Just last month, Carnival Cruises announced it was pausing operations until at least April 2021, in addition to the already canceled itineraries affecting Holland America, Princess Cruises, Carnival, and P&O cruises into the spring and fall. Meanwhile, Disney Cruises recently announced they would be halting sailings until at least May 12, 2021, while Norwegian’s three brands—Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, and Regent Seven Seas Cruises—are suspended until at least April 30, 2021. You get the idea.
So, should you be ready to enjoy your piña colada on the lido deck come May 1? Not so fast—if the experts have anything to say about it, you shouldn't expect to set sail any time soon.
“We now see July as the best case for restart,” Patrick Scholes, an analyst for Truist Securities, recently told Barrons. Scholes even went on to add that we may not see any sailings in 2021, or at least not until the fourth quarter.
Tanner Callais, the editor of Cruzely.com, told TripSavvy that several factors are keeping ships docked for what he thinks is the foreseeable future.
The first factor, Callais said, is the CDC’s new framework for ships returning to sea. This—which replaces their recently lifted “No-Sail Order”—includes simulated voyages that cruise lines will have to take and a certificate they will have to earn from the CDC before they can return to sailing. (Back in November, Royal Caribbean was already brainstorming ideas for its mock cruises, planning a jaunt to the cruise line's private island for employees and eager volunteers.)
However, even these mock sailings are still at the discretion of the CDC, which apparently isn't exactly keen on ships returning soon, according to recent comments from Carnival CEO Arnold Donald.
"The additional guidelines for future phases have not yet been issued by CDC," Donald told a UBS analyst on a quarterly earnings call. "We have weekly calls or as often as we need with them, so that remains to be seen. But what I can tell you is that we’re on track to be able to do whatever we need to do in a very timely manner to be able to resume cruise ultimately."
With COVID-19 cases still rising, the CDC has recommended travelers worldwide do not cruise for the time being—including river cruises. Early on, cruise ships, like the ill-fated Diamond Princess, were a major factor in the virus spread. The CDC reported 99 outbreaks on 123 different cruise ships from March 1 through July 10, ultimately resulting in nearly 3,000 COVID-like illnesses and more than 30 deaths.
In addition to the framework above, the CDC will require cruise lines to notify the agency 30 days before planning a simulated voyage. Upon its successful completion, they must apply for a sailing certificate 60 days before the anticipated return date. With no cruise lines currently planning such a simulation, that would put the April and May estimates for sailings into question. Callais told TripSavvy he doesn’t anticipate cruises restarting until vaccines are widely available and the case numbers have drastically dropped.
Given such a long timeline, many travelers may be wondering if the cruise lines will financially weather such a storm. In addition to his comments on the CDC, Donald added that the postponements and cancelations through July would not pose a problem for Carnival, which is likely the case for the other major lines as well.
As the vaccine rollout gains momentum, millions of Americans are set to receive their doses over the next few months. Luckily, the higher that number becomes, the greater chance we have to don our finest Hawaiian shirts and do some bad karaoke with our cruise crews.