CRUISING, CRUISE SHIPS & THE CORONA VIRUS – MARCH 20, 2021
WEEKLY NEWS & UPDATES
from Bill Miller
Mar 20th 2021
And to all the ships at sea – this update is coming to you from sunny Fort Lauderdale, world’s 2nd busiest cruise port, while we are on a week’s R&R …
Sun Mar 14th Florida: Members of South Florida Cruise Industry Feel Optimistic After Year of No Sailing. For many of us, life is slowly resuming to normal, but South Florida’s cruise line ports remain shut down. Now, cruise lines are awaiting further instructions from the CDC in order to get back out sailing after a year.
United Kingdom: Cruise lines have confirmed that the earliest possible restart date for sailings from England will be “eight to 12 weeks” from May 17. Large cruise lines will need that length of time to get their ships ready for service — meaning the first sailings from English ports will be late summer at best.
MSC Cruises: The fire aboard the MSC Lirica which started in a lifeboat was fully extinguished last Friday evening, with no injuries to the 51 crew aboard the ship, according to a statement from MSC Cruises. The ship was at Corfu at the time.
Life & Cruising Go On! Proving yet again why it’s America’s favorite cruise line, Carnival Cruise Line was the big winner in USA Today’s 10 Best Awards, earning first-place honors in four different categories: Best Ocean Cruise Line, Best New Cruise Ship (Mardi Gras), Best Cruise Ship for Families (Carnival Horizon, below), and Best Cruise Ship Dining (Carnival Horizon). This marks the fourth time that Carnival Cruise Line has been named Best Ocean Cruise Line by USA Today readers.
Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line today announced it will partner with the Rotary Clubs of Grand Bahama Island to distribute humanitarian aid to local food banks around Grand Bahama Island.
Crystal Ball: As travel begins to return in greater numbers following the COVID-19 pandemic, the future of cruise will continue to evolve in 2022 and beyond. Pent-up demand already has led to a huge surge in bookings in 2022 and 2023 from cruisers who have had their trips canceled or delayed because of the pandemic as well as new bookings from people who foresee cruising coming back safer than ever.
A couple of examples of this: Oceania’s world cruise for 2023 sold out within one day of opening for sale to the public January 27, 2021. And river cruise operator Uniworld has seen a 425 percent year-on-year increase in late 2021 and 2022 bookings to exotic destinations like India, Vietnam and Egypt.
Carnival: Thinking about a cruise on a Carnival Cruise Line ship? You’ve got a lot of options. Carnival operates 24 vessels, with one more scheduled to join its fleet in 2022. That’s more vessels than any other major cruise line except Royal Caribbean, which also has 24 vessels.
In general, Carnival’s 24 ships are big ships. But with one exception, they’re not giants by today’s standards. Carnival just took delivery of its first truly giant ship in years, the 181,808-ton, 5,282-passenger Mardi Gras. It’s currently scheduled to start sailing in June. But other than the Mardi Gras, Carnival’s biggest vessel, the 4,008-passenger Carnival Panorama, measures just 135,000 tons. That’s about 40% smaller than the biggest ships operated by Royal Caribbean.
Eight of Carnival’s 24 vessels measure less than 100,000 tons, which makes them almost midsize by today’s cruise ship standards. This is a notable change for the brand from just a couple decades ago. There was a time when Carnival operated some of the biggest cruise ships in the world. But for many years, it has held back from following rivals such as Royal Caribbean and MSC Cruises in building ever-bigger ships. The Mardi Gras is now the only Carnival ship on the list of the world’s 40 biggest cruise ships. The arrival of the Mardi Gras marks a major turning point for the line. At 181,808 tons, it’s the eighth-largest cruise ship in the world and 35% bigger than the line’s next-biggest ship. A second ship in the series — Carnival Celebration — will arrive in 2022.
Mon Mar 15th Princess Update: It’s been a busy 12 months for Princess Cruises, Carnival Corporation’s biggest premium brand. Here’s everything that’s happened. After facing two quarantines and some of the earliest COVID-19 outbreaks on cruise ships, Princess Cruises took the lead and decided to suspend its cruise operations on March 11, 2020. Calling it a proactive response to the unpredictable circumstances evolving from the global spread of the new disease and an abundance of caution, the Carnival brand cancelled all its sailings for 60 days. Back then, the plan was to resume service on May 10, 2020.
Tue Mar 16th Carnival Corporation CEO Arnold Donald told London’s Financial Times that he anticipates at least two more difficult years for the cruise industry, which he said will most likely not return to pre-pandemic levels until at least 2023. Donald said that while the company’s full fleet may be sailing by the end of this year, it will take more time for the corporation to bounce back to pre-coronavirus revenues.
Better Mood, Better Outlook! After so many postponements, not many are hopeful that we will see cruising return this June. After another round of cancelations which saw Carnival Corporation, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Royal Caribbean cancel their voyages until the start of June 2021, is it realistic that cruising will return?
