What will cruising look like once ships are back at sea?

Cruise expert says passenger confidence remains high

Not so long ago, many of us were ready to pack our bags and cruise to that dream destination for spring break or summer vacation.

Then a year ago COVID-19 forced us all to put those bags in a corner where they have been collecting dust, cat hair and dog fluff.

If planes, trains or automobiles don’t do it for you then chances are you have enjoyed a cruise at some point. Who can resist these massive vessels the size of floating cities? And with enticing names like Allure, Grandeur, Dream and Splendor, why wouldn’t you want to hop on board and live your best life?

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Cruising is the vacation of choice for many because it has just about everything in one place. Endless food choices, a family-friendly environment and non-stop entertainment.

Cruises can be chill or jam-packed with adventure at every port of call. You get to decide.

Cruise Lines International Association had projected some 30 million travelers were expected to cruise in 2019 before the COVID-19 forced the industry to drop anchor.

Since the pandemic began, every few months the cruise industry gives an update on its status. So, we found an expert who has more experience cruising than most of us will have in a lifetime to break down real answers about when we will likely sail away to somewhere exciting and new.

Stewart Chiron, also known as the Cruise Guy, has been talking cruises and deals for decades. In fact, long before Google, Expedia and Priceline, Chiron has been the go-to guy for the low down on cruising.

Chiron joined anchors Ginger Gadsden and Matt Austin on this week’s edition of Florida’s Fourth Estate.

When COVID-19 started shutting down cruise lines the news everyone seemed to be drawn to was those big ships out at sea with passengers who just wanted to get back home. It made for some tense days and, in some cases, weeks for the cruise the industry.

So once cruise ships can set sail with passengers again, will memories of those first few turbulent weeks turn off potential passengers?

Chiron chuckled and gave a quick, “No.”

“We have the 3 busiest cruise ports in the world: Miami, Port Canaveral, and Port Everglades. The cruise industry right now, and the cruise lines are saying this on their earnings call, that there is a tremendous amount of pent-up demand. If they announced they are sailing with three ships this weekend they’d fill up in a matter of minute” Chiron said.

“I often get asked do the cruise lines have a lot of work to do to regain consumer confidence and the answer is no,” Chiron said. “They don’t have to do much of anything to regain the confidence because cruising has the highest satisfaction and the highest confidence level of any means of transportation and vacation for that matter.”

Bottom line, Chiron said there is no issue is regaining consumer confidence.

But how do you keep that confidence afloat while massive cruise ships remain are empty?

Port Canaveral recently reported $43 million in losses so far this year.

And it doesn’t look like any money from the COVID Relief Package recently signed by President Joe Biden will be going to rescue cruise lines. That’s because most major cruise ships are registered in foreign nations.

But Chiron points out there are dozens of U.S.-based businesses that directly support the cruise industry.

“You’ve got travel agents, tour operators, transportation companies and the port themselves that are bleeding terribly,” he said “The cruise industry is a 60-billion-dollar industry and almost half a million people are directly or indirectly employed in the cruise industry.”

While the businesses that support the cruise industry are basically crippled without the ships going in and out of ports with passengers, Chiron said there is some promising news on the horizon.

“Right now, looking in my crystal ball, if we can get the cow to jump over the moon and the planets to align there is a possibility that the cruise lines can begin to do those mandated CDC test cruises out of Port Canaveral and out of Port Miami on 3 to 4 cruise lines on 3 to 4 ships each, hopefully, June, more than likely July best-case scenario,” Chiron said. “But those may move later into the summer. Right now, it’s all depending on the CDC. The CDC is what is holding up the industry.”

Ever the optimist, Chiron said there are still ways for families to have a fun vacation this summer and help save places that have been hit hard by not having cruise ship customers disembark and shop in port towns.

Chiron points specifically to Alaska. He said the cruise industry makes up more than 80 percent of that state’s tourism dollars.

Chiron said to help salvage some of what has been lost without ships in ports, Princess Cruises and Holland America, both owed by Carnival Corporation, are going to open their lodges.

Simply put, you can fly to Alaska and take part in some incredible land tours you likely would not get to experience as a cruise ship passenger.

And with the U.K. and the E.U. are not currently allowing Americans to come for non-essential travel, Chiron says the Kenai Princess Wilderness lodge along with McKinley Chalet Resort in Denali and Westmark Fairbanks Hotel is working on vacation land packages for the summer, no passport required.

With COVID-19 precautions still in place, Chiron said land tours are a great outdoor option for the entire family while staying safe. Social distancing isn’t a problem for the largest state in the U.S.

Chiron said people don’t realize how much there is to do in that part of the world. Generally, when you cruise to Alaska, you only get to see a sliver of Alaska.

“If you really want to see the immenseness of Alaska you actually have to do tours which are 3 to 7-night excursions that are after or before the cruise where you are actually in the heartland of Alaska,” he said/

Chiron said there is a real opportunity to help a state that has been devasted by not having the cruise industry right now.

If you would like to hear more of what Chiron has to say about the cruise industry and how places like Key West are reacting to not having cruise ships visiting right now, click on the link to Florida’s Fourth Estate below.

Look for new episodes every Friday on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.

Listen to the full episode of Florida’s Fourth Estate on iTunes here or on Sticher here.

About the Author:

Ginger Gadsden joined the News 6 team in June 2014 as an anchor/reporter. She currently co-anchors the 4 p.m. 5:30 p.m. and the 7 p.m. newscasts.