2 more cruise lines cancel soon-to-depart sailings amid omicron surge

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Windstar Cruises is joining the list of cruise operators canceling soon-to-depart sailings amid the worldwide surge in COVID-19 cases.

The small-ship cruise specialist on Thursday began notifying passengers on upcoming trips that it was pausing operations across most of its fleet through at least Jan. 28.

The pause will affect every Windstar ship currently operating except the Tahiti-based Star Breeze.

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Also canceling a significant number of sailings on Thursday for the first time during the latest surge of COVID-19 cases was British line Fred. Olsen Cruises. The line announced it had delayed the return of one of its four vessels, Balmoral, until May. It said the return of another of its vessels, Braemar, would be delayed even further, to spring of 2023.

In addition, Holland America on Thursday extended previously announced cancellations for one of its 11 ships, Nieuw Amsterdam, into February, and Norwegian Cruise Line canceled sailings through the end of the month on another vessel, Norwegian Breakaway.

Norwegian has now canceled soon-to-depart sailings on 12 of its 17 ships.

Related: Norwegian Cruise Line cancels more sailings amid omicron surge

The cancellations come as cruise lines struggle along with all other types of travel providers to deal with the surge in COVID-19 cases sweeping the world. In the U.S., nearly 900,000 people tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday — nearly 10 times the number that were testing positive just a few weeks ago.

While cruise ships have recorded relatively few cases of COVID-19 over the past year, in part due to unusually strict health protocols, the number of passengers and crew testing positive on ships has been rising sharply in recent weeks along with the greater surge on land. The rise in cases on ships has led to disruptions to sailings as some ports have balked at allowing ships to call or tightened entry requirements to a point that has made it difficult for ships to comply.

Related: Everything you need to know about the current situation on ships

Some cruise ships also have had to contend with crew shortages that have resulted from the need to isolate crew who have tested positive for COVID-19.

The challenges to operating in such an environment has led a growing number of cruise lines to cancel soon-to-depart sailings in recent days, including Royal Caribbean, Silversea, Atlas Ocean Voyages, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, MSC Cruises, Costa Cruises and Oceania Cruises.

Related: Royal Caribbean cancels sailings on four ships    

The cancellations announced Thursday by Windstar affect three of its six ships, all based in the Caribbean — Star Legend, Wind Surf and Windstar. Two more of Windstar’s ships — Wind Spirit and Star Pride — were already out of service.

The one ship Windstar is leaving in service for now operates sailings around French Polynesia, where COVID-19 cases currently are notably low. All of French Polynesia recorded just 55 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday.

In the wake of the cancellations announced Thursday, Fred. Olsen Cruises still will have two of its four vessels operating in the coming months — Bolette and Borealis.

The latest wave of cancellations across the cruise industry are the biggest since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, when the entire cruise industry shut down in a matter of days. Most of the world’s major cruise lines remained shut down for well more than a year afterward.

Related: Omicron could fade in ‘weeks,’ former FDA head tells travel industry

For now, there is little talk in the industry of such a widespread shutdown. Even the lines that are canceling sailings have said they expected the ships to be back in operation soon.

After restarting operations around the world over the past year, cruise lines have implemented unusually strict health protocols that go far beyond what is typical at land-based resorts and on airplanes. Many lines require all passengers and crew to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and to undergo COVID-19 testing before boarding ships.

A small but growing number of lines in recent days have added a booster shot requirement, too.

In addition, lines often require passengers to wear masks while onboard ships and keep socially distant.

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Featured photo of courtesy of Windstar Cruises.

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