President Donald Trump on Friday expressed support for cruise operators affected by the coronavirus pandemic as a growing list of companies suspended their operations.
“We’re with them all the way,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “It’s a great industry. We will be helping them, and we will be helping the airline industry, if we have to. So far people haven’t been asking.”
Royal Caribbean is suspending its U.S. operations at midnight Saturday, the company said Friday. Its move followed Princess Cruises, Viking and Disney on Thursday.
Princess announced Thursday that it is suspending its global operations for 60 days amid the coronavirus pandemic that has already forced two of its ships’ passengers into quarantine.
All operations will be suspended March 12 to May 10 according to a statement from the cruise line shared with USA TODAY by spokesperson Negin Kamali.
“It is our intention to reassure our loyal guests, team members and global stakeholders of our commitment to the health, safety and well-being of all who sail with us, as well as those who do business with us, and the countries and communities we visit around the world,” Jan Swartz president of Princess Cruises, said in the release.
Passengers currently on cruises scheduled to end within the next five days will continue to sail as expected so onward travel arrangements are not disrupted. However, voyages that extend past March 17 will be cut short at a convenient disembarkation location for guests.
Under normal operations, Princess Cruises serves more than 50,000 passengers a day.
All guests affected will be have the option to transfer 100% of money paid to a future cruise of their choosing. To encourage this, Princess will provide additional “generous future cruise credit” to be used for cruise fare or onboard expenses.
People pay for cruises in various ways, including putting a deposit down, Kamali explained in an email to USA TODAY. Regardless of how they have paid, the amount put forward by a guest will be refunded by the line in either cruise credit or cash.
“Princess will honor this offer for those guests who had made final payment and cancelled their booking on or after February 4, 2020,” the cruise line said in the statement. “The future cruise credit can be used on any voyage departing through May 1, 2022.”
If a future cruise credit is not an option for some guests, they can submit a cash refund on Princess Cruises’ website.
“While this is a difficult business decision, we firmly believe it is the right one and is in alignment with our company’s core values,” Swartz said in a video posted to YouTube on Thursday.
Swartz said that the company will use the time to prepare Princess Cruises’ fleet for return to service.
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On Thursday, the Walt Disney Company announced they are suspending all new departures starting on March 14. The suspensions will last through March. The company also vowed to pay all cast members during the closure period.
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The Globus family of upscale tours – including Globus, Cosmos, Monograms and Avalon Waterways – announced Thursday that it was voluntarily suspending travel across all destinations through April 30.
The company also announced a “Peace of Mind” plan for vacations booked during the closure period. Customers can reschedule their vacation in 2020, 2021 or 2022, to any destination or brand without cancellation fees.
“We recognize that travelers are faced with a great deal of uncertainty right now, and we are committed to helping them through this situation,” Scott Nisbet, Globus president and CEO said in a statement.
Viking Cruises cancels all cruises until May 1
Viking Cruises announced it is cancelling cruises through April 30, becoming the first major cruise line to take such drastic measures in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Viking chairman Torstein Hagen wrote in a letter to passengers Wednesday that the company had made the “difficult decision to temporarily suspend operations” for river and ocean cruises beginning Thursday through April 30.
“I am writing today because the situation has now become such that operating as a travel company involves significant risks of quarantines or medical detentions, which could diminish the travel experiences for which our guests have been planning,” Hagen wrote. “As a private company with strong finances, we do not have to worry about quarterly profit expectations – and that flexibility allows us the ability to do what is best for our guests and our employees, as we have always done.”
A female traveler on a 29-passenger Southeast Asia river cruise was exposed “in recent days” to coronavirus “while in transit on an international airline,” Hagen told passengers, adding that she was not exhibiting symptoms but had been quarantined. “Separately, the remaining 28 guests will also be quarantined.”
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Hagen also cited other travel restrictions caused by coronavirus for the company’s decision: Major ports, “including Venice, Monte Carlo and Bergen” have closed for the time being, big tourist attractions from the Louvre to Tokyo Disneyland have been closed, and an increasing number of travel restrictions and lockdowns abroad and in the U.S. have squashed usual public gatherings.
“This is a decision we made with a heavy heart, but with present circumstances what they are, we are unable to deliver the high-quality Viking experience for which we are known,” Hagen added. “We will stand by our guests, employees and partners in these challenging times and hope that they in turn will stand by us.”
Guests whose trips will be impacted by the suspension can either request a total refund or a voucher for a future Viking cruise, valued at 125% of the original payment. Travelers are encouraged to contact Viking or their travel agent by March 25.
Viking’s announcement comes as some other cruises around the world work to prevent and contain coronavirus outbreaks between guests.
The passengers of two of Princess Cruises’ ships, Diamond Princess and Grand Princess, have been quarantined abroad and in the U.S. Nearly 700 people contracted coronavirus after being quarantined on board the Diamond Princess and at least 21 people have tested positive after being on Grand Princess.
Other ships have been turned away from ports for fear of the virus, including Holland America’s MS Westerdam, which found itself in limbo in February.
As of Thursday morning, coronavirus had infected more than 127,749 people and killed 4,717 globally, according to Johns Hopkins data.
Some people 70+ should be barred from boarding cruise ships, industry proposal says
Meanwhile, the state department, cruise industry and health experts are urging people not to board cruises still scheduled to set sail.
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) submitted a plan Tuesday to Vice President Michael Pence proposing enhanced measures across the industry as the coronavirus pandemic rages on, forcing two ships of passengers into quarantine and escalating fears on others.
According to the proposal, boarding should be denied to any person over the age of 70 years unless they are able to present a doctor’s note verifying their fitness for travel on a cruise ship, according to a person familiar with the situation but not authorized to speak publicly.
Similarly, any person with a chronic medical condition who could be at an increased risk if they were to contract COVID-19 should be barred from getting on a cruise ship.
At a briefing Tuesday night, Pence confirmed he had received CLIA’s proposal. “We’ll be reviewing that in the next 24 hours,” he added. “The President’s objective is for us to make cruise lines safer, even as we work with the cruise lines to ensure that — that no one in our particularly vulnerable population is — is going out on a cruise in the near future.”
Contributing: The Associated Press