Is it time to book that bucket list cruise or is your destination still closed to ships?

May 19, 2022

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Maybe your long-awaited epic cruise vacation got canceled in 2020. Perhaps two years cooped up in your house has you yearning for “revenge travel” or simply ready to spend the cash on a bucket list cruise. Is 2022 the year your dream cruise becomes reality?

That will depend on your destination. Cruising restarted in earnest for Americans in spring 2021 with a handful of ships sailing to only a few destinations. A year later, the major lines have all or nearly all of their ships back in service and a full roster of itineraries available. Yet some destinations are still not fully open to cruise ships.

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Discover which bucket list destinations are welcoming cruisers with open arms now or later this year, and which travel dreams you’ll have to defer until next year…or later.

In This Post

Antarctica

If Antarctica is the only continent left you haven’t visited or you’re desperate to see penguins in the icy wild, you’re in luck. Antarctica opened to cruise ships last winter, with a limited number of state-of-the-art expedition ships shuttling between the tip of South America and the White Continent for the 2021-2022 season. TPG staffers who traveled south last year reported the reg‎ion less crowded with cruise ships than usual.

For this coming winter, Antarctica will be back to full capacity. You’ll have your choice of cruise lines, new and old ships, and itineraries for your bucket list adventure, but you might not experience the thrill of total isolation if another ship is parked at your ice field when you arrive.

Australia

If you’d like to say g’day to some kangaroos and koalas, 2022 is your year. Australia reopened to American tourists in February and to cruise ships in April, though several U.S-based cruise lines had already pulled ships from Down Under.

Case in point is Carnival Cruise Line. It redeployed its Australia-based Carnival Spirit and Carnival Splendor to North America prior to the reopening announcement, but will send Splendor back to Australia after its summer cruise season.

Of the major big-ship cruise lines, Princess Cruises will be the first to return to Australia cruising, when Coral Princess sets sail on June 16, 2022. However, it’s not until October that lines like Carnival, Celebrity Cruises, Holland America and Royal Caribbean will start operating in the region. Which will work out just find for American travelers because the timing coincides with spring and summer Down Under.

Asia

Your long-awaited trip to Asia likely will have to wait until 2023 because many of the key cruise destinations in that region have yet to open their doors to cruisers.

Lines such as Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean and Princess have already canceled or reduced their Asia cruise schedules for 2022 and into 2023. This week, Windstar Cruises became the latest line to alter its itineraries to the Far East.

“As Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Philippines and South Korea are all currently still closed to cruising, Windstar joins several other cruise lines in making this decision to cancel cruises in Asia for fall,” Christopher Prelog, the company president, said in a press release.

When TPG talked to longtime cruise industry watcher Mike Driscoll after Celebrity pulled out of Asia, he cited additional factors influencing the itinerary changes, such as that “COVID policies are stricter in Asia and the current COVID situation in China is of concern for the broader region.”

French Polynesia and Tahiti

What do you do if your Asia cruise is canceled but you still want to head toward the Pacific? I suggest a cruise to Tahiti and French Polynesia.

The only two traditional cruise vessels based year-round in French Polynesia — Windstar’s Wind Spirit and Paul Gauguin Cruises’ Paul Gauguin — restarted operations last summer (for Paul Gauguin, it was a second restart after an aborted restart in the summer of 2020). And another of French Polynesia’s main cruise sellers, Aranui Cruises, has been operating in the region since way back in July of 2020. Aranui Cruises sells trips to little-visited French Polynesian islands year-round on an unusual vessel that is half-freighter, half-cruise-ship.

Windstar, meanwhile, just announced an expansion of its French Polynesia offerings for the coming winter by replacing Star Breeze’s Asia sailings with a transpacific crossing from San Diego to Tahiti, followed by five cruises in French Polynesia. Norwegian Cruise Line offers a couple of seven-nights roundtrip from Papeete this fall, but sister line Oceania won’t offer its 10-night roundtrips until 2023.

Hawaii

Pride of America
Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America sails year-round in Hawaii. (Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line)

After the pandemic shutdown, the first big cruise ship to return to Hawaii was Grand Princess in January. (One small-ship operator, UnCruise Adventures, had been sailing there since November.) But it wasn’t until April that the state’s year-round ship, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America, returned to sail its weeklong itineraries roundtrip from Honolulu.

As the only U.S.-flagged ship among the major big-ship lines, Pride of America is the only big ship that can sail weeklong cruises in Hawaii; other ships have to sail one-way or roundtrip cruises from ports on the U.S. and Canadian West Coast. Before you sign up for your dream trip to Hawaii, know that staffing shortages are impacting that ship.

Pride of America is sailing with reduced crew right now (550 instead of 920 to 940), according to Travel Pulse, meaning that certain restaurants are closed. The cruise line has even stopped selling cabins on that ship through October, to match the current staffing levels with an appropriate number of passengers, so you can’t book your island getaway until at least November.

Because Pride of America needs to hire predominantly Americans to retain its U.S. flag status (vs. the diverse, international crew found on its other ships), the staffing issue is particularly tricky because the line is working with a smaller worker pool and facing the same shortages that the other U.S.-based companies are experiencing. The line is doing everything it can to attract new staff, Norwegian Cruise Line president Harry Sommer told Travel Pulse during a press conference on board the ship.

New Zealand

Another bucket-list destination in the Pacific soon to welcome cruisers is New Zealand. Travelers from select countries, including the U.S., were welcomed ashore as of early May, but on July 31, the rest of the world – including cruise ships – will be given the green light to enter the country.

The New Zealand cruise season, like the Australian one, will pick up in October when Majestic Princess and Grand Princess arrive in Auckland. Look for sailings to pick up throughout the southern hemisphere’s summer, especially in early 2023 when you’ll find Celebrity, Holland America, Viking and Norwegian Cruise Line among the lines visiting New Zealand.

Russia

The crown jewel of a Baltic cruise itinerary is the overnight stop in St. Petersburg, Russia; some lines spend nearly three days there.

Or did. When war broke out in Ukraine, cruise lines immediately pulled Russia stops from their Baltic itineraries for 2022; many canceled Baltic sailings completely. But as the conflict continues, cruise lines have extended the cancellations further into the future. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings announced in its May earnings call that its three brands – Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises – will not be calling in Russia in 2023 or 2024.

If Scandinavia is on your bucket list, you can still cruise to those countries, but if you are longing to see The Hermitage Museum or Catherine Palace, you’ll need to put your plans on hold for a few years.

The industrywide pullback from cruises that touch Russia, meanwhile, also is affecting Black Sea cruises, which have been canceled completely for 2022, and the growing niche of expedition cruises to the Russian Arctic.

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Featured image courtesy of Windstar Cruises.

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