Passengers on Norwegian Cruise Line's first sailings this summer will not have to take shore excursions in a bubble, thanks to the line's full-ship vaccination mandate.
The line will launch operations this summer on five of its 17 ships this summer with itineraries in Europe and the Caribbean. The Norwegian Jade, the line's first vessel entering service, launches seven-day cruises from Athens beginning July 25; the Norwegian Joy starts from Montego Bay, Jamaica, on Aug. 7; the Norwegian Gem starts from Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, on Aug. 15; the Norwegian Epic launches from Barcelona on Sept. 5 and the Norwegian Getaway will sail from Rome Sept. 13.
Norwegian's chief sales officer, Katina Athanasiou, said on The Folo by Travel Weekly podcast this week that because those sailings will incorporate the protocols of the Sail Safe Global Health and Safety Program Norwegian launched last month, which include a full-ship vaccination mandate, passengers on this summer's sailing will not be restricted to controlled shore excursions.
"From our first voyage out of the gate, you are free to tour on your own in every port," she said during the podcast.
She added that it was a change from what the line thought its protocols would have to be.
"We anticipated needing to do this shore excursion bubble for the first month of operations," Athanasiou said. "We've already already lifted that, because in working with our ports and the authorities and each of the local governments, they now anticipate their vaccination increase to be enough that their local communities are going to be supported, and we no longer have to do a shore excursion bubble. So guests will be free to tour on their own."
Michelle Fee, CEO of Cruise Planners, also on the podcast, said that this change would help convince people to cruise who were turned off by shore excursion mandates.
"Not having to be in that bubble, that will be a new message that we can go out and we can can speak to some of our consumers that might have said, 'I'm just not ready,'" she said.
The concept of protected or required cruise-line-organized shore excursions gained steam last year when a handful of ships launched in Europe; the idea was to keep passengers together on excursions where cleaning and testing protocols could be overseen by the line or its partners.
Most cruise lines launching service this summer are restricting their guests to their own shore excursions. But a common theme on the podcast episode was how quickly protocols and plans were changing, driven by the pace of vaccinations and other encouraging signs.
Mark Conroy, the managing director of Silversea Cruises in the U.S., said his line was mandating company-organized excursions, although it was including its base excursions in the fare. However, he added: "by the time we're up and operating, things are going to evolve."