Top cruise execs agree: We'll soon be sailing again in U.S.

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Cruise line executives discussed a return to U.S. sailing at the virtual Seatrade Cruise conference on Tuesday.
Cruise line executives discussed a return to U.S. sailing at the virtual Seatrade Cruise conference on Tuesday.

The leaders of the world's largest cruise lines expressed confidence that their ships will sail in U.S. waters again in 2020.

Speaking at the virtual Seatrade Cruise conference today, Arnold Donald, CEO of Carnival Corp., ranked his level of optimism for a cruise restart by year's end in North America as a 4.5 to 4.9 on a 5-point scale.

"Yes, we will be sailing sometime this year," he said.

Royal Caribbean Group CEO Richard Fain said his "optimism level is very high," adding that the 74 safety protocols laid out by the Healthy Sail Panel, created in partnership with Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) in late September, "give us the confidence that it's safe to go back."

"The cruise industry has agreed on 100% testing of every person entering a ship," he said. "No other industry in travel does that. Not airlines. I don't know of another industry in the world that does 100% testing."

Frank Del Rio, NCLH CEO, was less emphatic but said that a late-December or early-January restart was "in the ballpark. If a couple of things go our way, we could be sailing again soon."

"I want to do things correctly," he said. "[The Healthy Sail Panel's] 74 recommendations are a tall order. Some are easier to implement than others. We won't cruise until we believe it's 100% safe to cruise, and it's coming soon."

Del Rio explained that the reason NCLH canceled cruises through the end of November, despite the CDC order being only until the end of October, is because it will take about 60 days for NCLH ships to be ready to cruise again.

"People have to understand that it takes time to stand up a ship, especially ships that have been laid up for six-plus months," he said. "It's not turning on a light switch."

Del Rio said that among the necessary steps the lines have to take are repatriating their crew and installing the technology needed to carry out the recommendations from the Healthy Sail Panel.

"The No. 1 obstacle is the No Sail Order, but there are others," he said.

The CDC last week extended its No Sail Order through Oct. 31 and said that "there is need for further action before cruise ships can safely resume passenger operations in the U.S."

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