Carnival Says It Will “Phase-In” Service in August, Starting With Three Ports

Carnival Cruise Line has announced its latest itinerary update for its planned return in the wake of the coronavirus. The line now says it plans to return in a limited capacity beginning August 1, utilizing a “phase-in” approach to service.

Carnival ship whale tail

In a press release, Carnival, which had recently extended its pause in sailing until late June, said it will now start sailing in August from just three ports: Galveston, Miami, and Port Canaveral.

In total, just eight ships will be back in service starting August 1. The 19 other ships in Carnival’s fleet won’t return until September 1 at the earliest.

“Carnival Cruise Line advised guests and travel agents today of our plan to phase in a resumption in our North American service this summer, beginning on August 1 with a total of eight ships from Miami, Port Canaveral and Galveston,” the cruise line said in a statement. “In connection with this plan, our pause in operations will be extended in all other North American and Australian markets through August 31.”

With the updated time table, the return to sailing for Carnival will be extended more than a month. Before this announcement, the cruise line recently moved its return date from mid-May to June 27.

Carnival laid out exactly which ships will sail and which will be cancelled following this new schedule:

  • All North American cruises from June 27 to July 31 will be cancelled.
  • Beginning August 1, we plan to resume cruises on the following ships:
    Galveston: Carnival Dream, Carnival Freedom and Carnival Vista
    Miami: Carnival Horizon, Carnival Magic and Carnival Sensation
    Port Canaveral: Carnival Breeze and Carnival Elation.
  • Other than the above referenced service from Galveston, Miami, and Port Canaveral, all other North American and Australian homeport cruises will be cancelled through August 31.
  • All Carnival Spirit Alaskan cruises from Seattle will be cancelled, as well as the Carnival Spirit Vancouver-Honolulu cruise on September 25 and the Honolulu-Brisbane transpacific cruise on October 6.
  • All Carnival Splendor cruises in Australia from June 19 to August 31 will be cancelled.

Extension of Cruise Suspension Not Unexpected

This move is a major announcement, but it may not be a surprise to some cruisers.

In the last few days many noticed that Carnival’s website showed no sailings available in June or July. As we noted several weeks ago, bookings were also unavailable right before Carnival officially announced its last extension.

Carnival’s brand ambassador John Heald said on a Facebook video posted on May 1, “Please don’t panic. We have not cancelled the cruises in July” in response to comments about itineraries not being available.

Just days later, however, the rumors about cancellations in July were proved correct.

As well, many outlets have noted how the current return dates for cruise lines contradict the CDC’s “No Sail Order.” That order, which was modified in April states that cruise lines can’t operate in U.S. waters until one of the following three things happen:

  • The expiration of the Secretary of Health and Human Services’ declaration that COVID-19 constitutes a public health emergency
  • The CDC Director rescinds or modifies the order based on specific public health or other considerations
  • 100 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register

The only concrete date among those three options is 100 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register. That would be July 24 (the order can be extended). Still, as of now most cruise lines have tentative plans to return before then.

That might be possible if the COVID-19 outbreak quickly resolves and the CDC rescinds its order. However, that seems unlikely at this point. That’s why it seems likely other cruise lines will announce future extensions of their return to service plans.

Is an August 1 “Phase-In” Likely?

Broadside view of Carnival ship in port

While cruise lines have continued to extend their return to sail dates, in our opinion, this is the first time that an announced date seems plausible.

To be sure, no one can say for sure when cruises will definitely return to sailing. With this pandemic, the world is in uncharted territory. No one knows for sure what will happen going forward.

However, as we explained here, our best estimate is for cruises to start back sailing in August at the earliest. This was based not just on the CDC’s “No Sail Order” but also the slow recovery seen in other countries in battling the crisis.

Furthermore, this is the first plan we’ve seen from a cruise line to have a “phased-in” approach. This sort of return seems much more plausible to work, and we’d expect more cruise lines to announce similar plans.

Cruising will likely look very different when it returns. With the phase-in approach, it’s easier logistically to implement new procedures for boarding and passenger health on a smaller number of ships, compared to having to determine what works for the entire fleet at once.

Fewer ships sailing should also make it easier to respond to any virus scares more quickly, and make it easier to crew the ship after many crew members have returned home.

Put simply, it should be simpler to gradually move back to sailing instead of trying to rush all ships back into service at once.

Only time will tell if Carnival is able to start sailing again come August 1. If the cruise line were to sail on that date, it would make a 140 day suspension of its service in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.

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