Norwegian Cruise Line‘s President and CEO Harry Sommer says comments made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the past week have been both encouraging and discouraging.
A week ago [2 April 2021], the CDC released two updates. The first provided guidance on travel for fully vaccinated people, determining those who have had the COVID-19 shot “can travel at low risk to themselves” anywhere within the United States, and would not need to quarantine.
Later the same day the CDC released the second phase of the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) that outlined the requirements necessary to restart cruising from US ports, “when it is safe to do so”.
“On Friday morning…the CDC says that fully vaccinated people should feel free to travel, domestically and internationally. We were very encouraged by that comment because our plan had always been to stand up our ships with fully vaccinated guests and crew. We say great, the CDC is now saying it’s safe to cruise,” Sommer said during a Zoom conference call yesterday [Thursday 8 April].
“And then later on in the afternoon they said nope. For all other travel except for cruise. So that was a little bit discouraging.”
By Monday, Frank Del Rio, President and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and parent company of NCL, wrote a letter to the CDC, saying the company was focussed on resuming cruising to and from US ports on or around 4 July, 2021.
Sommer said that in the past few days CDC official, Marty Citron, had started to “walk those comments back a little this week” and was now reportedly talking about restricted cruising from US ports by as early as mid-summer.
“It’s still a little hazy exactly where we’re going to be going with the CDC. But clearly we think we have a very strong case to return, and we’re planning to aggressively continue our dialogue with them,” Sommer told LATTE.
Sommer’s key message from the Zoom meeting was centred on Norwegian Cruise Line’s return to service after a 16-month hiatus, with new itineraries sailing to Europe and the Caribbean beginning 25 July, 2021.
NCL will restart operations at a reduced capacity with Norwegian Jade, Norwegian Joy and Norwegian Gem, all ships fitted with Norwegian Cruise Line’s luxury ship-within-a-ship concept, The Haven.
New seven-day cruises to the Greek Isles will be offered on Norwegian Jade from Athens (Piraeus) beginning 25 July, 2021. Week-long Caribbean itineraries available from Montego Bay, Jamaica as of 7 August, 2021 will be offered on Norwegian Joy or from Punta Cana (La Romana), Dominican Republic on Norwegian Gem beginning 15 August, 2021.
“From a return service perspective, we are really excited that that the situation with COVID in the world has progressed, especially with the advent of vaccines, to the point where we see a clear path and putting our ships back in the water by the summer.”
“We’ve picked these cruises because these are the cruises that are particularly popular with our guests in a normal year.”
Sommer said that ahead of the commercial return to service, which will initially operate with capacity of 60% and build from there over time, Norwegian Cruise Line will operate two “simulated voyages” available primarily to partners – employees, travel advisors – on a short cruise with 25% occupancy, a second at 50% occupancy.
He said NCL will aim to get to 100% capacity in around four to five weeks. “We’ll ramp up slowly over time”.
“The goal simply being to provide a perfect experience to every guest on every voyage,” Sommer said.