Planning a Baltic cruise for 2023? Cruise lines have begun to cancel sailings more than a year out

Apr 13, 2022

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It looks like the cruise industry’s recent pullback from the Baltics will continue into 2023.

With the war in Ukraine showing no signs of ending anytime soon, Oceania Cruises this week became the first major cruise line to cancel a wide swath of 2023 sailings to the Baltics — trips that in a normal year would revolve around a stop at the Russian port of St. Petersburg. Industry watchers expect more lines to follow in Oceania’s wake as Russia remains a destination that neither cruise lines nor their customers want to touch.

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“I am afraid I do see [the Baltics pullback] extended into 2023,” Alex Sharpe, the president and CEO of Signature Travel Network, a network of more than 7,000 travel agents, told TPG.

Even if the conflict between Russia and Ukraine ends relatively soon, “the ramifications of the political and economic sanctions might make Russia an untenable destination even into summer of 2023,” Sharpe noted. “Certainly public opinion on Russia will also play into this – will people want to go to/support Russia in the immediate wake of this?”

In the days after Russia invaded Ukraine, all major cruise lines pulled St. Petersburg from 2022 Baltic itineraries, and some lines canceled 2022 Baltic trips outright. But most lines initially stuck with plans for 2023 Baltic cruises, hoping that the conflict would be resolved relatively quickly.

Now lines are facing the possibility that the war in Ukraine could simmer for years to come with sanctions against Russia also continuing for many years. If so, itineraries that involve stops in Russia may be on hold for an extended period.

“We need St. Petersburg to come back as a destination,” Sharpe said. “But my gut says it’s likely [that won’t happen until] 2024 and beyond.”

While St. Petersburg being off the map for cruise ships “doesn’t mean Baltic cruises can’t exist … I expect there will be fewer of them as St. Petersburg has always been the big draw,” he added.

Operating a few, but not many, Baltic sailings without St. Petersburg as a port of call is the strategy that Oceania is planning to take for 2023. Oceania will keep a handful of Baltic sailings on its schedule with stops at such Baltic ports as Stockholm, Sweden, and Tallinn, Estonia. But the line on Tuesday began notifying customers on the majority of its 2023 Baltic sailings that it was replacing the trips with sailings to the more westerly parts of Northern Europe including the U.K, Iceland, Greenland and Norway.

An Oceania representative suggested that customer demand was a factor in the changes.

“We are taking the opportunity to offer our guests a more diverse and creative range of itineraries and destination experiences,” Oceania spokesperson Tim Rubacky on Wednesday told TPG. “We have the advantage of being able to look more than a year out and follow the demand.”

Rubacky suggested that port availability also was a factor in the line’s itinerary changes, as the number of ports in the Baltic that can act as a substitute for St. Petersburg is limited.

“When everyone is clamoring to replace St. Petersburg with the same handful of ports, we zig and let the others zag,” he said.

Sharpe suggested that changing 2023 Baltic itineraries now, more than a year in advance of when they’re scheduled to take place, made sense given the uncertainty around what will happen with the war in Ukraine. It takes away the chance that the trips will have to be canceled at the last minute, which would be far more disruptive.

“Having to ‘go back’ and re-sell a redeployed cruise for the line and advisors [on short notice] is difficult and certainly disruptive,” Sharpe noted.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises, a sister line to Oceania Cruises, also will be making changes to Baltic sailings for 2023. But a spokesperson for the line on Wednesday told TPG the brand wouldn’t comment on the changes until it had notified passengers and travel agents.

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