North American Cruises Continue to Prepare but Delay Resuming Service

North America cruises continue to prepare but delay return
Mardi Gras departing Finland in September for 10 days of sea trails - courtesy Carnival Cruise Line

Published Dec 3, 2020 4:42 PM by The Maritime Executive

The North America cruise industry is continuing to delay its planned resumption of service. In the latest round of cancelations, the large cruise line including Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise, and Royal Caribbean International each announced they are extending the pause through February 2021 or beyond for some ships. 

Carnival Cruise Line, which had previously extended the pause for most of its cruises, announced today that it was canceling February cruises from PortMiami, Port Canaveral and Galveston. The three ports had been targeted as the first that would resume service with shorter cruises. 

"We apologize to our guests but we must continue to take a thoughtful, deliberate and measured approach as we map out our return to operations in 2021," said Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line in announcing the additional cancelation. "Our commitment to the health and safety of our guests, crew and the communities we visit is at the forefront of our decisions and operations."

As part of the extension of the pause, Carnival also said that while it still expects to take delivery of its newest cruise ship, the 180,000 gross ton Mardi Gras, from Meyer Turku in December, they are postponing the new cruise ship’s maiden voyage until April 24, 2021. The ship, which will be the largest in the Carnival Cruise Line fleet, is being launched as part of the celebration to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the cruise line’s entry into service.

The delayed introduction of the Mardi Gras highlights another challenge the cruise lines are facing as they prepare to resume operations. According to a company spokesperson, “The recent spike of COVID in Europe has made it difficult to staff the ship and prepare it for operations. We will be taking delivery of the ship later this month and she will eventually make her way to the U.S. to meet the requirements of the CDC, but that will take some time.”

While all of the lines are reported to be making preparations to meet the steps outline by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, they also have to contend with the CDC’s subsequent warning to travelers to avoid cruise ships. Also, the continuing international travel restrictions are making it challenging to return the large numbers of people require to staff the hotel operations of the cruise ships.

Despite this, the cruise lines are continuing to reposition ships back to North America after having moved many of them to Europe during the summer. Carnival’s first cruise ship to return to a US port, the Carnival Horizon, is at the dock in Miami and Port Canaveral recently marked the return of the Disney cruise ships to the port. Other cruise ships, including Holland America Line's Nieuw Statendam and Princess Cruises' Emerald Princess, are also now crossing the Atlantic towards the Caribbean as a first step towards resuming service.

Despite the positive steps some industry observers and analysts suggest that the larger cruise ships will not return to service until the COVID-19 vaccine enters broad distribution.