Whoa: Cruise Bookings For 2021 Are Actually UP During The Coronavirus Crisis?

It’s taken as almost a given that the cruise industry is going to suffer for the long term. After seeing shifts sailing endlessly, not welcomed in any port, and becoming floating petri dishes for the spread of disease, who is going to get back on a ship?

As if the two words Diamond Princess weren’t enough to sink the industry’s ship, airline crew even refused to operate flights with cruise passengers on board last month after those passengers were cleared by CDC. And need I mention that a cruise ship was even attacked a couple of weeks ago by Venezuela’s Navy?

I still think the cruise industry has a high hurdle to clear, especially because their core customers (skewing much older) are also the most vulnerable for health issues, and because even international air travel may be limited for awhile. Yet here’s a claim that cruise bookings for 2021 are actually up compared to 2019. Say what?

Despite multiple outbreaks of COVID-19 on cruise ships in 2020, bookings for cruises are already on the rise of 2021, according to multiple reports.

In the past 45 days — as multiple cruise ships had serious COVID-19 outbreaks onboard — the cruise booking site CruiseCompete.com saw a 40% increase in its bookings for 2021 over its 2019 bookings.

A recent report from UBS also found that 76% of the people who had a canceled cruise in 2020 have chosen to accept credit towards a future cruise in 2021 as opposed to 24% who accepted a refund.

Bookings may be up because people cancelling trips ‘booked’ future trips with their credits, unable to obtain refunds. Survey results about ‘choosing’ a refund may not reflect the difficulties in actually obtaining one. Moreover, while there’s a poll out suggesting a majority of cruise customers will cruise again (at the same frequency) that could also just be bluster.

At least 35 cruise ships had confirmed cases of COVID-19. While Diamond Princess had the most, at 712, Carnival’s Ruby Princess had 612 and their Grand Princess had 78. 9 other Carnvial ships had cases. A dozen Royal Caribbean ships had cases, with Oasis of the Seas having 157 confirmeds.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I’m quite certain this is nearly all from people moving 2020 cruises to next year, which would account for a much higher volume than usual of cruises booked more than 12 months out. I personally know a lot of people who are doing this. In many cases the cruise lines are offering incentives to re-book or take a credit for future cruise vs. refund. However, we can expect that probably a much higher than usual percentage of those 2021 cruises will eventually refund.

  2. If the wet markets where one of the first businesses to reopen in China and folks still eat bush meat in various regions around the world, then why are people amazed that cruisers still want to cruise? The cruise industry will use a combination of Disney Cruise cleaning standards, coupled with higher levels of “cleaning theater”- a massive show of how much cleaner they are- throw in a free drinks package, and people will get on the boats, wash hands, and gamble with their lives.

  3. Gary, I think there will be a lot of stories coming out of the t ravel industry more in particular cruise lines such s this. What everyone has to worry about is the “second wave” of the virus that has been predicted by CDC and others as well as when do we have an effective vaccine for the CV19? Until we have that vaccine it’s going to be hit or miss.

    we have seen a lot of layoffs huge unemployment numbers, it will take a long time to get the economy back up and running frankly one thing is certain business as we knew it will change sadly a certain number of people laid off will not see their positions return, that one factor will have a direct relationship to measure travel going forward. Retirees as I am about to be this year will be much more selective in where they go and how they get there. Remember world population is growing and as it grows so do incidents like this one.

  4. Also, the magnitude of the revenue loss is likely to be greater than these numbers make it appear. In many cases, only a $400 deposit has been paid towards a $10,000 October 2020 cruise. That has now been re-booked to summer 2021 in exchange for a $150 credit. But prices will probably come down for 2021, and some portion will end up never taking the cruise at all, so that $10k expected revenue in 2020 is going to end up being much less in 2021.

  5. People were cruising even as ships get struck down with rinoviruses and half the boat spends the entire time in the bathroom. They’ll never give it up. But…does anyone know people under 40 who routinely go on cruises anymore? Maybe it will start to die out after the boomers blow their retirement funds.

    I went on exactly 1 cruise right after college graduation. Never again.

