The H1N1 virus causes a media feeding frenzy.
Flu Quietly Fades Away
The Swine Flu scare has all but disappeared from the limelight. Unfortunately, it left a fair amount of damage in its wake. Worst is where cruise itineraries are concerned. Mexico has been virtually eliminated from all cruise ship stops on both the east and west coasts, even though our analysis showed the main ports on the West Coast are relatively isolated from any outbreaks in Mexico.
In the Caribbean, Carnival and Royal Caribbean have largely replaced stops in Cozumel with additional time in Grand Cayman or Key West. Some cruise itineraries have substituted Montego Bay, Jamaica for Mexico port stops. On the West Coast, ships are sailing north instead of south. The two megaships, Carnival Splendor and Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas, had both sailed around South America to begin full-time Mexican Riviera Cruises just a few months ago, Now they are sailing out of the Los Angeles towards Canada.
The itinerary of Mariner actually offers a unique tour of great American cities I have no problem recommending to cruisers. It visits San Francisco, California, Mondays from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Victoria, British Columbia, Wednesdays from noon to 10 p.m.; and Seattle, Washington, Thursdays from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. If you are from the East Coast and have never seen the great American west this cruise is great. Starting as low as $449 per person you can sail one of the more popular Royal Caribbean Voyager-class ships to some of the most diverse and culturally compelling cities in the United States.
Say you are from Nebraska or North Carolina and you want to see the west. You would never get airfare, Amtrak or a car rental, plus hotel stays and restaurants to see all of these these cities at a price like this. I like the shore tour offered in San Francisco that takes you to the giant redwoods. In Seattle a trip to Pike's Market and the Space Needle are great. British Columbia is very beautiful as well.
Carnival Splendor's itinerary features more of British Columbia with visits in Astoria Oregon, Victoria and Vancouver. We heard rumors of cruises selling for as little as $199 per person on the May 3rd cruise, but going forward they are more expensive. Still, it is worth bargain shopping since the line just announced they are extending these cruises through June 16th.
Needless to say, many cruisers booked on Mexican Riviera cruises were very disappointed with the itinerary changes. Many of them said they booked the cruise solely for the warm weather and were not looking forward to going north instead. What can we say except, "we are sorry?" Both cruise lines offered the opportunity to cancel cruises and rebook at a later date.
We at CruiseMates predicted the whole "Swine Flu" scare was being overdone the day it broke. We understand the CDC must err on the side of caution and we don't blame them. We only wish a more specific travel recommendation had been announced. The truth is Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco have NO confirmed outbreaks of the virus, let alone deaths. Since we are sure other Mexican vacation resorts are also suffering we can only hope to be restored to normal conditions sooner rather than later.
We got a lot of email and forum questions from first timers who were understandably disappointed by last minute itinerary changes on their cruises. We completely understand what it is like to plan a cruise around the advertised ports and then not see them. All we can do is explain to you that cruise ships are not in the transportation business, they are in the cruise business. When you buy a cruise you are paying for the stateroom, food, access to the onboard fun and amenities, and the chance to escape the modern world by sailing far out at sea. Ports are not guaranteed on a cruise anymore than a Hawaii hotel can guarantee you it won't rain. The cruise lines want you to be happy, believe me. Unfortunately, they are restricted by circumstances beyond their control.
Most people got some compensation. The cruisers hardest hit were the ones booked on cruises sailing the same week as the outbreak made the news. Many of those people spent five or six out of seven days at sea. They were compensated somewhat for the ports they missed, but not enough for some people. If that happened to you we recommend our article on "How to Complain to a Cruise Line and Get Results". We cannot guarantee it will make any difference, but it might.
Other Summer Cruise Options
Meanwhile, summer brings outstanding bargains in Alaska and Europe. One would expect Alaska cruises to pick up a lot of slack. In truth they have not, and the reason is the economy. Once again, close-in bookings are the norm. June and July cruises in Europe are selling right now, but not because of last minute discounts, but due to uncertainty about personal finances. People are booking late but they are still booking, so don't expect last minute discounts yet.
Cruise Line Stocks
Despite the economic uncertainty and the H1N1 flu scare, cruise line stocks have been performing unbelievably well. Royal Caribbean hit a year to date high of $16.97/share despite at least one analyst predicting a specific loss in earnings for all of 2009 directly attributable to the swine flu. We at CruiseMates thought that call was premature, but we also said the disease would fizzle out, which it did.
Seriously, we shouldn't take undue credit for playing hunches, but we have to admit our ability to read tea-leaves has been pretty spot-on lately. We predicted Royal Caribbean stock would fare better than many analysts predicted, we did an editorial about arming cruise ships just two weeks before MSC Musica shot back at the "pirates," and we said Swine Flu would fizzle and by all indications (so far) it has. More people should listen to us ;-)
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Mexican Swine Flu Outbreak Locations
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MSC Cruises: MSC Musica
by Jennifer Williams
I filled out their comment form and mentioned all of this in it, but I do not know if they will take it seriously.
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