Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald said that the cruise company has not yet made a decision on whether to require passengers or crew to be vaccinated for Covid-19.
In an online chat with Travel Leaders Group president John Lovell, Donald said that Carnival Corp. would let its global medical and science experts inform that decision.
"It's early," Donald said, adding that Carnival's Aida and Costa Cruises lines, as well as other non-Carnival cruise brands, have sailed on a limited basis in Europe "successfully" without mandating vaccines.
"I won't jump the gun to say it will be mandated, but I will say it's in everyone's best interest that everyone is vaccinated over time," Donald said. "I'm not sure we have to wait for that or mandate that for people to be able to travel safely in the best interest of public health. But we'll let the medical experts and scientists tell us."
Regarding crew inoculations, Donald said the company "won't make that declaration when there is not ready availability of vaccines for all the crew," especially given that the company has ships sailing now.
Royal Caribbean Group said last week that it would require all crew to be vaccinated, and Norwegian Cruise Line Holding previously indicated it would do the same. Three other, smaller lines said they would require passengers to be vaccinated, too.
Donald said Carnival doesn't yet know if it can mandate vaccines in all of the places it operates.
"I wouldn't rule it out, but I wouldn't say for certain we are going to do that, because it may not be necessary or may or may not possible," he said.
When asked when he thought a Carnival Corp. ship might sail again from U.S. ports, Donald said "I wouldn't predict."
"What I will predict is this: I think certainly by the end of this year all, or most if not all of our fleet, I'm optimistic will be in action," he said. "There's a really high probability that all of it will be back by early next year if things continue to progress the way they have."
Looking much further ahead, Donald said that "two years from now I think we'll be back in action. I think one year from now we'll have lots of activity. Certain ports will still maybe be a challenge in some locations, depending on a whole host of things."
He said that some ports on world cruises and more exotic sailings may not be available, due to challenges such as concerns around their limited medical capacity.
"But I don't even know that," Donald said. "We'll have to see. There are just a lot of variables, and there will be some exceptions, and some places will come back much slower than others. There will be plenty of options for the guests to choose from to have a great experience."
Regarding the CDC's perceived delay in giving cruise lines technical instructions so they can launch test cruises -- a critical component to restarting cruise operations -- Donald said the delay may be due the administration change, the new CDC director and the agency's focus on the national vaccine rollout.
"There are lots of priorities, and we're among them, I hope," Donald said. "We continue to work with them and communicate -- and we are in process. Obviously it's taking longer than anyone of us would like, but at the same time the pandemic is taking longer and vaccine distribution is slower than any of us would like. It's just the circumstances."