  6. @Steve-Pretty snarky and uninformed comment. Plenty of people under 40 cruise. The expensive and popular Disney cruises are full of them with their kids. Lots of “twenty somethings” take short Winter party cruises to the Caribbean. And wealthy individuals of all ages take cruises on the luxury and expedition ships.

  7. Snark was intentional. Cruises are awful and people who genuinely like them are not to be trusted.

  8. I struggle with the cruise issue. It’s a free country and people can do what they like with their money. If they want to get on cruises, and take the health risks that come with it, then so be it.

    But the cruise industry (and the people who take cruises) are going to really struggle to get any sympathy if there are more outbreaks on cruise ships in the fall. If the cruise industry doesn’t prioritize safety/cleaning, I think you’ll see a lot more ports just ban the ship from onshore as soon as there is the very first sign of the virus.

    Or if there is a ventilator shortage/scarce hospital beds, it’ll be hard to say that people who chose to take the risk of going on a cruise shouldn’t be lower on the priority list. You saw the Florida Governor start to do this with the Holland America ships a few weeks ago and I think that will become the norm.

  9. They are not up 40%, but down 32%, however many of us are waiting to use our very generous (and I really mean that) credits from cancelled cruises and to see what itineraries will be like. Europe will likely have smaller ships and the Caribbean and Mexico are going to be cheap and crowded. I feel Australia and New Zealand will be bit too. Asia and the Middle East, not so much.

  10. I was supposed to be on the very first Celebrity cruises cruise that was canceled out of Hong Kong- What I can say is this – Refunds are pretty much impossible to get – Even if they were offered (my cruise was canceled Feb10), refunds have not yet been received. I’m still waiting on lots of $$$ and have a dispute filed with the credit card now – Also – The future cruise credits offered for the cancellations have very specific language on them that requires cruises to be booked within 12 months or the certificate expires. So what we’re seeing (Ass mentioned above) is lots of people attempting to use their FCC. @Steve – Cruises are awful and people who genuinely like them are not to be trusted. — What an asinine thing to say

  11. This makes complete sense. Cruiselines weren’t giving refunds, but giving out vouchers for a future trip.

    So people are using those vouchers.

  12. Most cruise lines are offering either 100% refund in cash or 100% credit toward future cruise plus $300, $400 or more in onboard credit. In addition, 2021 cruise prices are stable and have not come down in price. When you add the demand to rebook with people pushing off their late 2020 cruise plans into 2021 it should help the cruise lines. I think anyone who can’t contribute anything other than “I hate cruises”, “Why would anyone”, “Petri dishes”, “I’ve never been on a cruise and would never” is talking about something they know little about. They are also buying into the media hate for cruises in general. Any type of mass transit has the potential for disease impact. Just ask NYC subway patrons.

  13. We are in the same “boat”. Cancelled cruise left with Future Cruise credit to be used by Dec 31,2021.
    With the proposed implementation of a vaccine 12-18 months out, we are looking to book something for November – Dec 2021.
    And true, most cruises for that time are very full, already.

  14. In March 2019 we were in New Zealand and hatched a plan to spend a week at the Le Meridien Isle of Pines. I double checked all the Aussie cruise sites to make sure there were no cruise ships hitting the island during our week. We planned around them. This February we visited Rapa Nui (Easter Island). On our first day a medium sized cruise ship anchored off Hanga Roa and unloaded its passengers via tenders. The wave of cruisers rolled up the street from the landing for about 2 hours (we were well ensconced in a great bar drinking beers and downing plates of raw yellow fin). Next day the ship was gone and the island much calmer for its absence.

    Not only would I never set foot on a cruise ship, I will continue to avoid their landings when we travel. They are just too damn big. They dump way too many people on their destinations at a time. How could any of these cruisers claim to have seen Easter Island when all they had was a quick walk around the town and dinner back on the ship? Not one of the cruisers who passed us by while we enjoyed some fantastic seafood stopped for a beer or a bite. They took pictures of each other, wandered the shops, then scarpered. Did not even walk the half a mile to the nearest Moai. Go figure. We had a week on the island, in a cabin complete with hot and cold running chickens and horses. Go all that way and not stick around a bit to get a sense of the island? Not for me.

