 hours while they are tested and await results.

“Even the food was hideous,” Mr. Lewis said, sharing a picture of fried eggs, hash browns and bacon strips in a takeout container. ‘The first two meals were cold and appeared to have come from the crew canteen. It was only after I kicked up a fuss that I was allowed to order from the regular room service menu.”

That day, the captain announced that there were five coronavirus cases on board, but when Mr. Lewis pressed the doctor who visited him, he says he was told there were 16 cases.

“I know the cruise industry has suffered and I’m so supportive of getting travel back to normality, but there’s a serious lack of transparency and covering things up, and hiding them away is not going to help people make informed decisions,” Mr. Lewis said. Royal Caribbean Group, which owns Celebrity Cruises, said that passenger and crew members are informed when a threshold of virus cases has been met or exceeded.

“Publishing a dashboard of daily cases to all persons onboard is a less meaningful public-health mitigation measure than reinforcing continuous adherence to our industry-leading health and safety protocols, which has resulted in lower prevalence rates onboard than those found shoreside,” the company said in a statement.

Milly Parkinson, 28, developed coronavirus symptoms one day after returning from an eight-night Caribbean cruise with friends on board Royal Caribbean’s Odyssey of the Seas. While more than 50 people tested positive for the virus on board the ship, Royal Caribbean, like most cruise companies, does not require passengers to test before disembarking at their final destination.

“I took a test because I had symptoms, but think of all the people who were asymptomatic who just walked off the ship straight into the grocery store, a restaurant or a nightclub,” Ms. Parkinson said.

“We booked the cruise because we were convinced it would be a fun, safe bubble of vaccinated people,” she said. “But who were we kidding? There’s no place to escape Omicron.”

Follow New York Times Travel on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. And sign up for our weekly Travel Dispatch newsletter to receive expert tips on traveling smarter and inspiration for your next vacation. Dreaming up a future getaway or just armchair traveling? Check out our 52 Places list for 2021.

Ceylan Yeginsu is a London-based reporter. She joined The Times in 2013, and was previously a correspondent in Turkey covering politics, the migrant crisis, the Kurdish conflict, and the rise of Islamic State extremism in Syria and the region. @CeylanWrites Facebook

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Has the cruise industry done anything to address the criticisms of the negative impact cruising has on the environment? ›

The industry is beginning to control emissions by using an exhaust gas cleaning system (EGCS). According to CLIA, those systems can reduce sulfur oxide levels by as much as 98% and can reduce nitrogen oxides up to 12%.

Are cruise ships sailing at full capacity 2022? ›

Ships are all back to 100%

While it was nice for passengers to have less guests around, a less-than-full ship is not practical from a financial viability standpoint and the cruise industry had to get their ships sailing totally full again to maximize profits and make up for all the money lost between 2020-2022.

Why are cruises being cancelled for 2023? ›

MSC Cruises has announced the cancellation of multiple cruises scheduled for April 2023 due to the extended shipyard stay of the MSC Seaview in Malta. The company is now working to accommodate affected passengers.

What is the problem with cruising? ›

Cruises dump fuel and waste in the ocean

Their heavy use of fossil fuels means that even on a short week-long cruise, a person would produce the same amount of emissions as 18 days on land. They also emit large amounts of sulphur dioxide and carbon dioxide and have terrible waste management policies.

Are cruise ships really that bad for the environment? ›

Cruise ships are a catastrophe for the environment — and that's not an overstatement. They dump toxic waste into our waters, fill the planet with carbon dioxide, and kill marine wildlife. Cruise ships' environmental impact is never ending, and they continue to get bigger. They once were small ships, around 30,000 tons.

What are the negative social impacts of cruising? ›

Cruise companies and cruise ships negatively impact communities through air and water pollution, economic leakage and tax avoidance, as well as overtourism.

Are cruise ships sailing at full capacity 2023? ›

We're thrilled about what is in store for the cruise industry this year, with cruise lines back sailing at full capacity once again. In 2023, we will see the launch of many new cruise ships and experience a complete year of sailing to destinations that were closed to cruise travel for over two years.

Can you get off a cruise ship without an excursion in 2022? ›

You absolutely do not have to do shore excursions on a cruise. You are free to come and go at will from most cruise ships while they are in ports of call. Shore excursions are simply one means to explore the areas visited by the ship and to participate in available activities off the ship.

Are Royal Caribbean cruise ships back to full capacity? ›

In fact, ships sailing at full capacity has already happened on select sailings, "we have ships now sailing at 100% and we've had ships sailing at 100% now for several weeks out of the Caribbean, into the Caribbean market and a short product."

Will it be safe to cruise in 2023? ›

Cruising in 2023 is mostly back to normal following the pandemic-induced changes implemented across the industry in 2021 and 2022. Pre-cruise testing has been almost entirely abolished, ships are sailing at full capacity, and new ships are being constructed.

Which cruise line is shutting down? ›

Pacific Venus's last day of operations with paying passengers will be Jan. 4, 2023. For more cruise news, guides and tips, sign up for TPG's cruise newsletter. "We have decided to end the cruise ship business in January 2023," the line said in a cryptic, three-sentence statement posted on its website.

