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Cruise Lines Face a Rough Summer, and Covid Isn’t the Only Problem

With many staffers unable to travel to their ships or get visas, some lines are limiting the number of paying guests per voyage.

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Illustration: Jordan Speer for Bloomberg Businessweek

Cruising, one of the hardest-hit sectors of the travel economy during the pandemic, is set to face tough times again this summer. It’s not just because of continued waves of Covid-19—though as of May 23, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was monitoring outbreaks on 84 of 93 cruise ships in US waters, all with the majority of passengers and crew vaccinated. Instead, difficulty reassembling staff plus inflation and war have knocked the industry off balance.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has upended many European voyages. St. Petersburg, traditionally the marquee destination on Baltic Sea itineraries, was largely dropped from routes by March. Now the ports in Sweden and Finland that replaced it face geopolitical unknowns of their own, while cruise operators anxiously await President Vladimir Putin’s response to those countries’ NATO aspirations. Routes may soon have to change again—or get nixed altogether, according to Colleen McDaniel, editor-in-chief of the website Cruise Critic.