Is the Asia cruise season in jeopardy? At least one line is pulling out


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One of the world’s biggest cruise lines has canceled all its Asia cruises for the rest of the year and the first half of 2023, citing the continued uncertainty around when ports in the region will reopen.

Miami-based Celebrity Cruises late Monday sent a notice to travel agents that the upcoming deployment of its 2,850-passenger Celebrity Solstice to Asia in September for seven months would no longer take place.

The ship, which was scheduled to operate all of Celebrity’s Asia cruises for the coming year, instead will stay close to home, operating sailings to the Mexican Riviera.

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“Due to the ongoing uncertainty regarding the restart of international operations in the Asia region, we have made the difficult decision to cancel our Celebrity Solstice sailings in this part of the world,” the line said in a letter sent late Monday to travel agents.

The anouncement comes as travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic continue to snarl travel in some parts of Asia.

Even as most ports in North America and Europe have reopened to cruise ships over the past year, many ports in Asia remain closed to cruise ships due to COVID-19 concerns. Some countries in Asia have implemented much stricter policies to reduce COVID-19 cases than have been seen in other parts of the world.

Related: Canada finally reopens to cruise ships

Longtime industry watcher Mike Driscoll, editor of Cruise Week, said he wasn’t surprised that Celebrity canceled its upcoming Asia sailings, given the stricter policies.

“It’s not a big surprise that Celebrity is pulling Solstice out of Asia due to multiple factors, including ports are not reopening there as fast as expected, COVID policies are stricter in Asia and the current COVID situation in China is of concern for the broader region,” Driscoll told TPG early Tuesday. 

China has seen a massive surge in COVID-19 cases over the past month, from around 1,000 cases a day to more than 25,000 cases a day.

Driscoll said he expected more lines to cancel upcoming Asia sailings in the coming months, given the situation.

Some lines, such as Royal Caribbean, already have cut back their Asia deployment plans for the coming year while not pulling out completely. Royal Caribbean earlier this year said its 4,269-passenger Voyager of the Seas would return to North America later this year after spending 10 years sailing in Asia and Australia.

Royal Caribbean’s 5,622-passenger Spectrum of the Seas remains in Asia, operating short cruises of Singapore aimed at the local market.

Princess Cruises also has canceled several Asia cruises that had been scheduled to take place on the 2,670-passenger Sapphire Princess between late August and late October. Princess still plans cruises around Japan for the coming winter on the 2,670-passenger Diamond Princess.

In 2019, the year before the COVID-19 pandemic began, the world’s cruise lines deployed about 9% of their capacity to Asia, according to Cruise Lines International Association data. But that percentage already is down to around 5% to 7% for this year, Driscoll noted.

The trend in cruise ship deployments for this year is “less Asia, including virtually no China, [and] more Caribbean, Europe, Alaska and Mexican Riviera,” Driscoll said.

Celebrity Solstice had been scheduled to operate departures to Asia out of Vancouver, Tokyo, Singapore and Hong Kong from Sept. 16, 2022 through April 21, 2023.

Instead, Celebrity Solstice will take over the Mexican Riviera sailings that had been planned for the 2,218-passenger Celebrity Milennium starting in September. Celebrity Millennium, in turn, will reposition to the Caribbean in September.

The net effect will be an increase to Celebrity’s capacity in both the Mexican Riviera and the Caribbean, as Celebrity Solstice is a bigger ship than Celebrity Millennium.

In its letter to travel agents, Celebrity said passengers on affected Asia sailings could reschedule their Asia trips for the following year. Alternately, they can request a full cash refund for the canceled sailing. One caveat: Passengers who booked one of the canceled Asia cruises with a future cruise credit will not be eligible for a cash refund. They will instead have their future cruise credit reinstated.

Cruise lines that still have ships scheduled to visit Asia later this year include Viking, Silversea Cruises, Oceania Cruises, Windstar Cruises, Holland America, Norwegian Cruise Line, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Seabourn and Azamara.

Some of the ships only are scheduled to visit Asia briefly as part of a repositioning from Europe to Australia, or as part of an around-the-world cruise.

Asia cruises often begin in major Asian cities such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo and include stops in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, South Korea and Japan. Other countries found on some Asia itineraries include India, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Myanmar.

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Featured photo courtesy of Celebrity Cruises.

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