Cruise lines slashing prices up to 50%

2021, April 2: Cruise lines were aggressively slashing prices at the end of March 2021 in an all-out effort to bring cruisers back and to address mounting losses as the global coronavirus pandemic and cessation of cruise entered its second year.

Massive discounts of up to 30% off prices for luxury suites and 50% on bookings for future cruises were being used to entice cruisers to get in line. The evidence, however, suggested that regular cruisers did not need much to get them back. They had not gone anywhere but, rather, were waiting anxiously for a resumption.

Passengers enjoy the sun and deck relaxation aboard Caribbean Princess on a journey through the Caribbean. [Photo taken on February 7, 2020 early in the COVID-19 pandemic.]
A holiday at sea in a luxury ship that offers all the creature comforts not at home have made cruising the Caribbean addictive for millions. As such, the Caribbean, often referred to as the “cruise capital of the world” docks more cruise ships annually than any other single body of salt water on the planet.

For a year and more, however, up to the Spring of 2021, Caribbean ports that cater to the biggest and best oceanic cruise vessels did not receive cruise ship passengers.  The USA’s Centre for Disease Control effectively shut down the global cruising with its No Sail Order. That no-sail order, issued in mid-March 2020 and renewed later that year in April, July, September and October was still in effect one year later. The CDC’s no-sail order had, figuratively, driven Caribbean cruise business onto the rocks.

However, passenger demand for cruise vacations did not disappear even with the high death toll and consequent government restrictions on freedom of movement in countries all over the world. Quite the opposite. Demand for cruises among regular cruisers increased.

“As per the UBS bank report released on 31 March 2020, around 76 percent of the passengers whose cruises were cancelled due to pandemic have opted for a credit for future trips instead of a refund. Based on a recent survey from CLIA, 82 percent of cruisers are likely to book a cruise for their next vacation. Despite multiple outbreaks of COVID-19 and uncertainty over when sailing will reconvene, multiple report says that there has been increase in the booking for 2021 in comparison to 2019. This shows people are still looking forward to future travel on cruises, however, it may be harder to convince first-time cruisers. The poll conducted by shows 75 percent of 4,600 cruise passengers are interested in cruising after COVID-19 ends.” [KPMG Blog: COVID-19 impacts on global cruise industry, Monique Giese, July 23, 2020]

Year later

By the end of March 2021, several cruise lines were openly discussing plans to reposition ships to sail out of Caribbean ports instead of the USA. The idea was to circumvent CDC restrictions, which did not seem to be immediately forthcoming. Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises indicated that they would be sailing from Nassau and St. Maarten in June 2021. Royal Caribbean also indicated that Vision of the Seas will be cruising from Bermuda in June. Windstar Cruises announced that it would resume its Caribbean service on June 19 with Star Breeze.

Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) was baiting on its website: “Cue the calypso music and cruise to The Caribbean, where crystal clear waters and sunny skies await”; offering a grand time on its ships Getaway, Escape, Bliss and Encore to Caribbean destinations in Bermuda and The Bahamas. Carnival Cruise Line at the time said that they were not planning to sail out of foreign ports. However, Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis was urgent in his appeals to the US Federal government and the CDC to lift the no-sail order by June. He argued that Americans were still going to be taking cruises even if it meant embarking in The Bahamas or Bermuda.

With vaccines for COVID-19 developed and being distributed at the beginning of Spring 2021, Caribbean destinations were already preparing for docking cruise ships. Regional port directors, yet without firm confirmations for a restart, faced the awesome – if not frightening – responsibility of landing and accommodating thousands of cruise passengers every week while protecting their local population from the highly contagious coronavirus and even more contagious variants.

Cruise port directors were leading planning initiatives with port staff and consulting with stakeholder entities at the end of March 2021. Review of protocols and planning logistics for the resumption of cruise business, even in the absence of firm confirmations from client lines, were elevated to priority levels. Among the issues under discussion and planning in Caribbean cruise ports were:

  • Handling and management of port health documents during the clearance process (i.e., declaration of health; passenger lists; lists of crew members and vaccinated guests).
  • Monitoring and management of health documents after clearance is granted
  • Management of disembarkation to control the numbers coming ashore (to eliminate crowding and allow for physical distancing).
  • Preparation of space for isolating ‘suspect cases’ and for triage.
  • Management of toxic waste. —[]