Norwegian Cruise Line has come out swinging, announcing a series bullish comeback plans that reinforces international cruise ship operators are no longer prepared to wait for major governments to give the go-ahead to resume sailings.
Norwegian plans to resume sailing in Greece, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic in July – with President & Chief Executive Officer Harry Sommer telling a press conference that the first Norwegian Spirit Australian season was set to go ahead at the end of the year with a ship that has seen over $100 million of refurbishment.
He also said the line was hopeful Australians might be able to join the European sailings once travel resumes – possibly as early as September, 2021.
“We believe the combination of 100% vaccinations and extensive safety protocols, not one or the other, will cause this to be the safest leisure activity on the planet,” said Mr Sommer.
And his message to the Australian government, still deliberating on when cruise might start, was: “We believe they should go and we believe the science backs that approach. Since July and August when cruise restarted in Europe and in Singapore 400,000 have cruised and there have been 30 – 40 COVID cases – and that was before vaccines.”
He said vaccines meant the chances of an outbreak on a ship was “astronomically low”.
The Norwegian announcement and others recently mark a departure for the American cruise giants, who had been waiting for the Centre for Disease Control to relax its tough rules for any cruise resumption. Royal Caribbean has already announced sailings from Bermuda – outside US territorial waters – as well as Israel, Singapore and Europe.
For Norwegian, however, what Mr Sommer described as “the great cruise comeback” will happen when Norwegian Jade sails from Athens, offering seven-day Greek Isles cruises beginning July 25. Norwegian Joy will offer weeklong cruises from Montego Bay, Jamaica from Aug. 7, and Norwegian Gem will sail from Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, on Aug. 15. They will continue until the middle of November.
All guests will be required to have the Covid-19 vaccine, with no exemption for those who are too young to get vaccinated. It is expected children under 12 won’t be on initial sailings.
What marks out the Norwegian sailings is that there will be port stops, and as much normality on board as the line can manage in safety. The line will start at 60 per cent capacity and ramp up four or five weeks in to 100 per cent. Most other lines, like Royal Caribbean and Dream in Singapore, are running at greatly reduced capacity.
“There will be no days a sea at all – we will be visiting wonderful ports, a different port every day and 11 hours on shore.”
Norwegian will also have its restaurants, bars, entertainment, rides and shows running – with suitable COVID safety requirements. Crews who had been idle for over a years were now in training, and the first voyages would be trials to get them back to their best. A decision about health & safety protocols from November will be made later.
“There will be no compromise – the safety protocols really allows us to run the full program on the ship…every single thing on the ship will be available with no compromises. It will be a trip unparalleled at least in 2021…100 per cent safety and 100 per cent enjoyment”
Norwegian’s VP and managing director APAC Ben Angell said along with traditional destinations like Europe, Hawaii and Alaska, close to home demand was seeing strong interest.
He said Norwegian Spirit’s first season in Australia and New Zealand at the end of the year was seeing “unprecedented” demand. New measures will be announced after November 1 – so it has yet to be decided if guests will require vaccinations.
Mr Sommer added that, thanks to vaccine rollouts, he anticipated guests from the US, UK, Israel at first – and others including Australians later.
“We’re hopeful in the next 30- 45 days the situation in the rest of Europe will vastly improve…if you look at all the models, it shows COVID data rapidly coming down by the middle to end of May, so by that time, guests from places like Germany, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Belgium, France, Spain, the places we source a lot of our guests from normally, will come back as well.
“We’re hopeful about Australia by September, by late summer or fall… it’s always been a really strong market for us”
The resumption is part of a two-prong plan to restart operations, with the company continuing to push for the lucrative US market to open. Frank Del Rio, Norwegian’s CEO, has challenged America’s Centre for Disease Control.
“I challenge you to tell me of another venue anywhere that has this kind of ironclad health and safety protocol in place,” he said. “Not a casino, not a hotel, not an airplane, not a theme park … nowhere. Cruise ships will de facto become the safest place on earth.”
Norwegian has launched a new video series to celebrate the return, along with comeback songs. You can see previews here: https://nclembark.com
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