While ships are docked and the industry is on pause, these cruising super-fans can't wait to get back to sea.

By Fran Golden
April 17, 2020
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Cruise lines around the world have halted new sailings, with some scrapping schedules through June. The latest “No Sail Order” from the Centers for Disease Control could keep ships away from U.S. ports into July. And the CDC has recommended that “travelers defer all cruise travel worldwide” because of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

But all that still isn’t enough to deter the most ardent cruisers, people who until recently happily spent months at sea – and in some cases have spent millions of dollars on cruises. Many are wistfully thinking ahead to good times on ships, just as soon as they can sail again.

“I can’t wait to get back,” says Karin Pollak, who with her husband, Bill, has done more than 100 trips with Oceania Cruises – including several multi-month world cruises. “With this situation, people need to let it get cleaned up, get weapons to fight the virus, and then live life as they should.”

When they do return, veteran cruisers may come back to a significantly different world, with new health regulations or even new rules on who gets to sail and who doesn’t. Some lines have hinted they might require a doctor’s note for any passenger 70 or older, certifying an individual is healthy enough to cruise, or prohibiting people with certain conditions from boarding at all. Even without implementing these changes — which would prove difficult — lines are facing dozens of other operational and business challenges, many of which have no easy solutions, Travel + Leisure has reported.

“This is such a fluid situation,” a Royal Caribbean spokesman says. “We will work with health officials, and we look forward to getting back to sea.”

So too do these very frequent cruisers.

David Madison/Getty Images

Linda Weissman considers Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 her second home – so much so she sometimes walks the guest hallways in her bathrobe.

For 14 years she and her husband, Marty, a retired orthopedic surgeon, have spent four months a year in a Queens Grill suite on the ship, paying about $1,000 per person, per day. “It’s how we winter,” she says.

On this year’s 113-day sailing, they got as far as Perth, Australia, before they had to disembark in mid-March, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We felt very sad to leave, but we understood Cunard’s tough decision to terminate the rest of the world cruise for this year,” Linda says. (Some guests who could not fly due to medical issues stayed onboard and are slowly making their way back to Southampton by sea.)

The Weissmans have five-figure deposits down on 2021 and 2022 world cruises. She’s hoping the development of a COVID-19 vaccine will allow them to continue cruising.

If their sails are clipped for next winter, she’s not into renting a Florida condo as an alternative. “It’s been a nice party for 14 years,” she says of the world cruises. “I would be okay staying home one winter. I could sweat it out.”

The Pollaks were still on the first half of their six-month cruise around the world to celebrate Bill’s 80th birthday when the coronavirus pandemic was developing. They’d boarded the 684-passenger Insignia in Miami on January 8. By early March, Oceania had ended the sailing in Rio de Janeiro, and the Pollaks flew home and self-quarantined.

For Karin, a cancer survivor, cruising for the past dozen years has been part of an effort to live life to its fullest. She and Bill have done 104 cruises — and she’s been around the world so many times she now views the ships as her prime destination. “They’re really a second home for us,” she says. “It’s like being in a neighborhood. It’s very comfortable.”

The couple plans to be at sea soon, on the 42-day sailing to Southampton, the British Isles, Greenland, and Iceland, they have booked for August. They hope they’ll be able to go.

“Right now, people need to take the coronavirus seriously and stay apart,” Karin says. “Then the world has to go back to normal.”

Retired flight attendant Karen Hoover is a devoted fan of Royal Caribbean. She has sailed with the line 427 times, including on 350 cruises with her husband, John Straughan, before he passed away in 2017.

She did nine cruises last year and had seven sailings booked for this year. She’d already done three when the pandemic put the brakes on everything. A Hawaii sailing in early May was cancelled by Royal; she’s still not sure about her trips scheduled for this summer and fall.

“Those of us who love to cruise – frequent floaters – will probably return to cruising when it is feasible,” she says. “My personal plan is to return when I feel it’s safe to do so. Since we’re in the unknown, that’s hard to define, as things change and progress so quickly. But I’m keeping an open mind, definitely.”

The Steiners have done 110 cruises since 2003, all on Crystal Cruises, including 10 trips of more than 100 days each. The couple figures they’ve spent about four years of their lives in Crystal Penthouse suites.

The Steiners were aboard the Crystal Serenity earlier this year, shortly before the ship suspended operations. While they were able to disembark, as planned, in Sydney, other passengers who were continuing onward had their itineraries cut short as a result of the pandemic.

Keith is guessing that their sailings planned for July and August will be scrapped. “Obviously the world is up in the air,” Keith says. “I’m banking at the end of the year for our next cruise."

Still, he’d be confident enough to get back aboard sooner. “Getting the virus has nothing to do with the cruise itself. It could happen at home. It could happen at the shopping mall,” he says. “We will be able to cruise again.”