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Norwegian Cruise Line warns it could move cruise ships from Florida due to vaccine passport ban

In:
07May2021

Will Florida's new law that prevents a company from asking for proof of a Covid-19 vaccine create a problem for cruise lines trying to restart cruises?

While Florida's Governor does not think there is an issue with the new law, at least one cruise line has said it is indeed an issue.

During the Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. (NCLH) earnings call with investors, CEO Frank Del Rio described the new law as "an issue".

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL) signed a new law that prohibits businesses from being able to ask for proof of a vaccine from their customers.

Senate Bill (SB) 2006 specifies the new law prohibits "a business entity from requiring patrons or customers to provide documentation certifying vaccination against or recovery from COVID-19."

Mr. Del Rio believes this may come down a legal issue between state and federal jurisdiction, but he also said there is a possibility their cruise ships would have to sail from another state.

"At the end of the day, cruise ships have motors, propellors and rudders, and God forbid we can operate in the state of Florida for whatever reason, then there are other states that we do operate from."

"We can operate from the Caribbean for ships that otherwise would've gone to Florida. We certainly hope that doesn't come to that. Everyone wants to operate out of Florida, it's a very lucrative market, it's close drive market."

Mr. Del Rio indicated NCLH is having discussions with the Governor's office, but thinks this is "a classic state versus Federal Government issue".

Governor DeSantis doesn't think cruise ships need to ask passengers for proof of a vaccine, because of how well cruise operations are doing overseas.

On Tuesday, Governor DeSantis dismissed the notion cruise ships need the ability to require a vaccine, "These cruise ships are sailing in other parts of the world where they don't even have vaccines available and they're doing it safely and people are having a good time on it. So so they can do it."

It was not clear if he was talking in general terms, or in reference to the federal guidelines.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) presented its instructions for cruise lines this week on how to apply for test sailings and restart cruises, which include a few possibilities of requiring a Covid-19 vaccine to sail.

The CDC will allow cruise lines to skip a test sailing if they can ensure 95% of the passengers are fully vaccinated against Covid-19. 

Even if cruise ships engage in test sailings, volunteer cruisers onboard these simulated voyages need to be vaccinated as well.

Norwegian Cruise Line has already committed itself to requiring 100% of its passengers and crew members to be vaccinated, and submitted a plan to the CDC about a month ago.

Thus far, NCLH has not heard back from the CDC.

"We want clearance for 100%," said Del Rio after being asked about Florida's law. "And as of today, which is a little over a month since we submitted our proposal to the CDC, we've not yet heard back from them. And that is very disappointing."

Norwegian Cruise Line CEO says July cruises from U.S. "not possible"

In:
06May2021

The chances of cruises from the U.S. this July seem unlikely, given recent comments from Norwegian Cruise Line.

Speaking at Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. quarterly earnings call, CEO Frank Del Rio told Wall Street analysts a July restart in the United States is "just not possible".

"The July U.S. launch, at least for our company, is just not possible,” Del Rio confessed.

"It was possible back in early April when we proposed to the CDC 100 percent vaccination, so from April 5, 90 days would be early July so that was possible."

"But today we're in early May, and we're looking past that."

While he did not say exactly which dates would be practical, he did indicate they need about 90 days to get a ship ready to restart.

"Our team is working through the new guidance, but at first glance, however, it appears the path forward is a bit rockier and a bit steeper than originally expected."

Royal Caribbean has not commented on the fate of July cruises from the United States.

Mr. Del Rio also said he was disappointed in the new CDC rules for test sailings in the United States “at first read” and found them onerous and in part “preposterous."

"I'm disappointed, at first read. I'm going to give the CDC the opportunity to explain and clarify, and we have a call with them this afternoon."

The new guidelines from the CDC were released on Wednesday and include requirements such as mask wearing, vaccines for volunteers, social distancing, and more.

According to Del Rio, Norwegian plans to start off with a 100% vaccination mandate for cruise ship passengers.

In response to a question about how the CDC has treated the cruise industry, Mr. Del Rio responded, "We're perplexed. We're flabbergasted. We're outraged."

"We're willing to vaccinate every single person onboard a cruise ship. There isn't another venue on earth -- not a school, a factory, your office -- that can make that claim."

Norwegian Cruise Line will not limit passengers to cruise line shore excursions

In:
30Apr2021

Norwegian Cruise Line has quietly updated its cruise protocols for restart, which includes now allowing passengers to go on third party shore excursions.

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Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) has a listing of health and safety protocols on its website, known as Sail Safe, in which it has a changed the tour policy.

