Cruise executives say they’re in no rush to return to service

Aug 15, 2020

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

A handful of cruise lines around the world have resumed limited departures in recent weeks. But don’t expect a widespread resumption of cruising anytime soon.

Executives at some of the world’s biggest cruise companies in recent days have suggested it could be many months before cruising starts back up in a major way.

“We will not rush to return to service,” Royal Caribbean Group chairman and CEO Richard Fain told Wall Street analysts Monday, noting the company still is working through new COVID-era health protocols to implement when cruising resumes.

For more cruise news, reviews and tips, sign up for TPG’s new cruise newsletter.

Speaking at the start of a conference call to discuss second-quarter earnings, Fain said the company’s brands wouldn’t restart operations until he and other executives were “confident that we have figured out the changes that we must make to offer our guests and crew strong health and safety protocols with the enjoyable experience that they rightly expect.”

Royal Caribbean Group is the parent company of Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises, Azamara and Silversea. It also owns a partial interest in several European cruise brands.

“As with all we do, we want our measures to go above and beyond what’s expected of us,” Fain said.

Related: The best credit cards for booking cruises

A Royal Caribbean vessel at sea. (Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean).
Royal Caribbean already has canceled most of its cruises worldwide through the start of November. (Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean)

Later in the conference call, Fain also suggested the company’s brands would restart cruises in a small way at first before ramping up over time. He described the coming restart as being like raising the lights in a room by using a dimmer switch, not a standard switch.

Fain’s comments were similar to those made just four days earlier by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings president and CEO Frank Del Rio.

Speaking with Wall Street analysts, Del Rio forecast a “gradual ramp-up of sailings” that might start in the last two months of 2020 with a very limited number of ships, likely with significantly reduced occupancy levels.

“As we move into the first quarter of 2021, the deployed capacity is expected to ramp up as more vessels gradually reenter the fleet,” Del Rio said. “Based on this timeline, it isn’t until at least the second quarter of 2021 that we would see our fleet return in earnest.”

Related: A growing number of lines are canceling sailings into 2021 

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings is the parent company of Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, all of which have already have canceled sailings through early November.

A slow rollout of cruise ships also is the plan at Carnival Corporation, the world’s biggest cruise company. It owns Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Holland America, Seabourn and five overseas brands.

“Clearly cruise will not come back all at once,” Carnival Corporation CEO Arnold Donald said last month in a conference call with Wall Street analysts. “We intend to resume operations with a small percentage of the fleet.”

All the cruise companies still are in the process of developing new health and safety protocols that will allow them to resume sailing. Two of the companies, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Royal Caribbean Group, are doing this together. They’ve assembled a panel of outside health experts to help them figure out ways to make ships safer in this new era of coronavirus.

The Healthy Sail Panel, as it’s being called, is expected to come up with recommendations by the end of August. It’s looking at ways to upgrade the screening process for passengers and crew at boarding and enhance onboard health processes. It’s also looking into new procedures for when ships are in ports.

Related: New COVID-era restriction: No leaving the ship without an escort 

But even with new protocols, cruise lines can’t resume sailings in many parts of the world until they get approval from health authorities and officials at the country, state and local level.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has jurisdiction in U.S. waters, for instance, currently has a “no-sail” order in effect for all but the tiniest cruise ships through Sept. 30. Canada has banned the arrival of most cruise ships through Oct. 31.

Royal Caribbean Group executive Michael Bayley said during Monday’s conference call that the company hoped to start a meaningful dialogue with the CDC about returning to service in the U.S. by the end of September.

Still, Bayley — the CEO of Royal Caribbean Group’s Royal Caribbean brand — cautioned that nothing was certain about how the next few months would unfold.

Related: Did some cruise lines return to service too soon? 

“It’s important to note that there’s … just a huge amount of uncertainty with how this will play out. And obviously, one of the biggest dynamics is what’s occurring with COVID itself,” Bayley said.

Indeed, it is likely to be the progression of the illness, and any development of new treatments or a vaccine, that is the biggest determinant as to when the bulk of cruise ships resume sailing, several cruise executives have suggested in recent weeks.

As Bayley pointed out, some cruise ships based in Germany have resumed sailings in recent weeks in the wake of a sharp decline in COVID cases in the country. For now, the vessels are operating “cruises to nowhere” for Germans that don’t call at any ports.

“Germany was one of the first countries to … be flexible in terms of opening up to cruising because it reflected how people were seeing what was occurring with COVID,” Bayley said.

So far, the sailings out of Germany — operated by German lines TUI Cruises and Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, both partially owned by Royal Caribbean Group — have been going well. But that isn’t the case with all the cruises that have restarted around the world. Four vessels in recent weeks have experienced COVID scares, including one that had a major outbreak that landed passengers and crew in the hospital.

Cruise executives have acknowledged that the recent COVID scares have been a setback.

“Look, there’s no way to spin the initial reemergence of COVID onboard vessels,” Del Rio told Wall Street analysts. “But … it’s an opportunity to learn from them. This virus teaches us something every day.”

Calling the COVID scares “disappointing,” Del Rio said the good news was that the ports and cruise companies involved handled the situations well.

“We haven’t had a repeat of what happened earlier during the pandemic crisis,” he said in an apparent reference to the deadly outbreaks on some Princess Cruises and Holland America ships that were front-page news around the world for days.

Additional resources for cruisers during the coronavirus outbreak:

Featured image courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line 

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points


CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 3X points on dining and 2x points on travel, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Enjoy benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining and 2x on all other travel purchases, plus more.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
Regular APR
16.24% - 23.24% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.