Every day, sometimes twice a day, Gary Tilkin cycles through a roster of cruise-line websites to gauge whether prices are rising or falling. For him, this is both a hobby and an obsession. “I’m a lunatic,” he says. “There are apps that track the prices, but I don’t trust them.”
His first cruise was 40 years ago for a delayed honeymoon with his wife, and he and his family have gone on at least 23 cruises since. “I love cruising,” he says. “It’s the only vacation I’ve ever truly enjoyed. For one week a year, I want to be treated like a rock star.’”
God willing, it won’t be long before Tilkin feels that way again. He’s already booked a cruise for May 2021, and even has his eyes on a potential trip in November. “Every day I look at November 2020 to see if I can find a suite at a decent price so I can get my cruise fix sooner,” he says.
Of course, after 800 confirmed COVID cases were linked back to outbreaks on just three cruise ships, the CDC ruled that traveling on them “poses a risk for rapid spread of disease beyond the voyage.” Nevertheless, Tilkin isn’t the only person unfazed by the innumerable nightmare scenarios that have been detailed by passengers aboard these infected ships.
For instance, Bob, a 35-year-old in Texas, couldn’t bring himself to pass up the low prices currently being offered by an industry that’s starving for customers. “I didn’t actually have a cruise planned until after the coronavirus outbreak,” he tells me. “But I saw the opportunity to take a cheap trip, and I booked one for September.”
For him, the value outweighs the risk. Though it’s worth noting that Bob doesn’t consider there to be much risk in the first place: “People who are dying are 55 or older, and the mortality rate is .2 percent or so for someone who is of good health and my age,” he tells me. (To be clear, while it’s true that coronavirus is more fatal for the elderly, younger people are by no means in the clear.) “So I’m not fearful of the coronavirus,” he continues. “In fact, I expect people to contract the virus or already have the virus on the ship, which is why I booked a room with a balcony in case we get ordered to stay in our room by the captain.” He reasons that such rooms generally have more space and will allow him to enjoy the outdoors should his ship be quarantined off-shore for any length.
Plus, by then, Bob says he’s confident cruises will have figured out protocols to keep passengers safe. “There will have to be separate areas of the ship to quarantine individuals,” he argues. “A cruise ship isn’t going to leave without having those contingencies in place in this environment.”
Ron, a 61-year-old in Washington, is likewise confident that he and the rest of his usual cruising foursome (which consists of himself, his wife, his wife’s sister and her husband) will be boarding a ship bound for the Caribbean two days after Thanksgiving. They’ve also booked a European cruise for September 2021. “We’ve of course been keeping up with the progress of the virus on a daily basis,” Ron says. “Based on the most accurate information, we believe things will be back to normal — albeit a revised normal — by mid-summer. We know there will be differences in the cruise experience going forward, most being an inconvenience but probably necessary.”
If anything, Ron says “playing the long game” is part of the experience. “Cruise lines are offering perks such as dining and drink packages and free or discounted excursions as enticements to book. So we’ve been scheming and planning and chatting with our cruise rep. It’s all part of the fun of the cruise; it all keeps us going and our spirits up.”
As for Tilkin, on May 10th, he and his family would have been boarding one of his greatest cruises yet, a trip that he’s spent the last 11 months planning “down to the smallest detail” (and that cost him 13 grand). “I had every day on an Excel spreadsheet with days, times and scheduling for shows, restaurants, events and excursions,” he tells me. “I watched every single YouTube video, read every blog known to mankind. I counted the days until I could pre-book the specialty offers, all of which I pre-paid. This was to be a family cruise — it’s my wife and my 40th wedding anniversary — so I wanted to make sure everything was perfect. Then the Coronavirus happened, and the trip was cancelled.”
“To say that I’m bummed out is a major understatement,” he continues. “Depressed is a better representation.”
He still, though, sensed opportunity at hand. “I was ready to re-book instantly, because in my mind everyone else was doing the same thing and prices would go back up,” he explains.
The thing is, he says, “My wife swore she’d never go on another cruise ever again.” And so, to get her blessing, he decided to play it extra safe and not re-book until May of 2021. “I truly believe the virus will be in control in six months, so 12 months is giving me a safety net,” he says.
But if he must wait, he promises to be the king of the sea when he can finally cruise once more. “Not everyone has the ability to invest what I have into my next cruise,” he vows. “I want the ‘rock star’ treatment, and I’m willing to pay for it. We’ll be in the best suite on the ship with all the perks, and best of all, myself and my family have something to look forward to again.”