Cruise passengers may cancel without losing money amid coronavirus fears

The Grand Princess on Feb. 11 passed by the Golden Gate Bridge on its arrival in San Francisco from Hawaii. The ship, on which 21 crew members and passengers tested positive for the coronavirus, was allowed to dock in Oakland on Monday.
(Associated Press)

Cruise lines are allowing passengers fearful of a coronavirus outbreak to cancel their voyage without paying penalty fees. Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises, Azamara and Silversea will let travelers cancel up to 48 hours before they are set to sail and receive full credit for cruises later this year or in 2021.

“When circumstances are as fast-changing as they have been recently, it’s good to know you have the option to take a rain check,” Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of the parent company Royal Caribbean Group, said in a statement Friday. The policy applies to new and existing cruise reservations for departures by July 31.

How do you know if it’s safe? You don’t. A lot depends on you, your health and your tolerance for risk. Here are essential questions you must ask yourself.

Luxury brand Oceania Cruises also allows passengers to receive a future cruise credit if they cancel up to 48 hours for sailings between March 10 and Sept. 30. New bookings made by April 30 make the same promise.

Norwegian Cruise Line also followed suit. Passengers who have booked cruises through Sept. 30 may cancel up to 48 hours before the ship leaves and receive credit for a future cruise without any penalty fees. The credit for a future sailing must be used by Dec. 31, 2022. The policy also extends to new reservations too.


Princess Cruises, which has had two cruise ships affected by the novel coronavirus, also loosened rules about penalty fees on cancellations. Passengers set to leave by April 3 on a Princess cruise may cancel 72 hours before sailing and receive credit for a future cruise without penalties. Those set to sail between April 4 and May 31 who cancel by March 31 also will receive the credit.

Holland America will allow passengers to cancel 72 hours before sailing on cruises and Alaska land journeys through May 31. Full credits will be given for future cruises this year and in 2021 but must be rebooked by Dec. 31.

Princess and Holland America are rewarding travelers who choose to keep their reservations and sail now through May 31 with on-board credits.

Passengers and crew members on cruise ships have tested positive for the virus whose numbers have reached 95,333 confirmed cases worldwide as of Thursday. The first death from the virus in California involved a 71-year-old man from Rocklin in Northern California who tested positive for COVID-19 after returning from a cruise to Mexico aboard the Grand Princess. He died March 4. The CDC is investigating a small cluster of coronavirus cases among guests who sailed aboard the ship.

Currently about 3,500 people are stuck on the cruise ship off the coast of California. The White House on Friday announced that 19 crew members and two passengers tested positive for coronavirus, media reports say. The ship was supposed to sail from California to Hawaii but that itinerary has been canceled.

Last month the Diamond Princess was quarantined off of Yokohama, Japan. The World Health Organization reported that 706 people aboard the ship tested positive for the coronavirus, and the virus was responsible for three deaths, according to the WHO.

Cruise lines advise passengers to practice safe hygiene by:

  • washing their hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, particularly after bathroom visits and before meals and snacks;
  • covering their nose or mouth if they sneeze or cough; and
  • using hand sanitizer provided aboard ship often, being careful to rub the gel thoroughly and in between fingers.