CRUISING, CRUISE SHIPS & THE COVID PANDEMIC – MAY 18, 2021
LIVES OF THE LINERS:
CRUISING, CRUISE SHIPS & THE COVID PANDEMIC – MAY 18, 2021
From Bill Miller
Thu May 13th Norwegian Cruise Lines’ next new ship initially will sail in Northern Europe before moving to North America for voyages out of New York City, the line announced on Monday. Scheduled to debut in Aug 2022, the 3,215-passenger Norwegian Prima (below) also will offer voyages out of Galveston, Texas; and Miami and Port Canaveral, Florida, during its first year in operation. Currently under construction at a shipyard near Venice, Italy, the $950 million Norwegian Prima will be the first of a much-awaited new series of vessels for Norwegian that are scheduled to debut over the next six years. Norwegian has announced few details of the new vessels other than that they’ll measure around 140,000 tons — about 15% to 17% smaller than the Breakaway Plus Class ships the line has unveiled in recent years.
Among the inaugural voyages planned are: A 12-night, transatlantic sailing from Southampton, England, to New York starting on Sep 23rd, 2022, with calls at Lerwick, Scotland; Reykjavík, Iceland; and Halifax, Nova Scotia; and a five-night, roundtrip voyage to Bermuda out of New York on Oct 10th.
Fri May 14th Holland America: It was smooth seas and fair winds for Holland America Line’s newest ship, the 100,000-ton Rotterdam, which returned in the evening of May 6 to Fincantieri’s Marghera (Venice) shipyard in Italy, after successfully completing two sets of sea trials off the country’s Adriatic coast.
Europe Bound! With the European Union poised to reopen to Americans and an eventual travel corridor between the U.S. and U.K. remaining likely, airlines are cautiously excited over the possibility of summer travel to Europe boosting their bottom lines. But just how big of a boost remains to be seen, with the window to capitalize on the usually busy summer travel season starting to close — partly thanks to the strong resurgence of domestic travel demand.
Above: MSC Orchestra at St Petersburg, Russia
Norwegian Cruise Lines is about to up the ante when it comes to the suite life on megaships. The world’s fourth-largest cruise brand on Wednesday announced that its next series of vessels would have the largest variety of suite categories available at sea, including three-bedroom suites that are larger than anything that has emerged from other lines in recent years. The six-ship series also will boast a higher staff-to-passenger ratio and a higher space-to-passenger ratio than other recently built big cruise ships, allowing for a higher-end experience across the board.
Royal Caribbean: The annual “Monsters of Rock Cruise” is set to sail on the Freedom of the Seas in 2022, marking the sailing’s 10th anniversary Departing out of Miami, Florida, promoter On The Blue announced the five-night full ship charter cruise will set sail Feb 9th to 14th and visit two ports in CocoCay, Bahamas and Labadee, Haiti, and feature performances from Alice Cooper, along with performances from over 35 artists.
Viking Ocean Cruises announced the “restart of limited operations” from locations including Bermuda, with the cruises “available exclusively for vaccinated guests.” The cruise line’s website shows sailings from Bermuda in June and July of this year, and the itinerary shows the ‘Bermuda Escape’ 8-day cruise will visit all three Bermuda ports – Hamilton, Dockyard and St George’s — with prices starting at $1,799.
Update from Southampton: Dave Smith reports “The P & O ship Britannia has been docked in the Ocean Terminal on Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday, but do not know when she is sailing. Rumor has it that the brand new Iona [also P&O] is due in port next week.”
Sat May 15th New Guidelines: In a major win for cruise fans, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention updated its Conditional Sailing Order on May 12 to loosen mask-wearing requirements for fully vaccinated cruise passengers. The update also allows vaccinated cruise passengers to explore independently on shore at ports of call.
In the updated rules for the resumption of cruises, the CDC says cruise ship operators “at their discretion, may advise passengers and crew that — if they are fully vaccinated — they may gather or conduct activities outdoors, including engaging in extended meal service or beverage consumption, without wearing a mask except in crowded settings.” The CDC further says cruise lines may allow fully vaccinated passengers to explore ports on their own. The agency says those who are vaccinated “may engage in self-guided or independent exploration during port stops, if they wear a mask while indoors.” The CDC notes, however, that foreign countries could have their own requirements concerning independent port exploration.
Immediately, lines began putting out information. Masks will not be required at Royal Caribbean’s private island, Perfect Day at CocoCay, Vicki Freed, the line’s senior vice president of sales, said in her Wednesday Coffee Talk. The CDC has been meeting frequently with cruise lines since it updated its guidance for test cruises and restricted startup cruises last week. The updates included rules for mask wearing, social distancing and shore excursions.
Cruise line officials, including Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, had criticized the agency for not issuing separate guidance for passengers who are fully vaccinated, as opposed to those who are not. Norwegian Cruise Line has committed to sailing ships with 100 percent vaccinated passengers and crew through October. Cited as particularly onerous in the original guidance were restrictions on how long cruise passengers can take off their masks to dine, as well as rules to wear a mask outdoors by the pool. The updates appear to address some of these concerns.
