Cruise Industry Expresses Frustration with CDC and Florida Politics

delays in restart of U.S. cruises
Norwegian Bliss at PortMiami (Norwegian Cruise Line)

Published May 7, 2021 6:49 PM by The Maritime Executive

The cruise industry is expressing its ongoing frustration at the uncertainties and lack of clear guidance which is delaying the resumption of service from U.S. ports. While other countries, including the U.K. and now Germany, have given clear guidance to restart cruises, and lines are moving forward with more programs from the Caribbean and European ports, political and industry leaders continue to call for efforts to clear the way for cruises to start sailing from U.S. ports.

Responding to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s releases this week of details for the simulated cruises and then for restricted operations, the industry continues to call for greater clarity. Cruise industry executives continue to believe that the CDC is applying more stringent requirements on the cruise ships than any other segment of the travel and hospitality industry. 

The lack of clarity and the continued political fighting between the states and the federal government is further delaying the resumption of the U.S. cruise business the executives said. Frank Del Rio, President and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings told investors this week, “Overall, I am more hopeful today,” while he described the CDC’s latest guidance as unclear, at times “just preposterous,” impractical onerous burdensome requirements. 

“The July U.S. launch, at least from our company, it’s just not possible,” said Del Rio highlighting that he has repeatedly said it will take the cruise lines 90 days to restart vessels from their current cold or nearly cold status. He cited the problems of bringing back crew due to ongoing travel requirements, slow Visa processes, and other challenges globally. 

Speaking on behalf of the industry, the trade group Cruise Lines International Association responded to questions about the CDC guidance thanking the CDC while noting the May 5 releases from the CDC, “confirm there is a lot of work to do in order to achieve the goals of sailing from U.S. ports this summer.” CLIA said that they look forward to further discussions on the details of the instructions. In the meantime, cruise lines including Carnival Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line, and Royal Caribbean International, have been quietly removing additional sailing dates from their online listings.

“I have to tell you that I am disappointed at the first read,” said Del Rio responding to analyst questions about the CDC’s new guidance. “I think everybody has the same goal of getting the industry back in operation,” he said, noting that the CDC has generally been more responsive and that he would give them an opportunity to expand and clarify. “We hope we’re reading it wrong, we hope that there would be clarification.” He also highlighted that the CDC has yet to respond specifically to the plan NCLH submitted at the beginning of April for its U.S. restart.

Among his concerns is the apparent lack of recognition that NCLH and others in the industry proposed operating with a total requirement for passengers and crew to be fully vaccinated as well as extensive health and safety protocols. Del Rio specifically called out the CDC guidance that said passengers should only remove face coverings briefly during meals. “In between bites of your meal and in between sips of your beverage, you have to put on your mask, take your mask off,” he pointed out to follow the guidance. 

Del Rio also expressed frustration at the “classic state versus federal government issues,” pointing to Florida’s efforts to block vaccine passports, for example. Saying he hopes it does not become a legal or political football, Del Rio said, “Cruise ships have motors, propellers, and rudders... there are other states we can operate from.” Because of the strength of the Florida market, he hopes it does not come to that, but he pointed out that the company needs to get back in business and the demand from travelers who are frustrated after more than a year of restrictions.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava responded to NCLH’s statement saying, “Preventing private cruise companies from setting policies to keep customers and workers safe puts Floridians’ lives needlessly at risk, and is contrary to the free enterprise that makes this country great... This isn’t about politics; it’s about the livelihoods of so many families who have already struggled so much this year. I urge the Governor: Don’t stand in the way of the safe restart of cruising – a cornerstone of our regional and state economy.”

Del Rio said that it appears the path forward “is a bit rockier and a bit steeper than originally expected.” However, he expressed his belief that with the CDC being more engaged the industry is in a better place today than it was 30 days prior. He noted the company is moving forward with its international resumption of cruises, and he remains hopeful that before the end of the summer cruising from U.S. ports will resume.