Here's Why Cruise Ship Bookings Are Soaring Amid Coronavirus

Bargain-bin rates have travelers eager to book cruises despite COVID-19.

As the COVID-19 pandemic forces much of the country to shelter in place, travel has come to a complete standstill—or so we thought. The cruise industry, arguably the hardest hit sector, is showing a shockingly swift recovery after Carnival announced that it would set sail again on Aug. 1, 2020, from Miami, Port Canaveral, and Galveston. Despite the uncertain times we live in, cruises are making a comeback, and cruise ship bookings are soaring amid coronavirus.

Mere months ago, cruises were dubbed "death ships" while COVID-19 swept through their cabins, sickening thousands of passengers. Carnival Corporation has clocked the most coronavirus cases (1,931 in total) of any cruise company to date. This includes the Diamond Princess, which made headlines for having the largest outbreak outside of China when it was quarantined at a Japanese port in February.

But apparently, none of that has swayed eager boaters from climbing aboard. In fact, Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Representative, released a statement saying that after Carnival's announcement on May 4, its travel agents saw a 600 percent spike in cruise ship bookings compared to the same day last year. Additionally, the combined sales for the following three days represented a 200 percent increase year over year.

"Social gathering will return at some point, and when it does, people will want to cruise," Carnival CEO Arnold Donald told CNBC. "We have lots of people booking now for 2021, some even for 2020 still."

So what's the secret behind the surge? Well, for one, there are bargain-bin rates: Carnival promoted a five-day trip to Cozumel for $28 per night—an unheard of discount, even for a more affordable line. Flexible cancellation policies are another lure for travelers, who can receive a full refund or a credit of up to 175 percent toward a future cruise.

Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a "no-sail" order until July 24, 2020, many cruise lines are hitting the high seas earlier. Royal Caribbean is resuming service for most of its fleet on June 12, as is Celebrity and Azamara; Viking Cruises on June 30; Norwegian, Crystal Cruises, Costa, Oceana, and Windstar Cruises on July 1; MSC Cruises on July 11; and Richard Branson's Virgin Voyages on July 15. Princess Cruises is the only brand so far to cancel almost all of its summer season. And if you're planning a cruise, make sure you're aware of these 15 Chilling Myths About Cruise Ship Buffets That Are 100 Percent True.

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