3 major cruise lines push back restart all the way to July

Mar 17, 2021

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Norwegian Cruise Line just became the first of the world’s big cruise brands to give up on the idea of a June restart to cruising.

The Miami-based cruise operator on Tuesday cancelled all departures through the end of June — a move that pushes out its planned restart to at least early July.

Until Tuesday, Norwegian only had cancelled sailings through the end of May.

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Norwegian’s two smaller sister brands, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, also pushed back their restart dates on Tuesday by a month to early July.

Norwegian is the world’s fourth-biggest cruise line by passenger capacity. With Tuesday’s announcement, it becomes the first of the world’s five biggest cruise lines to have halted all sailings until early July.

The world’s three biggest cruise brands — Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Line and MSC Cruises — have cancelled all or most cruises through the end of May but not into June.

The world’s fifth-biggest cruise line, Princess Cruises, has cancelled some — but not all — sailings through the end of June.

The announcements from Norwegian and its sister brands are a blow to fans of the lines who had hoped their most recently announced restart dates would hold. Many have been optimistic that the recent rollout of COVID vaccines and falling case counts in many parts of the world would allow for at least some of the brands’ cruises to take place in June.

Norwegian Cruise Line operates some of the newest ships in the cruise business, including the recently unveiled 4,004-passenger Norwegian Encore. (Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line)

But it’s looking increasingly unlikely that there will be a meaningful amount of cruising in many parts of the world before July at the earliest.

In North America, in particular, cruise lines have been grappling with a road map for a return to cruising issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that lays out a long period of testing and approvals before cruising can resume.

Issued in October as a “framework for conditional sailing” order, the road map includes a testing period for new anti-coronavirus protocols on ships that have yet to begin. After that, cruise operators can apply for what the CDC is calling a Conditional Sailing Certificate in a process that could take an additional 60 days.

Cruise lines also face roadblocks to a return to cruising in the form of the many coronavirus-related travel restrictions that destinations around the world continue to impose.

Cruising has resumed in a limited way over the past nine months in parts of Europe, led by Europe-based lines such as MSC Cruises and TUI Cruises. A handful of ships also have resumed sailings in Asia, including one Royal Caribbean vessel. But, so far, no ocean cruising has resumed in North America on a permanent basis.

In November, one small cruise company, SeaDream Yacht Club, attempted to resume voyages in the Caribbean out of Barbados with a small vessel. But the sailing did not go well. It ended with a COVID-19 outbreak and passengers quarantined in their cabins. The line subsequently cancelled all remaining cruises for the winter season.

The only cruise vessels that currently are operating in North America are two small vessels that sail on U.S. rivers and intracoastal waterways. They just resumed service this week.

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Featured image courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

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