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Cruise travel trends nearing 2019 numbers, despite COVID concerns

Tampa Bay cruise travel agent Rick Saltarelli says travelers are booking "revenge trips," making up for time lost to the pandemic.

TAMPA, Fla. — Recent reports have shown cruise lines haven't perfected a way to set sail amidst a global pandemic.

Dozens of people, including guests and crew members, tested positive while traveling on Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas cruise ship, the company told USA Today. Earlier this month, a Norwegian Cruises ship returned to New Orleans with ten positive COVID cases on board. 

But, these headlines are not scaring travelers from booking and boarding for their next trip. 

“People want to get back to having a normal life, and travel is part of having a normal life," Rick Saltarelli said. He owns and operates Salty Breeze Cruise Planners, based in Tampa. 

He shared some of the cruise travel trends he's noticed in recent months and compared them to pre-pandemic years. The most interesting of which: sales are comparable to what he saw in 2019. 

"Our Best year ever for our organization was 2019," he said. "Right now we are about a percentage and a half behind our 2019 end results. And we have, as you know, about 10 days left in the [year].”

Saltarelli said he is getting calls with concerns related to COVID. But, it's not about health and safety concerns and more so about the logistics of complying with ever-changing policies.

"At the moment, I'm not getting a lot of concern for people that have trips that are booked outside of the United States," Saltarelli said. "I have [been getting] concerns of people that are trying to come to the United States from other places and are seeing changes in their own government's regulations for traveling outside of their country and coming home again. As far as clients booking travel for further out, that has not stopped. It hasn't slowed down at all."

Vacationers aren't booking last-minute cruise deals as much, Saltarelli shared. But, that is mostly because the ships are full and mostly require all passengers to be fully vaccinated.

However, not all cruise lines require all passengers to be fully vaccinated. Some companies allow children younger than 12 to board, unvaccinated if they test negative prior to departure. Travel agents recommend opting for cruise lines that have a stricter policy if you're looking to play it safe. 

“I think that cruise lines like a Virgin Voyages and Norwegian, they put big steaks in the ground and said she must be vaccinated to come," Saltarelli said. "That has made it very easy for them to keep marketing and going forward. I think the difficulty comes with the cruise lines that are allowing unvaccinated children on board.“

For local travel agents like Saltarelli, bookings have come back strong. Salty Breeze Cruise Planners has already met 70 percent of its 2022 sales goals, and 2021 hasn't even wrapped up yet. Saltarelli credits that, in part, to "revenge travel." Travelers looking to make up for the lost time by going further and spending more on upcoming trips. 

To read up on current cruise lines' COVID policies, click the links below.


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