Patty Monegan plans to spend seven days cruising the California coast in September, then another week plying the waters off the Mexican coast in November. Monegan, 59, and her husband, Philip Keeping, 62, will be on two Princess cruises sailing out of Los Angeles. The couple, from Temecula, California, have sailed with Princess more than 55 times since 1986, and they can’t wait to board its ships again — despite the pandemic and the bad press the company received last year. Who doesn’t remember those haunting televised images of thousands of passengers stuck aboard the Diamond Princess and Grand Princess when COVID-19 outbreaks hit both ships, resulting in 10 deaths?
“Because of what happened, they’re going to take every precaution they can,” says an undaunted Monegan. “Everybody is going to be on high alert, so cruising is probably going to be safer now than it has ever been.”
In fact, when eight fully vaccinated crew members recently tested positive for COVID-19 before the inaugural cruise of Royal Caribbean's Odyssey of the Seas, the line postponed its departure for nearly a month out of extreme caution — though six of the employees were asymptomatic and the other two had only mild symptoms. (The vaccines aren't 100 percent effective at preventing COVID-19, but if you do get it post-vaccination, experts say you're most likely to experience something like a mild cold.) And when two fully vaccinated, asymptomatic passengers on the Celebrity Millennium tested positive, they were isolated for medical monitoring.
Many cruise lines are requiring that all passengers and crew members be vaccinated.
Even if Monegan is proven wrong and the worst happens, she insists she will have no regrets — her passion for cruising runs that deep. “I’m a spiritual and religious woman who likes her glass of wine every day. And when your number’s up, your number’s up. And if I end up going on a cruise ship with a glass of wine in my hand, rest assured I died happy.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s concerns about cruising during the pandemic (see box below) hasn’t curbed some travelers’ enthusiasm for setting sail, especially not among the hard-core loyalists that were hooked on cruising pre-COVID. A recent survey by the University of Florida found that 30 percent of Americans would consider cruising next year. Among avid cruisers, 30 percent said they were ready to sail last April, and 46 percent said they would sail next year.
Robust cruise sales jibe with the survey, as illustrated by these sales stats from Cruise Planners, an American Express travel representative. From January through May 2021, the company's cruise sales for 2022 departures were up 60 percent from the same time period in 2019 for 2020 departures. And CEO Michelle Fee says the company posted a record year for cruise sales in 2019.
Attractive deals and relaxed cancellation policies are certainly playing a role in luring passengers as cruise lines finally start to ramp back up after the extended CDC ban. Still, many cruising fans would likely return regardless. Here's why.
It's been too long
Norma Starr and her husband, Mitchell Schneidkraut, both 72 and residents of Birmingham, Alabama, have taken about 30 cruises over the past 15 years. But they haven't sailed since August 2019 because of COVID-19. It's the first time they've gone more than a year without cruising.