‘Preposterous’ new rules from CDC put summer restart in jeopardy, says top cruise executive

May 6, 2021

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The comeback of big-ship cruising out of U.S. ports could be delayed. Again.

So says Frank Del Rio, the president and CEO of the world’s third-largest cruise company, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings.

Speaking with Wall Street analysts on Thursday to discuss the company’s quarterly earnings, Del Rio suggested new guidelines for cruises issued late Wednesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were a setback for the industry and could result in a longer timeline for a restart out of U.S. ports.

“We need more clarity on whether the numerous and onerous requirements [of the new guidelines] would apply to [all] voyages,” Del Rio said. “But at first glance, it appears the path forward is a bit rockier and a bit steeper than originally expected.”

In recent weeks, cruise executives had become more hopeful that cruising out of U.S. ports could restart by mid-July, citing recent communications with the CDC. The agency has been blocking cruise lines from sailing out of U.S. ports since March 2020, citing worries about the spread of COVID-19.

But Del Rio said he now saw no chance of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings brands resuming cruises out of U.S. ports in July.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings is the parent company of Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

As reported late Wednesday by TPG, new CDC requirements for initial cruises out of U.S. ports buried in a lengthy “operations manual” posted on the agency’s website late in the day included a long list of rules that could make it difficult for lines to restart cruising quickly or operate cruises that have any semblance of normalcy.

The requirements included mask-wearing mandates that go far beyond what has become the norm at land-based resorts in the U.S., including a requirement that sunbathers wear masks even when lounging outdoors in bathing suits by pools. This is despite the fact that the CDC also will require each lounge chair on outdoor decks to be separated by 6 feet for social distancing.

As Del Rio noted, the operations manual also called for mask wearing even while eating a meal, with passengers only allowed to dip their masks momentarily for bites.

“In between bites of your meal and in between sips of your beverage, you have to put on your mask, take off your mask,” Del Rio noted with incredulity in his voice. “So nobody should order soup, because your mask might get sloppy. That to me is just preposterous.”

Del Rio said Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings executives had a call scheduled with the CDC later Thursday where he hopes they would get more clarification on the new requirements.

He said he was hoping the CDC only would apply the new rules to cruise ships that sailed out of U.S. ports without a mandate that every passenger and crew member was vaccinated for COVID-19. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings has announced all its ships worldwide would impose such a requirement through at least Oct. 31.

“I am disappointed at first read,” Del Rio said of the new CDC guidelines. “It’s not in the spirit of where the country is heading, where President Biden wants to open the country.”

Del Rio noted that 70% of American adults are expected to be vaccinated by the beginning of July, when Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings had wanted to restart operations out of U.S. ports. He suggested the restrictions the CDC had included in the operations manual didn’t fit with where the country was going to be a few months from now.

“We hope we’re reading it wrong,” he added. “We’ll see what happens over the next few days as we reengage with [the CDC].”

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Featured image of courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line.

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