Johanna Jainchill
Johanna Jainchill

What do cruise line resumption dates really mean?

A lot, and also not that much. 

Cruise lines will not resume operations until governments allow it -- and there are almost no governments yet that can say when that will be. So while the cruise lines and CLIA have employed an army of experts to guide them through the current crisis, their resumption dates are hopeful targets.

Cruise line executives have said this many times. Most recently, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio said, "We're looking at a gradual start; we're not certain when that date is, because everything depends on the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] lifting the no-sail order."

And when the U.S. Travel Association laid out guidelines for travel's reopening, which were written in collaboration with CLIA and other industry groups, CEO Roger Dow said the industry will not "encourage people to travel until we know it's safe."

The situation is complex, because while coronavirus doesn't respect national borders, cruise ships must, and most cruises touch more than one country. Even if the CDC lifts its no-sail order, officials in Canada, the European Union, Caribbean nations, Mexico and so on would also need to reopen their ports and allow for the resumption of cruising.

As Mark Conroy, Silversea Cruises managing director of the Americas, said, "If you can't cross borders, it's hard to run a cruise."

But despite all the complications, there are indications that cruise lines are beginning to feel more comfortable setting somewhat solid dates to return to service.

Carnival Cruise Line said one week ago that it would re-launch operations on Aug. 1 with sailings from Miami, Port Canaveral and Galveston on eight ships. It couched the announcement by saying that any resumption of cruise operations "is fully dependent on our continued efforts in cooperation with federal, state, local and international government officials." But it was more detail than any major U.S. line has yet offered.

"Three reopened ports and eight Carnival cruise ships in the sea is a slow yet steady sign of cruising's return," said Cruise Planners' Michelle Fee in response. "We anticipate sailings for August 1 to be a celebration of the rebirth of travel."

Hurtigruten this week said it would gradually restart operations June 16, citing the gradual lifting of some travel restrictions in Norway, where Hurtigruten is headquartered, and where its prime minister last week said that by mid-June it would reopen most public and private institutions.

Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam said that gradually restarting operations within Norwegian waters is "natural first steps towards a normalization for us. The size and scale of our step-by-step restart is dependent on national and international travel restrictions, government support and other external factors outside of our control. But we are eager to welcome guests on board our ships again."

He said that while "there is still a lot of uncertainty in what the next weeks and months will bring we do see international restrictions gradually being lifted."

In fact, a survey of ports in Northern Europe indicated that 56 out of 113 are open to cruise traffic, including Edinburgh, Stockholm and Oslo, which Fee called "a glimmer of hope for our industry's resurgence."

"While I don't expect all ports to reopen as swiftly, it brings me much joy knowing our industry is preparing for the return of cruise ships," she said.  

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