If we look at the signs as they stand today, it seems optimistic. Each day we are starting to see more and more positive movements in the industry. Cruises in Israel and opening of cruising in the U.K., signs for the U.S. are looking better and better.
Up in Those Friendly Skies! U.S. air travel is coming back to life. Daily Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screenings have now topped one million people for eight days this March. And on Friday, March 12, the TSA screened the most people at airport security checkpoints since March 15, 2020. In particular, the TSA screened 1,357,111 people on Friday. This number is still down 24% compared with the nearly 1.8 million people who passed through TSA checkpoints the same day one year ago. And this number is down 46% compared with the over 2.5 million TSA screened on the same day two years ago.
Wed Mar 17th: Over in the UK: In a letter The Cruise People Ltd of London have sent this week to all their UK clients: “I am writing to you today to share with you some great news regarding future travel and cruising. Although the global Covid-19 Pandemic is not yet over, the UK’s successful vaccination program will now make it possible to start planning our lives and holidays once more.”
Royal Caribbean’s Latest: The cruise ship Odyssey of the Seas (below) set off on extensive sea trials on Sunday evening, Mar 14th. The program includes technical and nautical trials on the North Sea. The 168.800-ton, 4,900-passenger ship was built by Germany’s Meyer Werft.
Viking announced today that it will restart limited operations in May with three special sailings along the coast of England on the new Viking Venus, and only available to UK residents. The new eight-day ocean itinerary—”England’s Scenic Shores”—will sail roundtrip from Portsmouth, with departures on May 22, May 29 and Jun 5.
Holland America Line has announced it is extending its pause of cruise operations to now include all June 2021 roundtrip sailings to Alaska from Seattle, Washington. This includes six cruises on the Eurodam and Oosterdam with a call at Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
Princess Cruises continues to work with various United States and Canadian government officials to try to preserve a portion of the Alaska 2021 cruise season, the company is extending its pause of cruise vacations for sailings from Seattle through June 27, 2021. The pause in operation affects seven-day Alaska Inside Passage cruises on Emerald Princess and Majestic Princess.
Back to the Airlines: After a year of burning through as much as $100 million in cash daily, airlines are finally on the verge of a much-awaited goal: actually making money. US airlines have seen a dramatic uptick in forward bookings over the past several weeks, with a further surge in domestic leisure travel expected as the COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues to accelerate.
United Airlines wrote in an SEC filing that it expects to reach positive cash flow for the month of March 2021, assuming that “the current trajectory of booking improvement is sustained.” “If the current rate of improvement in bookings continues, the Company expects core cash flow to be positive moving forward,” the airline wrote in the filing. Should things continue as United expects, it will earn money for the first time since March 2020, when the airline burned through as much as $80 million per day.
More Air News: Passenger numbers might still be down by 57%, many flights are all but completely full – and all because of fewer flights.
And on Cruise Side: Reservations this past week are “soaring” – and the response from one large cruise line: “Lots of people want to get moving again – they are tired of lockdown and being homebound!”
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings has now canceled all June cruises on Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
Holland America Line also has extended its pause of European cruise operations to include departures through Jun 30th.
Thu Mar 18th Carnival: Total compensation for Carnival Corporation senior executives was up in 2020 thanks to stock awards, according to a SEC filing. Despite the pandemic and a cut to base salaries, CEO Arnold Donald’s total compensation was up to $13.3 million, with $12.2 million in stock awards.
News from the UK: From Southampton, Dave Smith reports: “P & O Cruises have just announced that only two of their ships (Iona & Britannia) will resume cruising around the British Isles with no ports of call, cruises will be for 4 or 7 days only starting on Jun 27th, guests will need to prove they have had two jabs before they can board the two ships & wear face masks in certain places on board the two ships. No dates about the other 6 ships in the fleet to resume cruising.”
Destination JFK: It’s almost time for United Airlines to land at New York-JFK. On Tuesday, a United jet flew to JFK for the first time in years, in preparation for the much-anticipated service re-launch on Mar 28th. The 21-year-old Boeing 767-300 flew as United Flight 3345 for 2 hours and 50 minutes from Houston to JFK. It landed at 11:09 a.m. local time.
Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines has unveiled a new program of cruises around the British Isles for summer 2021. This was announced in a press release. The 11-cruise program includes departures from Dover and Liverpool, with “scenic sailings taking in the best of the British Isles, including the Shetland and Orkney islands and the Isles of Scilly,” the cruise line said.
Vaccine of the Seas (or as a reader has named a projected Royal Caribbean ship): Continuing the trend of vaccine mandates, Virgin Voyages announced that it would require all passengers and crew to have a COVID-19 vaccine before sailing when cruises resume in the U.S.
The move makes Virgin Voyages the first mainstream cruise line to implement a vaccine requirement for passengers and crew in the U.S., although cruise inoculation mandates have begun in other countries.
Royal Caribbean will offer cruises on which all crew and passengers older than 16 will be vaccinated starting in May from Israel. Luxury brand Crystal Cruises will also have fully vaccinated sailings, but those won’t be sailing in the U.S.; the line has opted to resume in the Bahamas.
