Being trapped aboard a ship with thousands of people as the new coronavirus spreads around the world isn’t the kind of serene vacation envisioned by most travelers, many of whom are delaying or canceling planned cruises at a time when bookings should be at their busiest.
Cruise lines, meanwhile, are struggling as they try to reassure nervous passengers at the same time that some of their ships are being turned away from ports by officials worried about the virus’ spread.
They also are moving Asia-based ships to other destinations such as Australia and Alaska, and are turning away potential travelers who have recently been in certain regions of Asia and Europe.
Uncertainty over the extent of the outbreak caused stocks of the largest cruise line companies to plummet over the past week. But the fear thus far seems to be psychological: While travel advisers have noticed fewer last-minute bookings for the normally popular time that extends from January through March, they said they weren’t seeing many cancellations yet.
“The cruise industry will take a hit. We just don’t know how big it will be yet,” said John Thomas, a professor at Florida International University who teaches cruise line management.
The new virus has infected more than 83,000 people globally, the vast majority of them in mainland China.
Some travelers are spooked by reports of a virus outbreak that killed 10 people and sickened 700 aboard a cruise ship quarantined for two weeks in Japan earlier this month.
And they are also aware of the possibility that their ships could be rerouted and never dock.
“What if something happens and my kids are without us for three weeks?” said Chris Ciciora, an accountant from Chicago who had planned to leave his 4-month-old baby and 16-month-old toddler with their grandparents while he and his wife took a seven-night Caribbean cruise leaving from Fort Lauderdale next week.
Ciciora said the couple decided to cancel the cruise after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned on Tuesday that the virus would inevitably spread.
“Nobody knows exactly how to treat this, what spreads it, how to contain it,” he said.
There have been no confirmed cases of the illness in Florida or the Caribbean, and only the one ship has had confirmed cases of the virus so far. But others have faced serious disruptions.
Officials in the port of Ocho Rios, Jamaica, blocked Italian nationals from disembarking from the Carnival Corp.-owned Costa Luminosa ship on Friday, the company said in a news release.
A ship operated by Swiss-based cruise company MSC Cruises out of Miami was turned away by two Caribbean nations earlier this week after a crew member got ill, even after the ship released records showing he had a common flu. The MSC Meraviglia went instead to Mexico, where authorities delayed disembarkation until Friday because a young female passenger on the ship had developed flu symptoms.