"Are you still going on the cruise?"
That's a question my wife asked me earlier this week regarding a March 26 four-day cruise I planned to take with our son and my mother. The answer isn't a simple one even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the State Department have recommended that people, "particularly those with underlying health issues, defer all cruise ship travel worldwide" due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Cruises, however, have not been canceled, and at the moment, the short answer is that I still intend to take my son. We both have no underlying health issues and live in West Palm Beach, Florida, so we won't have to fly on a plane in order to get to the ship. For my mother, who lives in Massachusetts, it's a more complicated choice.
How do you decide if a cruise is safe?
All of the major cruise lines have stepped up their cleaning efforts (which, in my considerable recent experience, are already extensive). They're also using enhanced health screening and, in the case of Royal Caribbean (NYSE:RCL), the line I generally use, offering no-questions-asked cancellation up to 48 hours before sailing.
Generally, you can't cancel a cruise after final payment (usually about 90 days out) unless you buy travel insurance and meet its requirements. The enhanced cancellation policy (which many cruise lines have adopted) lets people who may not feel well and could have coronavirus cancel and get credit toward taking a trip at a later date.
Each person's decision as to whether or not to go is personal. At the moment, Palm Beach County, where I live, and Broward County, where the cruise leaves from, have had very few reported coronavirus cases. That doesn't mean it's not here, but so far, it's not a major factor.
I'm 46 and have no underlying medical conditions. My son is 16 and can say the same. If we get exposed, the likelihood of us having serious consequences is small. In addition, since I work from home, in the very unlikely scenario we get stuck onboard in a quarantine situation, I would be inconvenienced, but still able to do my job.
My mother faces a tougher choice. She's healthy, but under the full CDC warning outlined below, she should be wary:
Older adults and travelers with underlying health issues should avoid situations that put them at increased risk for more severe disease. This entails avoiding crowded places, avoiding non-essential travel such as long plane trips, and especially avoiding embarking on cruise ships.
Basically, if I get coronavirus, even if it's serious, I'll likely recover. For an older adult, the risk is greater.
Should you go on a cruise?
As I said above, at the moment, I am planning to go on our scheduled March 26 cruise. I reserve the right to change that decision if any Florida-based cruise ships report outbreaks or end up quarantined.
I'm personally not worried about exposure to coronavirus or the COVID-19 disease it causes because it would most likely be inconvenient but not serious. Anyone who has to travel to get to a cruise has a more complicated decision. Again, you should examine the CDC warning and consider the health of not just everyone going, but also the people you'll come into close contact with at home.
Any person facing this choice should weigh all of the evidence. I plan to take the full amount of time Royal Caribbean has allowed me to make the decision for my son and myself. As for my mom, I plan to have her read this article, look at the supporting materials, and make an informed choice that she considers best for her (and that may include talking with her doctor).