Carnival Corporation — the parent company behind major cruise lines including Carnival, Princess, and Costa — just provided an update on two big questions about cruising that are on many people’s minds.
In a conference call to discuss the latest quarterly results in the wake of the pandemic, Carnival’s CEO Arnold Donald spoke at length about the company’s performance. There was also the traditional question-and-answer session with analysts, where Donald was asked about two important things on many people’s minds: will passengers have to be vaccinated to cruise and when might simulated voyages take place?
Carnival CEO Comments on Vaccine for Cruises
While the rollout of a vaccine provides a bright spot for the return of cruising, it also brings a number of questions. One of the biggest is “Will cruise passengers be required to take the vaccine to sail?”
Obviously having everyone on the ship be vaccinated represents one of the most sure ways to get back to “normal” in cruising. While the vaccine doesn’t give 100% immunity, it is shown to be highly effective. That effectiveness, mixed with other protocols, could lead to a safer cruise than simply depending on testing and distancing on the ship.
One analyst asked the Carnival CEO directly if passengers, crew, or both would have to be vaccinated before they are allowed to sail.
“Well, you know, as you are very well aware, the whole vaccine thing is at the very beginning here. So we’re monitoring, we’re in dialogue, with not only CDC but lots of other equivalent organizations around the world for other destinations. And so we’ll let it evolve over time and we’ll make the most prudent decision when the time comes. At this point, distribution remains a bit of an issue, so we’ll make a determination as things evolve.”
- Carnival CEO Arnold Donald
In other words, there was no determination one way or the other. However, it is clear that requiring the dose is at least on the table.
While requiring the vaccine may lead to safer cruising, it also raises a number of questions. Specifically, what about those that have objections to the dose or can’t get it because of medical requirements? And what about children, who at this time aren’t factored into the distribution rollout?
It’s obvious that making a determination one way or the other is a major decision. Given that so few doses are even available at this time, it’s no wonder that the cruise line is deciding to wait. Even so, it’s certainly something to watch in the coming months as more doses are distributed.
When Will Simulated Voyages Be Scheduled?
One of the major steps in the return of cruises required by the CDC is that cruise lines must run simulated voyages before sailing with paying passengers. Here, the cruise line implements and works out the kinks in sailing under new health protocols.
These voyages are a major milestone as they are required before the line can apply for a certificate to get back to sailing. In other words, once a simulated voyage — or test cruise — is successfully completed, the return of cruises in the United States is likely on the horizon.
One analyst asked for comment on the test cruises:
Robin Farley, UBS: I wonder if you could give us any sense of the timing or kind of the gating issue for your first initial test cruises?
Carnival CEO Arnold Donald: That’s a work in process. Phase one we’re in with what’s been communicated by the CDC. The additional guidelines for future phases have not yet been issued by CDC. We have weekly calls or as often as we need with them, so that remains to be seen. But what I can tell you is that we’re on track to be able to do whatever we need to do in a very timely manner to be able to resume cruise ultimately.
Farley: So it sounds like you’re waiting specifically for the CDC to issue some specific guidance around the test cruise timing?
Donald: Well, to answer your question about specific timing on test cruise, yes. We would be waiting. But obviously we’re doing a lot of things. We’ve started to bring ships back into the U.S. We have, in bringing those ships back, are meeting the criteria that is currently put out there to be in a position to subsequently do test cruises. But to give you a specific timing on the test cruises, we would need additional guidance from CDC.
So here as well, the public didn’t get a specific answer. Despite it being nearly two-and-a-half months since the CDC framework was announced, no cruise line — including Carnival — has scheduled or sailed a simulated voyage.
However, it is notable that Carnival’s CEO mentioned needing guidance from the CDC. It sounds as if Carnival is ready to carry out test cruises when given the green light.
In the meantime, it seems clear that cruise lovers are going to have to continue doing what we’ve done for almost a year: wait.