Tracey Orfanides is watching for every bit of news that comes out about the novel coronavirus as she decides whether to cancel a cruise she is booked to go on this weekend.
“I’m still watching and waiting,” says Ms. Orfanides, who lives in Markham, Ont., northeast of Toronto.
She is is among the confused cruisers who are torn between cancelling and risking it. At the moment she is full of questions.
“What if I can’t get access to medical care? What about flying home? It’s really about what happens to us as Canadian citizens if we get quarantined or if we get it?” she says. “For me, it’s the lack of understanding what the process is going to be should it happen to me in a country that’s not my own.”
Medical authorities, though, are increasingly clear with their advice. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said Monday that Canadians should avoid all cruise ship travel because of COVID-19.
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South of the border, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases was even more blunt. “No crowds, no long trips and above all, don’t get on a cruise ship,” Anthony Fauci said during his appearance on Meet the Press on the weekend.
The fear of what might happen on a cruise, whether it’s getting the coronavirus itself or being quarantined because another passenger has contracted the virus, has left many Canadians scrambling to either get a refund or reschedule cruises they already have booked. The majority of cruise lines have responded to the crisis by amending cancellation policies to make it easier to get a refund or rebook.
Yet despite the warnings, some Canadians say they won’t let the virus change their plans to go on a cruise.
“It’s not ideal,” says Tim Pearce, a mechanic who lives in southern Alberta, referring to an e-mail he received from Norwegian Cruise Lines outlining their new “Peace of Mind” policy, which will allow him to cancel his booking up to 48 hours before embarkation and get a full refund in the form of a future cruise credit.
Getting all his money back in cash would be better.
But since that’s not happening, he’s been doing research. Specifically, he’s been looking up the likelihood of dying from COVID-19 based on a person’s age. For someone like him in his late 30s, the likelihood is very low, he says.
“This gives me peace of mind,” Mr. Pearce says.
He’ll be going next month on the week-long cruise with his wife and their three-year-old son, leaving from Miami and going to Belize and Mexico, among other destinations, he says.
If there happens to be a quarantine, that’s something he’s prepared to deal with.
“If the cost is nothing and all it is is a time thing … I’m not really all that concerned,” Mr. Pearce says. “You gotta relax. You gotta go on vacation throughout the year. We enjoy cruises.”
Amber Harris-Carniello enjoys cruises as well, having gone on about 10 of them over the past decade. But as soon as Carnival Cruise Line amended its cancellation policy to allow customers to cancel up to 48 hours before setting sail and receive a 50-per-cent refund and a 50-per-cent future cruise credit, Mrs. Harris-Carniello was on the phone to cancel.
As beautiful as the cruise she, her husband and their two children, 3 and 10, had booked next month, bound for San Juan and other Caribbean locales, the fear of being stuck in a quarantine was simply too much, says Mrs. Harris-Carniello, a hairdresser who lives in Bradford, Ont.
“I could not even imagine being stuck in a 300-square-foot room with two kids and my husband,” she says.
The vast majority of cruise lines have “significantly amended” their cancellation policies, says Donna Spalding, a spokesperson for the Cruise Lines International Association.
Most are now allowing customers to cancel up to 48 hours before a trip and receive a future cruise credit.
“This thing is a challenge for tourism overall,” she says. “The thing that is paramount to the cruise industry is that they want everybody to understand that they view the safety, the health and the security of their passengers as number one.”
Some cruise companies have even begun offering added enticements, such as on-board credits.
As for Mrs. Orfanides, her 13-year-old son is eager to go on the cruise they have booked. “He’s thinking, 'the boat won’t be that busy, I can have all the amenities to myself,’” she says. And she would love to get some sun and enjoy a vacation. But she is on the fence.
In light of recent statements from public health officials in Canada and the U.S., Ms. Orfanides is leaning strongly toward rebooking the cruise for a later date.
“I feel like they’re telling us now, don’t go, it’s at your own peril," she says.
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