When will cruising resume and where? Certainly not in Canada anytime soon. On Thursday of this week the Canadian government banned cruise ships carrying more than 100 people until February 28, 2022. If you’re like us you’ll need to reread the date. Yes, that’s 2022. Some have called the extended ban a governmental overreaction. Uh, yeah. (Canada’s not alone – we’ll look at a similar development in New Zealand in a moment).
Canada’s ban on cruise ships wipes out the entire Alaska season as well as the New England fall foliage season for most cruise operators. That doesn’t mean that you can’t cruise to Alaska this summer. There are a couple of caveats that will allow ships to operate.
- Our neighbor to the north’s position could change as government officials there are permitted to rescind the ban should things improve.
- The ban effects only foreign-flagged vessels. A cabotage provision in the Jones Act requires that vessels flying so-called “flags of convenience” call on a foreign port when sailing between U.S. ports, meaning that most cruise ships can’t get to Alaska without a stop in Canada. That’s not the case for U.S.-flagged carriers. They’re not required to stop in Canada.
- The ban prohibits cruise ships carrying 100 or more guests and crew. Many small-ship operators carry fewer than 100 people, meaning that they could still stop in Canada while the ban is in effect.
U.S.-flagged operators include Alaskan Dream Cruises, American Cruise Lines, Lindblad Expeditions, Pearl Seas Cruises, The Boat Company and UnCruise Adventures.
American Queen Steamboat Company’s fleet also is U.S.-flagged, but those ships operate primarily on U.S. rivers. American Queen’s sister company, Victory Cruise Lines, operates foreign-flagged vessels, meaning that its Alaska season won’t happen unless the Canadian ban is rescinded.
With a capacity of 2,500 passengers, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America, sails Hawaii year-round under the U.S. flag, so it’s reasonable to assume that it too could be redeployed to Alaska, bypassing Canada – if it weren’t for the CDC’s Conditional Sailing Order, which prohibits all cruise ships with more than 250 passengers from sailing in U.S. waters at the moment.
Now, The Good News
The Alaska season isn’t dead, and those who cruise in Alaska this year will get to do so on small ships, which is our preferred way to explore Alaska. As for elsewhere in the world, let’s not forget that cruising has already resumed, both on the oceans and on the rivers. Large ships and small ones cruised during the pandemic last year and will resume – or have already resumed – again this year.
On the oceans: After a pause, MSC is again operating in the Med; Costa is returning next month, after having sailed through late fall; Silversea cruised for two months this past summer while under charter in Saudi Arabia; Royal Caribbean and Dream Cruises’ large ships are operating out of Singapore; SeaDream sailed successfully through the summer in Norway, but its first Caribbean sailing was cut short by Covid cases on board.
Ponant, which sailed in Europe during summer and fall, was to resume this month in New Zealand for locals only. New Zealand’s Ministry of Health had given the green light for Ponant to operate, and the company was in the process of positioning a ship there when the cruise line was denied entry due to visas.
That was an unfortunate overstep by immigration authorities in our view. The New Zealand Cruise Association characterized similar sentiments in a statement: “This cruel blow will be even more keenly felt within our harder hit regional communities. Now all opportunity has gone for this season and with it the small glimmer of hope that we all had. The industry has been abandoned by our Government.”
On the rivers, AmaWaterways operated without incident on the Rhine during the summer and fall. The company will begin operations again in the spring and expects to be carrying North American passengers in Europe this summer. CroisiEurope carried more than 11,000 guests on 152 cruises, mainly on French rivers. The company will begin sailing again this spring, as is the norm in river cruising, where no river cruisers operate during the months for the most part of January and February.
Here’s our best guess as to when the industry will begin its broader recovery and where.
- River cruises will begin again in the spring, but only for Europeans. We expect North Americans to river cruise in Europe by late summer or early fall. See our poll Your Thoughts On When We Will River Cruise In Europe Again
- Spring sailings are not entirely out of the question for the broader ocean cruise industry, but only for select destinations and locals
- The British Isles could be among the first itineraries back, given Great Britain’s success with vaccinations
- Australia also could be among the first to see cruises resume
- Cruises in Scandinavia could begin again in late spring
- We expect expedition cruises to resume as early as the spring. The Galapagos could be among the first destinations to return in our view.
There are many hurdles, not the least of which are governmental authorities. The pandemic makes pivoting a useful attribute for survival, which is why cruise companies are planning for all sorts of contingencies. They’re ready to return as soon as they get the green light. So are we.
Well, that’s what we think. What about you? Start the discussion by leaving your comments below.