Top cruise line executive: We’ll be back to full deployment within a year

Oct 9, 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.

Many cruise lines haven’t operated a single voyage since March due to the coronavirus pandemic. And many have said that when they do return to operations, they’ll do it slowly.

But one of the industry’s longest-serving executives on Thursday said he expected his brand, at least, to be back to full deployment by a year from now.

“Our ambition is to be fully operational by October (of 2021), even as soon as next summer,” Rick Sasso, chairman of MSC Cruises North America, said during a panel discussion at Seatrade Cruise Virtual, an online version of the cruise industry’s annual meetup.

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

While a return to full deployment by next summer is possible, it would “depend on other events that we don’t control,” Sasso noted during the session, which was the closing event for the four-day cruise conference. The session was titled “This Time Next Year: A No-Holds-Barred Look into the Crystal Ball from Some of Cruising’s Most Forward-Thinking Leaders.”

In general, Sasso — a 49-year veteran of the cruise industry who has seen it all — was highly optimistic about a strong rebound of cruising over the coming year.

“This will evolve, and it will evolve quicker than we would have assumed even a month ago,” he said.

Related: The best credit cards for booking cruises

MSC Grandiosa
MSC Cruises was the first major cruise line to resume sailings in the Mediterranean, at first with just a single ship, the 4,842-passenger MSC Grandiosa. (Photo courtesy of MSC Cruises)

MSC Cruises North America is the North American division of MSC Cruises, one of the few major cruise lines that already has restarted limited sailings.

The Europe-based brand on Aug. 16 became the first major cruise line to restart sailings in the Mediterranean since the cruising shutdown began, with a single ship — the 4,842-passenger MSC Grandiosa.

Sasso noted that MSC Cruises planned to restart cruising with a second ship in the Mediterranean on Oct. 19. The line has 17 vessels.

Related: Has MSC Cruises cracked the code for a safe return of cruising?

“It certainly will be a gradual, staggered, evolving deployment schedule,” Sasso said. But he was optimistic the budding restart that’s been occurring in Europe and a few other places in recent months soon would spread everywhere in the world including North America.

“We hope that the North American deployment starts very soon,” he said.

Sasso wasn’t the only member of the panel who was upbeat about a strong comeback of cruising over the next 12 months.

Alex Sharpe, president and CEO of Signature Travel Network, one of North America’s largest travel agency networks, also was optimistic about a rebound of travel in general including cruising. He suggested that COVID restrictions only had made people want to travel more.

More Seatrade news: One cruise line says it may never bring back the buffet

“Travel becomes even more a need than a want or a luxury” Sharpe said. “It used to be that travel was lumped in with luxury goods. Now it’s really one of the core things that people and families in particular need.”

Sharpe said Signature Travel Network was seeing strong bookings for Europe and Alaska cruises for next summer.

“I do see Americans wanting desperately to get back to Europe, in particular,” Sharpe said. “I think European river cruising will lead that charge, because of the perception (the) smaller, more intimate, in-port-every-day-type of thing (is safer). We’re seeing it from a booking perspective. But I think that will just cascade into ocean cruising as well.”

More Seatrade news: Cruise executives sound off on a U.S. cruise comeback

Another panelist, Virgin Voyages senior vice president for design and customer experience Dee Cooper, said cruising would get a boost over the coming year by huge pent-up demand.

Virgin Voyages, a start-up line back by Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, was just about to unveil its first ship, Scarlet Lady, in Miami in March when the new coronavirus forced a postponement. It’s now scheduled to begin sailing later this year.

A second Virgin Voyages vessel, Valiant Lady, is scheduled to debut in 2021.

“I think the sad but great thing is there’s loads of untapped demand to go back sailing,” Cooper said. “The Virgin brand attracts a lot of people that love it. We have the cruisers that love getting on the new ships, and there’s loads of pent-up demand to get on those new ships.”

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

Featured image of courtesy of MSC Cruises

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,650

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, 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®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.
  • Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • 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.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
  • Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

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.