May 26. Cruising, one of the hardest-hit sectors of the travel economy during the pandemic, is set to face tough times again this summer. It’s not just because of continued waves of Covid-19—though as of May 23, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was monitoring outbreaks on 84 of 93 cruise ships in US waters, all with the majority of passengers and crew vaccinated. Instead, difficulty reassembling staff plus inflation and war have knocked the industry off balance.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has upended many European voyages. St. Petersburg, traditionally the marquee destination on Baltic Sea itineraries, was largely dropped from routes by March. Now the ports in Sweden and Finland that replaced it face geopolitical unknowns of their own, while cruise operators anxiously await President Vladimir Putin’s response to those countries’ NATO aspirations. Routes may soon have to change again—or get nixed altogether, according to Colleen McDaniel, editor-in-chief of the website Cruise Critic.
Staffing shortages have resulted in a slew of cancellations for customers. Covid-related flight disruptions for returning crew were to blame for Carnival Corp.’s decision to limit capacity on its Cunard luxury line through July, forcing it in May to turn away customers already booked on its Alaska- and Europe-bound summer sailings. Same goes for Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., which unexpectedly announced it will sail its 2,186-passenger, Hawaii-bound Pride of America at just 40% to 50% capacity due to staff deficits. And the industrywide inability to obtain enough visas for crew amid a US State Department backlog led Carnival Cruise Line this month to temporarily close two restaurants on every ship in its fleet.