Carnival Cruise Lines this week notified its guests and travel advisor partners of cancellations for additional sailings as it works toward plans for a possible July restart in the U.S. on select ships. Carnival hopes to begin operating sailings on three ships from Florida and Texas, including Carnival Vista and Carnival Breeze from Galveston, and Carnival Horizon from Miami. Further, if Carnival can find a solution to allow cruise ships to visit Alaska, the Carnival Miracle will assume some of Carnival Freedom’s departures from Seattle. Given that there is still some uncertainty in our ability to operate these cruises, guests booked on those sailings who wish to make alternate summer vacation plans may cancel without penalty by May 31, 2021 and receive a full refund. The company is cancelling sailings on all other ships through July 30th. Guests whose cruises are cancelled are eligible for a future cruise credit (FCC) and onboard credit (OBC) or a full refund. Separately, late last week Carnival notified its guests that the Carnival Splendor’s pause out of Sydney was extended another month, as it cancelled sailings from Aug 19th to Sept. 17th.
Further CDC Update: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has seemingly lightened up on its complex cruise regulations, releasing an update to its COVID-19 operation guidelines for cruise lines wanting to operate from U.S. ports under the agency’s Conditional Sail Order. While the CDC stressed its mask order remains in effect, it said that “cruise ship operators, at their discretion, may advise passengers and crew that—if they are fully vaccinated—they may gather or conduct activities outdoors, including engaging in extended meal service or beverage consumption, without wearing a mask except in crowded settings.” The CDC also noted that cruise lines may allow fully vaccinated passengers to go ashore on their own, instead of having to participate in organized group tours.
New Cruise Line: Former Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV) bosses have reunited to launch Ambassador Cruise Line, a UK-based operator aimed at the over 50s market which plans to start sailing with one ship in Apr 2022. Ambassador will operate cruises on the Ambience, formerly known as the Regal Princess and then Pacific Dawn, a P&O Australia-based ship, which had been set to become CMV’s flagship under the name Amy Johnson.
The 1,400-passenger ship’ maiden voyage will be a “short-break cruise” out of Tilbury to Hamburg, Germany, starting on Apr 6th next year. The ship’s debut full-year program, running from Apr 2022 until May 2023, will include 33 sailings, calling at 88 ports across the Baltics, Greenland, the Arctic and Iceland. During the winter months, Ambassador plans to offer “expedition-style voyages” to the Canaries, Cuba, the Caribbean, Cape Verde and Scandinavia. All passengers and crew will be required to be vaccinated for Covid-19 prior to departure, the line confirmed.
Sun May 16th Alaska: The U.S. Senate has passed a bill that will allow foreign-flagged cruise ships to operate in Alaska without calling on a Canadian port as the Alaska Tourism Recovery Act was passed on Thursday. It’s a huge step to saving part of the 2021 Alaska cruise season.
Update on Restarts: The three largest cruise brands are targeting different restart plans should get the green light to cruise in July from U.S. ports, according to recent announcements and comments from executives.
Carnival Cruise Line said earlier this week it is hoping for a July restart in the U.S. on select ships. Carnival hopes to begin operating sailings on three ships from Florida and Texas, including the Carnival Vista and Carnival Breeze from Galveston, and Carnival Horizon from Miami.
Royal Caribbean International “We believe we are now seeing a clear way forward to safe cruising in the near future,” said Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of the Royal Caribbean Group, on the company’s business update call in late April.
Added Michael Bayley, CEO and president of the Royal Caribbean International brand: “With what (CDC letter) we received last night July looks very realistic (for restarting cruises in North America).” As for the Alaska season, Fain noted there are uncertainties and that service resumption may require a waiver from the Passenger Vessels Service Act as long as Canada will not allow ship calls. Alternatively, Canada could allow technical calls. “Given the momentum, there is reason for optimism,” Bayley added.
Norwegian Cruise Line had intended to restart in the United States on Jul 4th, having submitted what it referred to as an ironclad plan and letter to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in early April. But as of early May, and with no reply from the CDC, company executives said that a July restart from U.S. ports won’t be happening. “The July U.S. launch at least from our company, it’s just not possible,” said Frank Del Rio, president and CEO, on the company’s first quarter earnings call in early May.
More News from the UK: Two of our top UK agents, Dave Smith & Nick Braddock report that P&O Cruises’s brand new Iona (below) will arrive today (Sun May 15th) at Southampton for the first time. German built, the $1 billion ship has been laid-up (mostly in Norway) since delivery last year. The 184,000-ton Iona is the largest British owned passenger ship yet, measures 1,130 feet in length and can carry up to 5,200 passengers. A sistership, the Arvia, is now under construction.
Mon May 17th Getting Closer! The cruise industry is getting closer to a restart in the United States as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released another update to its Conditional Sail Order late last Friday. The update added new sections for the screening of embarking passengers for restricted voyages, testing of embarking and disembarking passengers for restricted voyages, test selection and specifications for passenger screening testing on restricted voyages, and onboard COVID-19 testing for symptomatic passengers and their close contacts. In short, the changes continue to open the door for cruise lines to operate with ease if passengers and crew are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Late last night we received multiple updates to the CSO from the CDC,” said Michael Bayley, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean International, in a Saturday morning social media post. “All reflect the significant progress made with the vaccines. Reading the updates last night and this morning give me increased optimism. Today the light at the end of this long dark tunnel is bright. One step at a time!”
Change at Royal Caribbean: With an ongoing conflict involving Israel, Royal Caribbean International is expected to cancel or at least significantly adjust its summer season from Haifa on the new Odyssey of the Seas. According to a report from Crew Center, staff aboard the ship have already been informed the season has been scrapped. Industry sources indicated earlier in the week that the company would need to at least delay the season amid ongoing violence in the region. Now it appears the ground-breaking home-porting operation, which was set to see Royal Caribbean make history by putting a brand new ship into Israel, will need to wait.
Thank you to all our readers, correspondents, those “agents” in faraway places!