Coronavirus: Cruise lines cancel and change itineraries amid mounting travel restrictions

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Quantum of the Seas

Cruise lines have responded to a wave of travel and entry restrictions from countries across southeast Asia by cancelling and changing itineraries amid the coronavirus outbreak. Harry Kemble rounds up all the latest developments.

Royal Caribbean International has cancelled two Quantum of the Seas sailings departing from Singapore on February 15 and February 24.

Affected passengers have been given full refunds, the line said.

A Royal spokesperson added: “Royal Caribbean’s number one priority is ensuring the health and welfare of our guests and crew.

“We will continue to monitor conditions and will share other itinerary adjustments should they become necessary.

“The Singapore market remains of great importance to us and we look forward to returning there very soon.”

Royal Caribbean Cruises has lifted its ban on passport holders from China, Hong Kong and Macau after adopting the controversial policy last week.

A statement from Royal Caribbean Cruises, parent of Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises, Azamara and Silversea confirmed the reversal on Tuesday.

Every passenger who has travelled from, to or through mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau 15 days prior to the departure date is still banned from boarding any of Royal’s vessels.

Norwegian Cruise Line has pulled its entire Asia programme for the newly refurbished ship, Norwegian Spirit.

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Norwegian Spirit with its new hull design.

All sailings between 15 and December 7 have been dropped and full refunds are being offered, along with 10% future cruise credit.

The line also said it would cover up to $300 per person for any air change fees.

“While it is always our intention to maintain original itineraries, at times, unforeseen circumstances require us to make modifications,” the line said. “We appreciate our guests’ patience during this time.”

Celebrity Cruises has cancelled Celebrity Millennium’s sailing departing from Hong Kong on February 15 and altered two Celebrity Constellation itineraries to avoid Singapore and Thailand.

Constellation will spend more time in Cochin, Goa and Mumbai, instead of calling into Phuket, Thailand.

Cunard ship Queen Mary 2 is to miss several ports in southeast Asia and will sail direct to Fremantle, Australia, during its world cruise.

The vessel had been scheduled to call into Phuket, Thailand; Pulau Penang Island and Klang in Malaysia; Singapore; and Hong Kong.

Cunard said the “various travel and entry restrictions…are increasingly impacting ship itineraries and connecting travel” across the world.

Holland America Line (HAL) ship Westerdam was stopped from docking in Laem Chabang, Thailand, a day after the ship had been diverted from Japan.

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Holland American cruise ship Westerdam who got turned away from Thailand yesterday (Tuesday)

On Tuesday, HAL said: “We are actively working on this matter and will provide an update when we are able.”

Princess Cruises on Wednesday confirmed a further 39 passengers onboard Diamond Princess tested positive for coronavirus. The total has now risen to 174 confirmed cases out of 3,700 passengers and crew on board.

The ship is the largest centre of cases outside China.

P&O Cruises is removing calls into Shanghai on March 5-6 and Hong Kong on March 9-10 as part of Arcadia’s world cruise and will announce alternative ports “as soon as possible”.

The UK line said: “We are very closely monitoring and assessing the impact of the latest developments and health advisories, as well as various travel and entry restrictions which are increasingly impacting ship itineraries and connecting travel.

“We are actively seeking to mitigate these risks to our guests and crew, and are making appropriate adjustments to our operations to protect all onboard our ships.”

Norwegian Spirit: Cruise company announce major renovations

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Cruise company Norwegian Cruise Line announced that their ship called the Norwegian Spirit will get their ‘most extensive ship renovation ever’. The renovation will consist of a modernisation of the whole ship as well as new bars.

 Norwegian Spirit refurbishment

Click the above image to view the modernisation.

Norwegian Cruise Line follows the money with itinerary optimization

The pier at Icy Strait Point. Alaska is one of Norwegian Cruise Line's most lucrative destinations.

The pier at Icy Strait Point. Alaska is one of Norwegian Cruise Line’s most lucrative destinations.

Last winter, the Norwegian Spirit did 11-day runs from Barcelona to the Canary Islands and back, a traditional warm-weather cruise in Europe’s colder months.

