It's hard to know who to turn to right now when it comes to getting answers to your burning cruise questions about future cruise credits, rebooking canceled cruises or simply: "When can I sail again?"
Travel agents are on the front lines of the current slate of cruise cancellations and rebooking and know better than anyone what travelers should expect during this uncertain time.
We spoke to Chuck Flagg, master cruise consultant with travel specialist Cruise Planners, and Rob Clabbers, president of Q Cruise + Travel, a Virtuoso member agency, and a luxury cruise expert, to get the answers to some of the crucial questions on cruisers' minds.
It's hard to know who to turn to right now when it comes to getting answers to your burning cruise questions.
From future cruise credits to onboard perks, rebooking to simply: "When can I sail again?" -- there are so many questions cruisers need to know right now.
We spoke to Neil Kirby, joint managing director of Travel Masters and The Travel Studio, on the Gold Coast, to get answers to some of the crucial questions on cruisers' minds.
When will I get my Future Cruise Credit? Does it vary by line?
The cruise lines are using different means to calculate and pass on Future Cruise Credits (FCC). Some are applying them directly to your customer profile in their booking system, others are sending details to travel agents and customers. Not all of the cruise line FCCs have been distributed or communicated to customers yet but in some cases we can process the rebooking now and apply the FCC when it is available.
When should I rebook?
Most of the cruise lines have a generous window for you to decide on what you would like to rebook so you don't have to rush and can decide in your own time. The only caveat is that there are some very good offers available at the moment, which may not last, and there will be lots of people booking the end of this year and next year already. We are also seeing people booking 2022 trips such as world cruises with lines like Silversea or Crystal.
You can also take advantage of the new flexible change policies, introduced recently to give you the confidence to book a cruise knowing that you can amend it with no penalty if circumstances change.
What about the perks I secured on the cruise I originally booked -- will they be transferred on to my next cruise?
You will not necessarily be able to get the same offers or added value that you had on your original booking; however, the cruise lines have a wide range of offers and it may be that the additional value of your future cruise deposit amply covers paying for the perks or allows you to upgrade your cabin selection. Sometimes if you pre-purchase things like onboard drink packages, excursions, or specialty dining, the cruise lines will transfer these to your new booking with interest. For example, some lines are offering 110 percent of the original pre-onboard spend.
Is now a good time to be looking for bargains in 2021?
Yes, there are some excellent offers available for 2021 and many people are taking advantage of them, particularly for the South Pacific in the first quarter of 2021 and the Mediterranean in the spring and summer months.
We know that cruisers and the cruise industry are very resilient but there is no better show of support than booking your next cruise. Many of the cruise lines have introduced flexible change policies so that you can amend your booking at a later date should circumstances change.
Will I get a refund or a FCC?
The cruise lines are all offering a Future Cruise Credit, in the first instance, which offers you great added value from your next cruise -- including being a higher value than you originally paid or additional onboard credit to spend on board. The focus of the whole industry is on postponing, not cancelling.
Can I sail to Alaska this year?
The news from the Port of Seattle is very recent and at this stage all we know is that cruises to Alaska have been suspended at least until July, so we cannot say when cruises to Alaska will resume. But we will be one of the first to know when it's back again.
Can I cruise to New Zealand or the South Pacific this year?
It's difficult to know at this point as there are so many factors to consider such as travel bans, if cruise lines are operating, and when governments will allow cruise ships back into their waters. Many of these things are out of the cruise industry's control.
What about Europe?
I think Europe will pick up quicker. Whether we are allowed to travel there as Australians is up to the government. However, I would like to think that cruising in Europe will see at least some commencement before the end of the European summer.
Can I take a Kimberley cruise this year?
The good thing about the Kimberley is these cruises are on small ships, so there isn't the pressure created by a large ship with 2,000 to 3,000 people onboard. I think it is likely that Kimberley cruises will start again once the Australian travel ban across the state borders is lifted. These cruises aren't travelling to the heart of cities, they're in remote areas, and the ships are small with less than 100 people. They're exactly the type of cruise that could be considered safe in the current environment.
What do you think the cruise lines will change onboard in light of the coronavirus outbreak?
Before the cruise lines temporarily paused operations they had already introduced heightened pre-embarkation screening measures, so I imagine we should expect to see these become the norm and be a lot more stringent in future. There is also the prospect of ‘fitness to travel’ for certain groups of passengers, such as the over-70s.
We know the cruise lines have been well aware of the importance of handwashing long before it became government advice; I can imagine that this will become even more prominent and readily available onboard and will be more rigorously enforced. We may also see the end of the self-service buffet, with all food being plated by servers at the food stations.
Some of the new wireless and contactless technology already available on some ships, such as Ocean Medallion, will be a valuable innovation in terms of minimising the need to touch surfaces and objects that others have also touched.
The cruise industry is the most innovative in the world so I'm sure there will be more to come. Guests onboard will also need to play a part in this and keep washing their hands!