3 Major Updates on Cruise Line Plans to Return to Sailing

You might think that with cruises suspended, there isn’t much going on in the cruise industry. Fact is, there’s a tremendous amount happening behind the scenes as cruises look to make a comeback.

The past days have seen a flurry of updates from the industry.

From shipyard delays that will push the launch of a brand-new vessel to 2021, to two rival companies working together to implement new plans to keep people healthy, to a glimpse into what it will take for cruises to sail again in one part of the world, the news coming out now is busier than ever.

Carnival Mardi Gras Delayed, Other Ships Also Impacted

Mardi Gras rendering
Image: Carnival Cruise Lines

Carnival’s Mardi Gras — the cruise line’s newest ship — will not launch until February 2021. The ship, which is the cruise line’s first LNG-powered vessel, had planned to enter service in November 2020. However, due to delays from the current health crisis, the cruise line has been forced to push back the inaugural sailing.

“While we had hoped to make up construction time on Mardi Gras over the summer, it’s clear we will need extra time to complete this magnificent ship,” said Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line. “We share our guests’ disappointment and appreciate their patience as we work through this unprecedented time in our business and the lives of so many people. We remain committed to working with government, public health and industry officials to support the response to the pandemic and to return to operations when the time is right.”

Mardi Gras will be Carnival’s largest ship when it finally does sets sail from Port Canaveral in 2021.

Other ship deployments are also impacted by the delay in construction due to coronavirus.

  • Carnival had planned to dry dock the Carnival Radiance in Spain, but that was suspended due to COVID. The line is now looking at other options for the $200 million project.
  • Due to the delay for the Radiance, Carnival Breeze will head to Port Canaveral and take over its sailings from November 8, 2020 to April 24, 2021. The original sailings aboard the Carnival Breeze from Fort Lauderdale from November 7, 2020 to March 7, 2021 have been cancelled.
  • Carnival Magic has had its European sailings cancelled from March to May 2021, and it will take on a new set of sailings originally scheduled for the Carnival Breeze that depart March 13, 2021 through April 24, 2021. The original sailings on these dates aboard the Breeze were set to sail from Fort Lauderdale. These trips will stay the same, except they will depart from Miami on the Magic.

Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Working Together for Passenger Health

Differences between Royal Caribbean and Norwegian cruise lines

While Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. are normally major competitors, they have joined forces to help keep passengers safe when cruises do return.

The two companies have joined up for what they call the “Healthy Sail Panel.” This panel is a group of experts tasked with coming up with recommendations to get the lines back sailing while keeping passengers healthy.

The panel is a star-studded group of experts, including:

  • Governor Mike Leavitt: Former Governor of Utah, and former admin in the Environmental Protection Agency and Secretary of Health and Human Services
  • Dr. Scott Gottlieb: Former Commissioner of the FDA from 2017-2019
  • Dr. Helen Gayle, MD: CEO of Chicago Community Trust and former president and CEO of CARE, an international humanitarian organization. She also spent two decades with the CDC, with work on HIV/AIDS
  • Dr. Julie Gerberding: Former head of the CDC from 2002-2009 (during anthrax, SARS, and bird flu outbreaks), and current Executive Vice President for Merck

In addition, there are many more members, including infectious disease experts and former high-ranking members of the CDC and FDA. There are also experts on hotel management and shipboard operations.

All told, the group includes everything from experts on viruses themselves down to those that understand how cruise ships work day-in and day-out.

According to the companies, this group has already been at work for weeks. They plan to offer recommendations at the end of August.

“This unprecedented disease requires us to develop unprecedented standards in health and safety,” said Richard D. Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Group. “Bringing aboard these respected experts to guide us forward demonstrates our commitment to protecting our guests, our crews and the communities we visit.”

European Group Lays Out Advice for Restarting Cruising

While the United States continues to see soaring COVID cases during this health crisis, Europe largely appears to have the virus under control. That means while cruises from the U.S. aren’t likely to return for some time, trips sailing around Europe may begin sooner.

As for what cruise lines should do to sail safely, a European group just laid out a road map of suggestions.

EU Healthy Gateways is a consortium that aims to coordinate between European Union countries about how to protect public health in regards to ports of entry like airports and cruise ports. In that regard, they recently released a 49-page document outlining how to start cruises back sailing safely.

Many of their recommendations are not surprising and feature a number of things cruise lines have already announced they will do or have been widely mentioned as possibilities. Even so, there are some suggestions that are more surprising.

Suggestions include:

  • Written contingency plans in case of an outbreak (including arrangements for treatment and repatriation)
  • Quarantine arrangements on board for those exposed, but testing negative
  • Testing capacity for COVID
  • Crew training related to the virus
  • Reduction in the number of passengers on ships
  • Limiting interaction between people by having “cohorts” on the ship
  • Use of face masks by passengers while in the terminal and indoor areas of the ship
  • Physical distancing of casinos and theaters

All told, the plan from EU Healthy Gateways laid out dozens and dozens of ways to combat COVID on a cruise ship, and runs the full gamut from how to handle cases on board to contact tracing to improving personal hygiene onboard.

While no one will know exactly how cruises will look when they return, this document shows that there will be major changes when they do return.

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