    PS – I am a boomer, so it ain’t generational. I just do not like sameness, I travel for the differences. Not much of that going around cruiser-land.

  15. Some of it is people rebooking cancelled cruises. The data I saw last week says that’s not enough to explain the surge in 2021 bookings. The other explanation is pretty simple too: Many people would ordinarily still be booking cruises for 2020, but they’re not because of the uncertainty. Many of those people are willing to take a gamble on where things are in 2021 though. And we all want something to look forward to–the light at the end of the tunnel.

    My wife and I had booked a cruise in French Polynesia for this November, along with my in-laws. It’s on the small-ship Paul Gauguin. We have no interest in the mega-ships, but will happily cruise with 300 or fewer on a ship like that one or a European river cruise as long as the itinerary is focused more on time in port than at sea. We have not tried to cancel because it’s far enough away, but I think we all accept that we will likely have to delay the trip till 2021 or 2022. The biggest questions are going to be what they will give us to keep us from cashing out if they cancel the itinerary, and what do we do about the flights.

  16. Not only are bookings up but fares are up considerably for 2021 cruises. I had to cancel a cruise in August out of Venice (got full deposit refunded since cancelled 120 days out) and looked at 2021. Probably $1000-$1500 more for same cruise and cabin (2 bedroom suite).

    Won’t stop me if we really want to go but thought interesting. I would expect there to be sales to draw people back in. Other thing is what some have suggested and these are rebookings for 2020 cruises. On most cruise lines you can rebook and still get a refund on the deposit up to a certain date before the rebooked cruise leaves.

  17. The number is meaningless for at least 2 reasons –

    1) All those canceled cruises have a good portion of them are not being refunded in real $ paid, but sweetened future cruise credit to be used by end of 2021. Though a lot of people have not seen any such showing up in their accounts yet – ourselves included – we took the smaller incentives with 100% refund of our $, for an April 20 days Transatlantic cruise that would have ended in St. Petersburg – we have not seen either the 25% FCC or the 100% refund back to Chase Reward payment card (booked with UR pts.)

    2) ALL cruises booked can be canceled for 100% refund of deposit before the final payment deadline which typically being 75 days before departure, unless one opts for non-refundable deposits.

    Many Many Many experienced cruisers book 18 to 24 months early, especially when in the past only $100 deposit was required to hold a cabin. Eventually cruise lines changed the deposit requirement to a percentage of the fare, and later introduced the non-refundable deposits.

    However, there are often incentives on low deposits than normally required. It is just normal marketing ploys regularly employed to get you book first, think later.

    The cruise lines wont know their Actual bookings until much closer to their final payment dates – and once they get the much more solid booking numbers – you will see all sorts of incentives from throwing in extras to cut fares – at that time bookings would be Final – meaning you must pay within 24 to 72 hours after reserving a cabin – though a top cruise agent could often extend the hold period in a rolling fashion. We have done this many times when we would hunt for our long haul award flights to or from Europe when our cruise agent held a cabin for us.

    Unlike air travel, cruises are still largely booked with a human agent which has many added advantages over booking online, saying this from someone who have sailed over 40 cruises the past 15 years.

  18. @Steve

    Based on what you have said, in particular this germ
    <>
    just show how ignorant you are.

    That is fine, we dont need everyone be smart. We do need some ignorant people out there so the smart people can get the better things in life, that includes a very enjoyable cruise – be it on mega ship or small luxury ship – they each have their own characters and suit their targeted clients needs.

  19. A 21 person group of us (all diff ages) had a cruise booked out of Australia, going on to New Zealand, Polynesian Islands, Hawaii. It was cancelled with 100% refund or 125% cruise credit to be used within a year of cancellation. 25% was $2700 dollars. That is a very big incentive to re-book. Besides that, we all love cruising. To each his own for the ones that do not care for cruising, but no need to be obnoxious to those who DO like it. The cruise industry will live because there are man that share the love. For the obnoxious commentators, please use your actual name instead of hiding behind a pseudonym.

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