Why cruisers shouldn’t get too excited about Canada’s just-announced plan to reopen to cruise ships

Jul 16, 2021

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Canada’s transport minister on Thursday announced the country would end its ban on cruise ship visits on Nov. 1 — four months ahead of schedule. But cruise fans shouldn’t get too excited about the change.

For the most part, cruises to Canada still won’t resume until April of next year.

That’s because cruise ships generally don’t travel to Canada between November and March, which is the off-season for travel to Canada.

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Cruises to Canada typically take place seasonally between April and October.

As of now, the first Eastern Canada cruise on the schedule for any major line is a 12-night Viking sailing from New York to Toronto starting on April 18, 2022.

The first cruise ship calls currently scheduled for ports on the West Coast of Canada also are in April, as cruise ships begin returning to the region for the Alaska cruise season.

Even after Canadian transport minister Omar Alghabra’s announcement on Thursday, the 2021 season for cruises to Canada essentially remains a wash.

Both the Eastern Canada cruise season and Alaska cruise season for 2021 will be over by Nov. 1.

If any cruise vessels operate in Canada in November or December, they are likely to be small vessels but not the big ships from major lines that account for the majority of the Canadian cruise business.

Alghabra acknowledged as much on Thursday with a tweet saying cruisers will be able to come back in 2022.

The change announced Thursday moves up the end date for the Canada cruise ban from Feb. 28, 2022 — a date set back in February of this year in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

At the time, COVID-19 case counts in North America were much higher than they are today.

The cruise ship ban in Canada, in turn, led to a crisis for cruise lines operating in Alaska, as most cruise ships are not allowed to visit Alaska without also visiting Canada due to a 135-year-old U.S. law known as the Passenger Vessel Services Act.

A new law passed in May by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Biden temporarily waived the Passenger Vessel Services Act, allowing cruise lines that faced a lost Alaska season to prepare for a resumption of cruises to the state this summer.

Royal Caribbean on Monday will become the first major cruise line to restart cruises to Alaska in nearly two years, with a sailing of a ship out of Seattle that will not touch a Canadian port.

The sailing and others like it scheduled for the coming months by more than half a dozen major cruise brands have caused concern in Canada that cruise operators, with the help of additional U.S. legislation, could permanently drop calls in Canada on Alaska cruises. The calls are important to the economies of Canadian ports such as Victoria in British Columbia.

While the Canadian transport minister’s announcement on Thursday will have little impact on when cruise ships will resume sailings to Canada, it can be seen as a signal to cruise lines that the country is eager for them to keep Canadian ports on their schedules for 2022 and beyond.

“We will welcome cruise ships, an important part of our tourism sector, back in Canadian waters for the 2022 season,” Alghabra said on Thursday.

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Featured image courtesy of Adventure Canada.

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