But on a recent conference call, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio described it as “one of the historically lowest-yielding areas” to sail.

Jump forward a year, and the Spirit will emerge in February from a $100 million drydock and head for Asia, where it will sail nine-day cruises around Japan and cruises of 12 days or longer to Japan and China.

Del Rio said it is an example of Norwegian’s strategy of itinerary optimization, in which the line looks for the highest-returning itineraries available at a given time and concentrates its ships in those areas.

Asia, Del Rio said, and other exotic itineraries will “take advantage of our huge customer base, our past guests who have never been to those areas because we’ve never sailed to those areas before.”

Norwegian is scouring its deployments to see where customers are willing to pay the most, and it is capitalizing on their extravagance.

One area in which it is loading up on capacity is Alaska, where other lines have traditionally reaped the market premium. Although Norwegian has been sailing to Alaska for 20 years, its interest deepened in 2018 with the success of the 4,000-passenger Norwegian Bliss in its first Alaska season.

Christened in Seattle, the Bliss was a smash hit, according to Norwegian — so much so that when faced with obstacles in the Chinese market, Norwegian pulled its purpose-built Norwegian Joy out of Shanghai and sent it on short notice to Alaska in 2019.

Norwegian Bliss, Photo credit Dave Jones – https://flic.kr/g/GZdoW 

Next summer, the line will repeat the feat, while also redeploying the 1,936-passenger Norwegian Sun to Alaska from the Bahamas — another low-yielding market, according to Del Rio.

In addition, to squeeze in more high-yielding cruise days, Norwegian is pushing the limits of what until now has been considered the cruising season in Alaska.

“Alaska used to be a three-month season — June, July and August. Now we’re getting there in April, and we’re not leaving until October,” Del Rio said. “It’s now a six-month season of very, very high-yielding — not only on tickets but incredibly high-yielding on onboard [spending]. And so we’re going to continue doing that.”

One of the keys to high yields in Alaska is to have land infrastructure that maximizes revenue opportunities from shore excursions as well as pre- and post-cruise extensions to lodging in the interior.

Norwegian recently announced a new aerial lift transportation system at Icy Strait Point designed to make its dock there more attractive.

The line is also extending the season in Europe, rather than bringing ships back to the Caribbean in October. Del Rio said he likes Europe because, for Norwegian, it means carrying high-spending guests.

In addition to North Americans, Del Rio said, “Guests for these itineraries do not come from locally sourced Europeans but from the rest of the world, including Australia, Asia and South America.”

He added: “And that’s a very important differentiator for us because we know that a guest who flies long distances to board the ship is a higher-yielding guest than one who drives their car or takes a bus or train to the port of embarkation.” 

Next year, Norwegian is going back to the eastern Mediterranean, another high-yield area that Norwegian was one of the first to drop in 2016 after a spate of terror attacks and a coup attempt in Turkey.

At times, however, the itinerary optimization strategy backfires. The most recent example of that is Cuba. It was a natural destination for itinerary optimization when it opened to cruises from U.S. ports in 2016, and NCLH put more resources, proportionately, into Cuba than some of its rivals did. 

But that also meant that when the Trump administration abruptly shut down U.S. departures to Cuba in June, NCLH was disproportionately hurt. In the third quarter, the withdrawal from Cuba reduced NCLH net income by $53 million from a year earlier. 

“The year-over-year comparisons are night and day, in terms of pricing, because Cuba’s demand was at such a high price,” Del Rio said.

Literally overnight, twice-weekly Norwegian cruises from Miami and Port Canaveral that had included Havana had to be repriced as “Bahamas-intensive” cruises, said NCLH CFO, Mark Kempa.

Redeployments that will fully take effect in the second quarter of 2020 will finally end the economic penalty that resulted, Kempa said. 

By sending the Norwegian Sun to Alaska next summer from Port Canaveral, Norwegian will halve its Bahamian deployment, “thus reducing capacity from this historically lower-yielding destination,” he said.