This well-known cruise line just canceled every sailing through March
One of the world's most iconic cruise vessels, Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2, won't sail again until at least April 18, 2021.
Neither will its sister, Queen Victoria, which will be on hiatus even longer -- through May 16, 2021. A third Cunard vessel, Queen Elizabeth, won't operate again until March 25, 2021.
That was the word early Tuesday from Cunard, which is making major coronavirus-related changes to its schedule for the coming year in a move that is likely to shock some of the brand's biggest fans.
In addition to the long-term pause to its operations, the U.K.-based line said it would pull Queen Elizabeth back from its usual around-the-world itineraries for nearly all of 2021. Cunard instead will keep the vessel close to its home base in the U.K.
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Cunard said all of Queen Elizabeth's existing itineraries from March 26, 2021 through Dec. 13, 2021 have been canceled. The ship had been scheduled to travel the world during that period on far-flung trips to Australia, Japan and Alaska. But instead, it will operate short sailings to local U.K. areas such as Cornwall and Ireland's west coast before venturing further afield to Northern Europe and the Mediterranean later in the year.
Until Tuesday, Cunard only had canceled sailings into November.
The cancellations and itinerary changes at Cunard are the most extensive yet from a cruise line during the coronavirus crisis. One small line, Celestyal Cruises, has canceled all sailings through March 6, 2021. But most cruise brands only have canceled sailings into October or November.
At the same time, a handful of cruise lines around the world already have restarted limited operations, often with just one or two vessels and with close-to-home trips aimed at local travelers.
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Cunard Line is in a particularly difficult position when it comes to restarting operations as its focus is on long, multi-destination itineraries to far-off places including annual around-the-world voyages.
Many of the places Cunard ships go now have restrictions on visits by travelers from certain countries, and it's unclear when such restrictions will be lifted.
Cunard also draws a wide mix of international travelers including many Americans who often reach its vessels by long-distance flights.
In a video statement posted Tuesday on the line's website, Cunard president Simon Palethorpe noted the "sheer complexity of world voyages, visiting many countries one after another, each with their own evolving travel regulations" as a hurdle for Cunard resuming operations in the era of COVID-19.
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He also noted the "truly international mix of guests, and guests who need to fly long-haul, and not least the ships being a long way from their home" during voyages as factors in the line's decision to extend its halt to operations well into 2021.
These factors "have become very real challenges," he said.
"We simply don't feel it would be sensible to start sailing again with our current schedule," Palethorpe added.
Cunard's decision has implications for other lines known for long, multi-destination voyages to far-flung places, including such lines as Viking, Holland America, Crystal Cruises and Oceania Cruises. In theory, they all are facing the same hurdles that Cunard has faced in trying to resume normal operations.
Palethorpe said Queen Elizabeth's new 2021 program would include voyages ranging from three to 14 nights. Initially, sailings will depart out of Southampton, U.K., and be very short and close-to-home. Palethorpe said the ship would operate "short breaks" to Amsterdam and an overnight in the port, for instance.
Later in the year, Queen Elizabeth would operate voyages from Southampton to Norway and the Iberian coast, followed by some seven- to 14-day sailings in the Mediterranean out of Barcelona.
The new itineraries will go on sale in September.
Palethorpe assured Cunard fans that Queen Elizabeth would return to more normal world cruising at the end of 2021 into 2022 with sailings to Australia and Japan.
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Palenthorpe also said the Queen Mary 2 would return to classic world cruising in 2022 with a 104-day world voyage starting on Jan. 10, 2022.
The 2022 world cruise on Queen Mary 2 will replace four months-worth of existing sailings that had been planned for the ship.
"I am so sorry to all those who were due to sail on any of the canceled voyages, as I'm sure this will cause great disappointment," Palenthorpe said.
Passengers on canceled sailings can choose between a full refund or a future cruise credit in the amount of 125% of what they paid. The credit must be applied to a future cruise by Dec. 31, 2021.
Additional resources for cruisers during the coronavirus outbreak: