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Coronavirus: Booked a cruise and want to cancel? Here’s what you need to know

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Some cruise companies are easing their cancellation and rebooking policies amid the worldwide outbreak of a novel coronavirus that has been found on several cruise ships.

New policies are now being temporarily offered by major players in the cruise industry, including Carnival Cruise Line, Disney Cruises, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (RCCL) and Norwegian Cruise Line.

But prospects of getting your money back remain slim.

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The policies differ from company to company, but generally speaking credit is being offered for sailings until the end of spring. The credits can be used on any future trips, should customers cancel their trips in a specific time frame before the cruise’s departure, usually 24 to 48 hours beforehand.

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Herbert Wolf, a tourism expert who runs his own travel agency, said the offer of future cruise credit is standard across the board.

“The majority now, and this just happened over the past week or so, most of the major cruise lines — both ocean and river — have come forward with the option to cancel sometime within 48 to even 24 hours, not for a full refund, but for credit for future cruises,” said Wolf.

“Basically, not giving the money back, but giving the full credit … but I can understand why — it would unleash mass cancellations. It could possibly put them out of business.”

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Carnival Corporation, which owns several large cruise lines such as Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Costa Cruises and Princess Cruises, announced several policy changes for some trips departing between March 6 to May 31.

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Princess Cruises runs the Diamond Princess ship that was previously quarantined in Yokohama, Japan, over a widespread outbreak of COVID-19 that infected both its crew and passengers. It also runs the Grand Princess which has been sailing off the coast of California for the last four days over outbreak concerns.

An email from Roger Frizzell, Carnival’s chief communications officer, confirmed that the cancellation policy was “adopted by all of our North American brands,” as well as their P&O and Cunard cruise lines.

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Royal Caribbean will also allow its customers to cancel their cruises departing on or before July 31. People sailing with Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Cruises can cancel anytime up to 48 hours before they sail to get a future cruise credit that can go towards any departures in either 2020 or 2021.

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Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, which owns cruise brands such as Oceania Cruises, Regent Seven Sea Cruises and its own self-titled cruise line, also put forward a similar policy for its customers. Any cruises departing between March 10 to Sept. 30 can be cancelled up to 48 hours in advance for a 100 per cent refund in cruise credit for all trips until Dec. 31, 2022.

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“We understand travellers are thinking carefully about their next vacation, and we are here to reassure them that now is the right time to start planning,” Norwegian Cruise Line President Harry Sommer said in a press release.

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“Taking time off is important. It allows us to reconnect with the ones that mean the most to us.”

A press release from Disney Cruise Line confirmed that it would also follow suit with temporary policy changes.

The company will allow its travellers to change reservations up to 24 hours beforehand on voyages scheduled to depart between now and May 31. The 100 per cent credit they are offering would have to be used within a year of the original sail date, however.

According to Wolf, most of the Asia-bound cruise lines have already offered a full refund or a “very attractive” deal to customers that have opted to rebook.

Genting Hong Kong, which operates several cruise ships throughout Asia, has not responded to Global News’ request for comment.

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Wolf said that he wants to clear up misconceptions on the COVID-19 infections that have spread aboard cruise ships of late.

“This has basically been, out of how many thousands of ships? — this has affected two or three ships that have been in major news,” said Wolf.

“I’ve even gotten some new bookings.”

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Wolf’s remarks come after Health Canada issued a caution regarding travel on its website.

“Canadians planning cruise ship travel should be aware that infectious diseases, such as COVID-19, can spread quickly due to close contact between passengers,” read the advisory, which told Canadians planning to travel by cruise to check if their travel plans would be impacted by virus outbreak.

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To date, three cruise ships including the Diamond Princess have been confirmed to have passengers on board that tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

At least 21 people aboard the Grand Princess, which carries about 3,500 in total, tested positive for the virus. The ship is expected to arrive in Oakland on Monday after being cleared for docking.

In Egypt, a cruise ship carrying more than 150 people was quarantined following 12 positive cases of the virus on the vessel.

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READ MORE: Regal Princess cruise held off Florida coast as 2 crew await coronavirus testing

Another cruise — the Costa Fortuna — carried 2,000 and was turned away from a Malaysian port after it was found that 64 passengers from Italy, home to Europe’s largest outbreak, were on the ship.

Cruise ship MSC Opera also agreed to not enter a port in Malta despite no infections being confirmed on board. MSC did not respond to Global News’ request for comment on its updated cancellation policies.

Japanese health authorities have been criticized heavily over their handling of the Diamond Princess which confined more than 3,700 passengers and crew in quarantine last month. Close to 700 people were infected with the virus on board and a further six died.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Cruise ships ‘not designed as quarantine facilities,’ expert says

In total, the novel coronavirus has infected over 106,000 people and killed at least another 3,600 across 95 countries. At least 57 people in Canada have tested positive with the virus following the announcement of an outbreak of cases in a North Vancouver long-term care home Saturday.

With files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Press

Follow David Lao on Twitter

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david.lao@globalnews.ca