Carnival fans dealt blow as cruise line cancels sailings into fall

Jun 24, 2020

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One of the world’s biggest cruise lines just threw in the towel on a quick return to operations.

Miami-based Carnival Cruise Line, which is second only to Royal Caribbean in size when measured by passenger capacity, on Monday pushed back its return to service in North America until at least early October.

Citing the coronavirus pandemic, Carnival said in an announcement that it was cancelling every North American sailing it still had on the books for August and September.

Until Monday, the line had been telling customers it would resume departures in August with eight of its 27 ships.

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Carnival’s announcement comes just three days after the main trade group for the cruise industry, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), announced that all its members operating oceangoing ships would extend their suspension of cruises in U.S. waters until 15 September.

By extending its North American cruise cancellations to the end of September, Carnival is going further than what CLIA announced on Friday.

“During this unprecedented pause in our business, we have continued to assess the operating environment and confer with public health, government and industry officials”, Carnival president  Christine Duffy said in a letter sent Monday to passengers and travel agents. “We apologize for disrupting your vacation plans and appreciate your patience as we work through these decisions”.

Duffy gave no timetable for when Carnival would resume sailing in North America but suggested it only would occur when the public was confident in cruising again.

(Photo courtesy of Carnival)
Carnival Cruise Line is one of the world’s two biggest cruise lines. (Photo courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line)

“We have watched with great interest as commerce, travel and personal activities have begun to start back up”, Duffy said. “Once we do resume service, we will take all necessary steps to ensure the health and safety of our guests, crew and the communities we bring our ships to in order to maintain public confidence in our business”.

The vast majority of Carnival’s departures are in North America, but it does have a small operation in Australia. The line has cancelled most sailings through early October in Australia, too, but still has two trips on the books in Australia for late September.

Carnival is joining a growing list of cruise lines cancelling all sailings into the fall. Just last week, Norwegian Cruise Line and its sister brands, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania Cruises, cancelled nearly all sailings into early October. Cunard, Silversea, Seabourn, Holland America, Princess Cruises and Windstar Cruises also already have announced they won’t resume sailings until the fall at the earliest.

Carnival is facing more of an uphill battle in restarting operations than many lines because its cruise operations are heavily centred on sailings out of U.S. ports.

It is becoming increasingly clear that cruising out of U.S. ports will not return as quickly as cruising in some other parts of the world, most notably Europe, due to the progression of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. Many countries in Europe are ahead of the U.S. in bringing down coronavirus case count numbers.

A few small cruise vessels in Europe — mostly river ships — already have begun to restart sailings on a localized basis with trips aimed at the local market. The first was German line Nicko Cruises, which resumed river cruises in Germany with a single ship earlier this month. The trips are aimed at local Germans who can reach the ship by car or train.

Last week, Norwegian cruise and ferry company Hurtigruten restarted its famed ferry service along the coast of Norway, which often draws traditional cruisers as well as locals travelling between Norwegian towns. The company also plans to start up cruises from Germany for the local German market in the coming days.

Some small-ship cruising also is about to start up in French Polynesia.

There is a growing consensus in the cruise industry that river ships and small vessels that sail coastal routings will be able to resume semiregular operations this year far earlier than the bigger ships that offer long-distance ocean trips.

In part, this is because small vessels offer a sort of small-group travel that is easier to manage in an era of social distancing than the mass tourism of big ships. The typical river ship in Europe, for instance, has fewer than 100 cabins. It essentially operates as a small boutique hotel — albeit one that happens to move from town to town. Touring always is in small groups or on an individual basis. Onboard spaces rarely are crowded.

Feature image courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line.

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