Despite no certainty when U.S. cruises will return, passengers appear willing to pay up for U.S. departures compared to similar trips from the Caribbean.
One of the repeated statements from multiple cruise lines during the past several months is that they see strong pent-up demand for sailings. One cruise line — Silversea — even said its 139-day around-the-world cruise sold out in a single day.
And after more than a year since cruises were paused in the United States, passengers continue to book trips in anticipation of a return.
But while demand may be solid overall, there are signs that some new cruises sailing this summer from North America (but outside the United States) might have passengers playing “wait and see.”
Wide Availability and Lower Prices Abroad
With the CDC still pausing sailings from the United States, Royal Caribbean recently announced cruises from nearby Nassau in The Bahamas and from Bermuda this summer. These trips would still sail to popular spots like Cozumel and CocoCay, only depart from outside the United States.
That announcement was quickly followed by Norwegian Cruise Line launching their own sailings from Montego Bay, Jamaica and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, departing in August and September.
At this time, dates for both cruise lines departing spots like Nassau or Montego Bay are still widely available for booking, despite being the first major cruises to sail North America since March 2020.
Now, it’s not unusual for cruises to still be available for booking several months before they sail. The earliest of the trips doesn’t leave until June.
Looking at prices, however, these foreign cruises are significantly less expensive than similar trips from the U.S., despite there being no certainty when U.S. cruises will return.
For example, on July 3, Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas departs Nassau on a 7-night cruise. That trip offers interior cabins starting at $799 per person. Vision of the Seas departs Bermuda on the same day for a week-long cruise, starting at just $698 per person.
But on July 3 and July 4, Royal Caribbean has five other cruises still scheduled to depart from mainland U.S. ports. This includes Liberty of the Seas from Galveston and Symphony of the Seas from Miami, among others. These trips start at $1,086 per person for an interior cabin.
That’s hundreds of dollars more, despite the fact that these cruises may not sail. Royal Caribbean has said they are hopeful for a return in mid-July.
It’s a similar story for Norwegian Cruise Lines. A September 18 cruise departs Montego Bay, Jamaica for a week-long trip. That trip starts at $496 per person. A 7-day cruise departing September 19 from Punta Cana is also priced at $496.
But passengers can book a 7-day trip aboard NCL from Miami on September 19 for $615 per person for an interior cabin.
Hurdles to Americans Sailing Outside the United States
While these foreign cruises certainly generated excitement returning to North America, they do represent some challenges for cruise passengers in the United States — the world’s largest cruise market.
First, both Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line have said that only vaccinated passengers will be allowed to sail the trips.
For Royal Caribbean, there is an exception for guests under 18. Kids under 18 are allowed to board without a vaccination, assuming they test negative for COVID before boarding. Norwegian Cruise Line, however, says even those under 18 must be vaccinated to sail at this time.
Second, there is the hurdle of getting to the port. Since these cruises all depart from outside the U.S., American guests need to fly internationally to get to ports like Bermuda or Montego Bay to start their cruise.
A flight from Miami to Nassau (a flight that’s less than an hour) can easily run $300 round trip for one person.
Not only can this be much more expensive, but it also means passengers will need passports to get back and forth from the ship. Many round trip cruises from the United States allow you to sail with only a birth certificate and photo ID.
Finally, there are the travel rules put in place by countries like Bermuda and The Bahamas for all visitors. Those coming into The Bahamas, for example, must apply for a “Bahamas Travel Health Visa.” This add more complexity than simply arriving to a port and boarding the cruise ship.
Passengers Holding Off for Now?
There’s no doubt that the hurdles in place to sail on these Caribbean homeported cruises make sailing more difficult if coming from the United States.
Could it be that passengers are holding off on booking these cruises due to these issues?
We asked Matt Hochberg of RoyalCaribbeanBlog.com for his thoughts on a potential lack of demand. “The added cost and logistics of having to fly to a cruise I think have put some people off from trying it, especially if there’s still hope for summer sailings from the U.S.,” said Hochberg.
In fact, it looks like the cruise lines are attempting to address that hurdle. Royal Caribbean now shows a message of “Discounted Flights Available” for trips from Nassau and Bermuda, as well as a note when booking:
SAVE ON FLIGHTS
We’ve secured seats with major airlines at negotiated special rates and passed those savings on to you. Once you complete your booking, you can speak with a representative at 844-278-9745 to purchase your discounted airfare.
When we searched for non-stop flights from Miami to Nassau for a June cruise, we found prices of roughly $360 aboard American Airlines. A call to Royal Caribbean quoted us a price of just $249 for a similar route.
What the Cruise Lines Say
We also reached out to both Royal Caribbean International and Norwegian Cruise Line regarding these cruises, and will update when we hear more.
In the meantime, Royal Caribbean did offer some positive commentary on the cruises during a recent quarterly update with investors.
“Over the past few weeks we’ve introduced multiple products homeporting outside the U.S. and in the Caribbean,” said Royal Caribbean International President Michael Bayley. “And the demand for those products has been quite robust. I mean, we’re quite pleased with the demand we’ve seen for those products.”
Earlier in the call, company CFO Jason Liberty also sounded upbeat:
“We have been very pleased with booking levels and pricing for sailings in both Europe and the Caribbean, and as a result, our load factors and revenues are building up nicely. After less than three weeks of sales from those ships, we already have about 30% of our expected revenue booked for June through September sailings.”
Even so, it seems obvious given the price difference many more passengers are interested in sailing from the United States than having to fly to a foreign port to sail.