The cruise ship scheduled to launch Seattle’s 2020 cruising season is now the site of a major coronavirus outbreak in California.
California officials held the ship, Princess Cruises’ Grand Princess, off the coast of San Francisco for five days amid evidence that dozens of people on the vessel’s previous voyage had contracted the disease, including a 71-year-old man who died.
Officials’ fears that the virus may have lingered onboard proved valid: As of Sunday, 21 people on the 3,500-person ship tested positive for coronavirus, including 19 crew members.
The ship deposited its passengers at the Port of Oakland on Monday. They will be quarantined for 14 days in various locations. The 1,113-member crew will be quarantined and treated aboard the ship, which will be docked in a yet-to-be-determined location, a company statement said.
The Grand Princess is scheduled to call in Seattle on April 1, departing for British Columbia the same day. Right now, it is slated to be the first cruise ship to call in Seattle in 2020; however, Port spokesperson Peter McGraw said that may change.
The Port of Seattle is reviewing “all options” to ensure passengers’ safety, McGraw said in an email. Ultimately, though, whether Grand Princess will dock is a decision for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Coast Guard.
Other Princess Cruises ships have been quarantined while passengers are tested and monitored for symptoms of coronavirus. The Diamond Princess, which reported nearly 700 cases of the disease, including six deaths, was held off the coast of Japan for nearly two weeks in February.
On Monday, the Caribbean Princess was held off the coast of Grand Cayman, pending tests for the disease after two crew members transferred to the Caribbean Princess from the Grand Princess. And the Regal Princess spent most of a day sailing up and down the Florida coast before finally pulling into Port Everglades late Sunday. Its passengers got to leave after two crew members who had served on the Grand Princess tested negative for the disease.
On Sunday, the country’s top infectious-disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, recommended that Americans avoid traveling on cruise ships, especially if they have underlying medical conditions. Vice President Mike Pence and the Department of State issued similar warnings.
That’s led an untold number of cruisers around the nation to cancel or postpone their voyages — including plenty passing through Seattle, local travel agents said. The Port had previously expected cruise passengers to spur $900 million in economic activity.
Princess Cruises did not respond to a question about how many passengers had postponed their trips, but the company has rolled out a generous new cancellation policy: For ships sailing through April 3, passengers can cancel within 72 hours and receive full credit for a future trip. And the company will give passengers who don’t postpone or cancel their trips up to $200 to spend on board.
That may not be enough to lure wary travelers, who are nervous even about sailing on vessels serving just a couple hundred passengers, said Sheelagh King, the co-owner of North & King Travel in Seattle. She said plenty of her clients have postponed their cruise trips, but she declined to give specific numbers.
“Italy’s shut down is problematic,” she said. “And it didn’t help that the U.S. government came out and said, don’t get on a cruise.”
Most of the postponements she’s seen, though, are for travelers departing within the next 90 days. Further out than that, she said, her clients seem to be adopting a “wait and see” approach.