As of late April, 2020, world cruising came to a complete halt, when the MSC Magnifica ended its epic voyage around the world that began way back on January 5, just about four months and a lifetime ago.
At the time, there were relatively few public stirrings about a mysterious virus apparently emanating from Wuhan, China, and passengers were treated to several stops in South America before rounding Cape Horn and heading to the South Pacific.
The rest of the Magnifica‘s voyage didn’t exactly go as planned (though, ironically, free of coronavirus, it was actually one of the safest places to be on the planet).
Rejected by some Pacific islands — the virus by now had struck several other cruise ships, which were all seeking safe havens and, in many cases, being turned away — the Magnifica made its way to a brief stop in New Zealand and then on to Tasmania, Australia, where no passengers were allowed to disembark.
An erroneous report said the ship had 250 infected passengers on board; actually, these were routine shipboard clinic visits, and no passengers were showing Covid-19 symptoms. But with a number of cruise ships reporting coronavirus outbreaks — and dozens stranded at sea with no place to to dock — such reports were enough to scare off local officials in most of the subsequent stops on the itinerary.
Passengers were given the option of leaving the ship on the Australian mainland, and some did just that — but most decided to stay aboard, probably on the assumption that it was safer there than boarding airplanes for Europe and elsewhere in the midst of what was now a pandemic.
According to reports, the remaining passengers kept in high spirits despite the inability to get off even at reloading stops, as the ship crossed the Indian Ocean and eventually reached Marseilles, France, its final destination, on April 20, 2020.
It was the last cruise ship still at sea, anywhere on earth, and by the time it arrived in Marseilles the world had drastically changed.
What Lies Ahead for Cruising?
On a highly (and highly questionable) optimistic note, many large cruise lines are taking bookings for July, and some for late June — even a few for later in May.
The United States, though, has issued an order for no cruise ships to leave or enter U.S. ports until July, at the earliest.
Meanwhile, cruise lines are offering enticing deals to try to lure passengers back on board, and I’ll list some of those in a future post.
But in a world with no vaccine, insufficient testing and contact tracing — especially in the United States, which has been hit hardest by the pandemic — how many people will actually want to cruise again anytime soon?
Baby boomers — now in their early fifties to early seventies — are not just especially vulnerable to this highly contagious virus due to age, they make up a sizable portion of cruise passengers, and would be understandably reluctant to take undue risks.
Even if the pandemic mostly passes, cruise devotees in general may rebel against the “new normal” in cruising if it involves everyone wearing masks, theaters held to 25 percent capacity to establish social distancing, strict seating arrangements in restaurants, and, somehow, figuring out how to stand six feet apart from their fellow passengers while waiting to disembark in ports.
Even more to the point, perhaps: which ports will even accept cruise passengers?
Besides any local opposition to passengers possibly spreading infection, many countries have imposed international travel restrictions that will have to be lifted, and this could take many months.
So — barring a miracle treatment or until there’s a vaccine that’s been proven effective and is widely used around the world — it’s hard to see how traditional ocean cruising can rebound in any meaningful way this year.
Small ship cruising, though, may offer better possibilities. With far fewer passengers and the ability to dock in small ports or drop anchor offshore, small ships may well present fewer obstacles — assuming you can even reach your international embarkation point.
Ideal Book for Armchair Cruising
As “luck” would have it, a new cruising book that I collaborated on with award-winning travel photographer Dennis Cox will be ready for distribution in a few days. Dennis is chief photographer for AllThingsCruise.com and has won Travel Photographer of the Year accolades from the Society of American Travel Writers.
It’s called Cruising the World — from Gondolas to Megaships. While I wrote most of the text, it’s primarily a book filled with Dennis’ most vivid images taken over decades of cruising — both on traditional ocean and river cruise ships and on a wide variety of other types of waterborne vessels as well, ranging from Venice’s gondolas to Hong Kong’s Star Ferry, Thailand’s sampans, Britain’s longboats, and much more.
The 200-page book covers cruising opportunities in dozens of countries on all seven continents.
You’ll take a pictorial journey from the barges and riverboats of Europe to the megaships that ply the Caribbean, from the small ships sailing the Galapagos to the shores of Antarctica, from vessels exploring exotic lands of the Mideast to the South Pacific and East Asia, from ships sailing the lakes of North America to the Panama Canal, and much more.
You’ll also pick up a bit of cruising history and lore along the way (that’s where I come in). The text brings you up to date on on much of the latest cruise ship technology and trends as well.
While you won’t be able to take most of these cruises right away, you can store up ideas for future voyages — I know I’m doing just that for some I’ve missed out on.
Cruising the World is available for $40 from Dennis’ website at www.denniscox.com, where you’ll find ordering details. Not sold at Amazon.