Why are there no more cruises to nowhere? ›

Unfortunately, changes to embarkation laws in 2015 meant that as of 2016, cruises to nowhere out of the US are no longer an option. Cruise ships that are registered out of the country are required to stop in a foreign port before returning to the US.

What month should you avoid cruising? ›

When is hurricane season for cruises? Hurricane season in the Caribbean runs from June 1 to November 30. The peak of hurricane season occurs between mid-August and early November.

Why did cruising become illegal? ›

Cruising was deemed illegal in 1986, due to its association with gang members. However, the cruising ban that arguably did little to hurt the popularity of lowriders is now lifted in California. This move answered calls for equality as many argue it was wrongfully targeting Latinos.

Is cruising illegal in USA? ›

Although cruising is often not a crime in itself, there are many illegal activities associated with it, and as such cruises are often monitored by the police or even closed.

Are cruise ships worse than cargo ships? ›

Cruise Ship Pollution

This reveals how disproportionately bad for the environment cruise ships are, releasing the highest amount of black carbon per ship of any vessel. Container ships, on the other hand, produce around a third of the black carbon per ship, at only 3.5 tonnes.

Is Cruising worse than flying? ›

While still uncertain, scientists' best estimate is that the total (CO2 plus SLCPs) climate impact of flying is about three times that of CO2 alone. But cruise ships also emit SLCPs, especially methane, and for simplicity here we'll compare only CO2 emissions in our cruise-ships-versus-airplanes analysis.

Are cruise ships safer than driving? ›

According to research compiled by the Daspit Law Firm, cruise ships have the lowest rate of deaths per billion passenger miles with 0.08. Compare that to 11.9 for rail travel, 3.3 for cars and trucks and 0.8 for commercial air, and traveling on the seas is a relatively safe venture.

What is the average income of cruise passengers? ›

Similarly, income earned by one-third of cruise travelers was from $100,000 - $199,000 annually, with another 28 percent from $60,000 - $69,000. On average, the annual household income earned by cruisers was $114,000.

How much money do cruise ships make per trip? ›

After subtracting overhead costs, a ship will make out with roughly $291 in net profit per passenger, per cruise. That means that at full capacity, a single ship like Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas might make $9.8m in revenue ($1.7m of which is profit) during one 7-day excursion.

What is the average age of cruise ship passengers? ›

The average cruise passenger is 47 years old. Caribbean cruises carry the youngest passengers with an average age of 43 years old. The oldest passengers can be found on world cruise ships, with an average age of 62 years old. 50% of cruise passengers are from North America.

Are cruise ships at 50 capacity? ›

Dream Cruises to increase its passenger capacity from 50% to 75% starting from December 1, 2021, due to the latest guidelines from authorities.

Are cruise ships always full? ›

Whether or not a cruise ship feels crowded depends on several factors, the two most important of which are the time of year and the size of the ship. Ships sail full year round, so don't expect to sail on a ship where only half the cabins are booked just because you're sailing during the offseason.

Are cruises at 50 capacity? ›

Cruise Lines Are Still Sailing Well Below Full Capacity

COVID-era occupancy means that almost all cruise lines are voluntarily operating at less than full capacity with some still operating at less than 50%.

What cruise lines are doing to minimize their negative impact on the environment? ›

Energy: Cruise lines place a high priority on energy efficiency as part of their environmental protection programs. Innovative investments include energy-efficient engines and hull coatings that reduce friction and fuel consumption, as well as energy-saving LED lights and higher efficiency appliances.

How does the cruise industry have a positive impact? ›

According to the UN World Tourism Organization, the cruise sector supports 1.2 million jobs and contributes US$150 billion to the global economy every year.

What are the positive and negative aspects of taking a cruise? ›

The positives and negatives of a cruise
Unpack less oftenDon't get to experience the local hotels/hostels
See multiple locations and portsLimited time in each local
Lots included in the priceAnything not included is expensive
Activities and lots of companyCan be loud and busy
5 more rows

What are two issues of cruise tourism and sustainability? ›

1 For this reason and all the activities associated with them, the cruise sector produces waste, consumes natural resources, changes ecosystem balance, and generates pollution and negative spillovers for host communities.

What are the biggest issues with cruise emissions? ›

How are cruise ships harmful to our environment? Cruise ships utilise enormous amounts of fuel. They also generate vast quantities of solid and liquid waste, often dumped into oceans and seas, affecting marine flora and fauna. The carbon emissions released into the atmosphere pollute the air.

Are cruise ships worse for the environment than airplanes? ›

While still uncertain, scientists' best estimate is that the total (CO2 plus SLCPs) climate impact of flying is about three times that of CO2 alone. But cruise ships also emit SLCPs, especially methane, and for simplicity here we'll compare only CO2 emissions in our cruise-ships-versus-airplanes analysis.

Are cruise ships worse for the environment than cars? ›

Every single day, cruise ships worldwide emit the same particular matter as a million cars. A single large cruise ship will emit over five tonnes of NOX emissions, and 450kg of ultrafine particles a day. To give you an idea, it emits about the same amount of sulfur dioxide as 3,6 MILLION cars.


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