Norwegian Cruise Line outlines restart plans with sailings from Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Greece

Apr 7, 2021

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At least three Norwegian Cruise Line ships will be back in the water with paying passengers by the end of August.

The world’s fourth-largest cruise brand on Tuesday said it would resume operations on 25 July with a single vessel, the 2,200-passenger Norwegian Jade, sailing to the Greek Islands out of Piraeus, Greece (the port for Athens).

Two more Norwegian ships — the 3,802-passenger Norwegian Joy and 2,394-passenger Norwegian Gem — will begin Caribbean sailings out of Montego Bay, Jamaica, and La Romana, Dominican Republic, on 7 August and 15 August, respectively, the line said.

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Like many cruise lines, Norwegian hasn’t operated a single departure since the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic in March of 2020. But the company on Tuesday suggested the rapid rollout of COVID-19 vaccines around the world has finally made it possible to safely return to operations.

The line, which operates 17 cruise vessels in all, also has developed a long list of health and safety protocols for ships.

“Over a year after we initially suspended sailings, the time has finally come when we can provide our loyal guests with the news of our great cruise comeback,” Norwegian Cruise Line president and CEO Harry Sommer said in a statement accompanying the announcement. “The growing availability of the COVID-19 vaccine has been a game-changer.”

“The vaccine, combined with our science-backed health and safety protocols, will help us provide our guests with what we believe will be the healthiest and safest vacation at sea.”

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

Norwegian is just the latest major cruise line to announce definitive plans to restart cruising over the summer with sailings out of ports in the Mediterranean, Bahamas and Caribbean.

In some cases, the departures are out of ports the lines normally do not use as bases.

Like new Bahamas and Caribbean voyages out of the Bahamas, Bermuda and St. Martin recently announced by Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Crystal Cruises, Norwegian’s newly announced Caribbean sailings will not originate in or involve any stops at U.S. ports.

This means they will not require the approval of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They only require the approval of officials in Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, which the line now has.

The CDC has blocked cruise ships that carry more than 250 people from sailing in U.S. waters since March of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The agency has not yet announced when cruise lines will be able to restart operations in U.S. waters.

The CDC prohibition on cruising in U.S. waters has forced major lines to repeatedly push back their plans for a restart to North American operations over the past year, as the lines typically operate North America sailings out of U.S. ports such as Florida’s PortMiami and Port Canaveral. But in recent days, lines have begun getting around the prohibition by announcing new cruises in North America out of non-U.S. ports.

Taken together, the announcements from Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Crystal mark a significant milestone in the comeback of cruising worldwide after a year-long halt to nearly all cruises due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A very limited amount of cruising has restarted in parts of Europe and Asia in recent months. And several very small cruise vessels that are not regulated by the CDC have restarted operations in recent days on U.S. rivers and intracoastal waterways. But cruising to North America’s most important cruise destinations — the Bahamas and the Caribbean — remains completely shut down.

The Bahamas and Caribbean are the world’s most popular cruise destinations, accounting for the highest percentage of cruises taken by all cruisers worldwide.

Norwegian on Tuesday said all passengers on all of the newly announced sailings would be required to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccine to sail. The announcement was an expansion of a policy the line announced Monday to require all passengers on sailings out of U.S. ports to have a COVID-19 vaccine.

As part of its announcement on Tuesday, Norwegian said the COVID-19 vaccine requirement for sailings would remain in effect through at least 31 October. The line said it had not yet made a decision about whether passengers would be required to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccine to sail beyond that date.

“Given the ever-evolving nature of the pandemic, the accelerating rollout of the vaccine and the speed of scientific learnings, it is premature to make decisions about our health and safety protocols for cruises with embarkation dates beginning 1 November,” Sommer said. “We will continue to evaluate our health and safety protocols and rely on science and our expert council as we make decisions and evolve our policies and procedures.”

The new sailings out of Greece will feature calls at Rhodes, Mykonos, Corfu, Santorini, Olympia and Heraklion. The voyages out of Jamaica will bring calls at Cozumel, Mexico; Ocho Rios, Jamaica; and Harvest Caye, Norwegian’s private beach destination in Belize.

The sailings out of the Dominican Republic will include calls at the islands of Barbados and St. Lucia.

In a statement, Jamaica’s minister of tourism, Edmund Bartlett, welcomed Norwegian and its newly announced sailings.

“I am very pleased that Norwegian Cruise Line has selected Jamaica as one of the first destinations in the world that it will visit when it resumes service,” Bartlett said. “We look forward to welcoming the cruise line back to our shores, and I am confident that this important partnership will aid in our effort to rebuild our tourism sector and boost our economy overall.”

Luis Abinader, the president of the Dominican Republic, and Harry Theoharis, the Greek minister or tourism, expressed similar sentiments in statements.

“From the very first day, we’ve been committed to taking all of the necessary actions to support the recovery of our tourism sector,” Abinader said. “The cruise line’s presence this summer reaffirms our commitment to providing a safe destination for travellers. We thank [Norwegian] for putting its trust in our country.”

In conjunction with its return to service announcement, Norwegian on Tuesday cancelled all July and August itineraries aboard eight of its 17 ships: Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Dawn, Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Sky, Norwegian Spirit, Norwegian Star and Norwegian Sun.

In addition, the line cancelled voyages on two more ships — Norwegian Epic and Norwegian Pearl — through 1 September and 7 November, respectively.

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Featured image courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

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