Fri Mar 19th News from Los Angeles: Our good friend Shawn Dake reports: “I made a trip back down to the beach yesterday just to get out of the house and see what ships were around. There were just four at Long Beach: Carnival Miracle at the cruise terminal, Carnival Panorama at anchor, Norwegian Jewel also at anchor and National Geographic Orion riding far outside the breakwater but with a nice view of Catalina Island in the background.”
“The attached photo makes for a somewhat interesting view,” added Shawn. “This is one of the four oil islands that were built in the 1960’s off Long Beach and provided the money to buy the Queen Mary and still provide funds for projects along the coast. This is Island White and the tall structure that covers the drilling operations is on rails and can be moved around the island. I got to go out there once and it was all rather fascinating. For something as ugly as oil wells, the closest two islands to downtown Long Beach actually are pretty beautiful with sculptures, trees and waterfalls facing the shoreline. Very 1960’s. They’d never spend the money to beautify something like this now. Come to think of it, the Coastal Commission would never allow the building of artificial islands off the coast these days.”
TV Guide: Another good friend Pat Dacey has a keen eye on cruising and tells us: “Upcoming is an HBO documentary regarding the Diamond Princess during the initial Covid 19 crisis. It seems to paint a very negative picture of the industry, however, and just as the industry is attempting a comeback. It will stream worldwide on HBO on Mar 30th.”
Sat Mar 20th: Looking Ahead! One of our top “agents,” Charles Dragonette reports: Good news, eventually, for some. The research arm of Swiss investment bank UBS predicts that the return of cruising in North America will happen a bit later than expected, but that the industry’s recovery will be strong once it begins. The Bank believes that a U.S. restart is now more likely in late Q3 from Q2 previously. While the near-term outlook has gotten worse, with continued delays in restart, the longer-term outlook has improved as vaccines become more widespread than what we originally factored into our estimates last year. As a result, our 2021 and 2022 estimates are lower, but our 2023 estimates are higher. The analysts predict a slow 12-month startup period, with less than 10 percent of capacity in use in the first quarter of operations.
MSC Update: Starting from May 20, the reduced capacity cruises on MSC Magnifica (below) – which was due to operate from the UK this season – will depart from Southampton’s new terminal and kick off with a series of mini and week-long cruises around the UK that will include protected shore excursions for the 7-night itineraries. MSC Cruises has been sailing in the Mediterranean since last August, carrying more than 50,000 guests to date.
Celebrity Cruises plans to return to service with sailings from St. Maarten on the 2,200-bed Celebrity Millennium, beginning June. The ship will carry vaccinated crew and be available to vaccinated adults and to children under 18 with a negative PCR test result within 72 hours of embarkation. According to Celebrity, thousands of its crew have already been vaccinated in their home countries and the number will grow as the return to service nears. The 965-ft long Celebrity Millennium will offer two different seven-night round-trips — Aruba, Curaçao and Barbados, and Tortola, St. Lucia and Barbados — departing through August.
Debut! The 245-passenger paddle-wheeler American Countess will be setting off on its maiden voyage. Scheduled to be christened on Sunday in New Orleans, American Countess is the newest paddlewheeler from American Queen Steamboat Company, which is just restarting operations on the Mississippi River this week.
Royal Caribbean International will be the first of cruising’s “Big Three” to be back in service in North America, re-launching cruises in June from Nassau with the Adventure of the Seas offering weeklong itineraries starting on Jun 12th.
More Forecasts! UBS told investors in a note on Thursday that it was upgrading Carnival Cruise Lines stock to a “buy” rating, a reassuring sign for an industry that has been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic. Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines was already at a “buy” rating from the bank, indicating confidence in the brand. And Norwegian Cruise Lines will remain at a neutral.
The report cites “pent-up demand for leisure travel generally” as a reason for Carnival’s upgrade. While the firm anticipates 7% of capacity being used in the first quarter, by the third quarter it expects to see growth, and by the second quarter of 2022 capacity could reach 75%.
Crystal Cruises: Luxury cruise travel is back! Recording its biggest single day of bookings in company history, Crystal reports an extraordinary response in the first 24 hours of reservations opening for its new “Luxury Bahamas Escapes” aboard the Crystal Serenity (below)debuting July 3rd. Nearly 4,000 enthusiastic travelers reserved staterooms or suites on at least one of the seven-night voyages that cruise from Nassau or Bimini roundtrip booking more than 25 percent of the 16 voyages combined availability. Almost 200 guests reserved back-to-back voyages with some planning to spend 42 days on board the company’s flagship. The luxury line realized a 2,024 percent increase in online bookings and received reservations from the biggest number of distinct travel agencies in Crystal’s 30-year history.
Below: From my old photo box – The brand new, inbound United States passing her fleetmate, the departing America (Aug 1952)
Cruising will return! .. but for now, best thanks to friends, readers, reporters & those faraway “maritime secret agents”