Based on comparing the website today versus an archived copy, NCL is now allowing passengers to book any shore excursion the wish, instead of limiting them to cruise line only tours.

Guests are free to explore ports of call on their own, according to protocols in each specific port, and can purchase shore excursions as they wish.

This is an important shift in policy considering most lines up until now have required guests to only book shore excursions through the cruise line in order to retain a "bubble" approach to cruising.

New policy on NCL website

Old policy from NCL website from April 6, 2021

NCL's change may also reflect the line's proposed restart plan for every single crew member and passenger to be fully vaccinated, exceeding even the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) updated guideline.

NCL's change is also noteworthy since the cruise line is part of the Healthy Sail Panel, which it founded in conjunction with the Royal Caribbean Group.  Both cruise lines rely on the Healthy Sail Panel to formulate its policies onboard.

On their website, NCL states their policies are guided by the Healthy Sail Panel, "We have developed a comprehensive and multi-layered set of health and safety protocols that span the entire cruise journey, guided by the expert advice from our Healthy Sail Panel. We will continuously refine and improve these protocols as science, technology and our knowledge of the virus improve and will provide guests with all relevant information or any changes to protocols prior to setting sail."

Thus far, the Healthy Sail Panel has only published its set of recommendations from September 2020, although it is understood the panel has been working behind the scenes with the cruise lines.

Among the 74 recommendations, recommendation 59 recommends cruise lines limit guests to cruise line tours.

Recommendation 59: During the initial return to sailing, cruise operators should only allow guests debarking from a ship at a destination port to participate in cruise line-sponsored or verified excursions as a way of limiting potential exposures in the destinations they visit.

It is worth noting these recommendations were written before vaccines became widespread, and classified it as a temporary recommendation, which could be modified or removed later when health conditions permit.

In March, Royal Caribbean's vice president EMEA, Ben Bouldin, said the impact the vaccine has had prompted the cruise line to ask the Healthy Sail Panel to go over their recommendations.

"We have asked the Healthy Sail Panel to go back and revisit their findings in light of the improvements and the encouraging news vaccines provide."

The origin of limiting shore excursion options goes back to the first cruise ships to restart sailings.

In an effort to create a travel bubble, MSC Cruises restarted sailings in August 2020 with the rule in place. They even refused to let a family back onboard that broke the rule.

What about Royal Caribbean cruises this summer?

Royal Caribbean has not formally announced its protocols and rules for sailings restarting this summer, but thus far there have been strong indications guests can expect to be limited to cruise line excursions.

Royal Caribbean's Senior Vice President, Sales, Trade Support and Service, Vicki Freed, said in March 2021 guests will be limited to Royal Caribbean excursions in Cozumel and Grand Bahama Island.

"With our own little bubble, we can really make sure the health and safety protocols are being followed."

Royal Caribbean's own Shore Excursions Health Acknowledgement confirms that only cruise line tours will be permitted, "guests are currently only permitted to book and participate in Shore Excursions which are selected and approved by Royal Caribbean Group."

Guests booked on Odyssey of the Seas sailings from Israel received a list of terms and conditions for their sailings which also allude to the limitation of shore excursion options you can book.

Of course, all of this could change at any time, much like NCL has done.

Moreover, Royal Caribbean has promised additional health and safety measures to be implemented by Royal Caribbean will be announced at a later date.

NCL follows Royal Caribbean's lead and announces cruises outside U.S.

In:
06Apr2021

Another major cruise line has announced plans to restart cruises outside the U.S. in order to get sailing again this summer.

Norwegian Cruise Line announced on Tuesday three cruise ships will sail from various ports in the Caribbean and Europe.

Royal Caribbean made headlines last month when it announced ships would sail from places like Bermuda, the Bahamas and Cyprus, and now NCL has joined the trend.

The three ships sailing are:

  • Norwegian Jade from Athens, Greece offering 7-night Greek Isles cruises beginning July 25, 2021
  • Norwegian Joy from Montego Bay, Jamaica offering 7-night cruises beginning August 15, 2021
  • Norwegian Gem from Punta Cana (La Romana), Dominican Republic beginning August 15, 2021

These plans are in addition to NCL's proposal to the CDC to be able to restart sailings from the U.S., provided that plan gets approved.

While Norwegian will also require the Covid-19 vaccine for anyone sailing onboard these ships, it is making no exception for children under the age of 18. Royal Caribbean is allowing kids, but will require a negative test for them.

The requirement to be fully vaccinated runs through October 31, 2021.

The sailings will operate with a "robust health and safety program", which includes mandatory vaccinations for all guests and crew and universal COVID-19 testing.

Passengers sailing will need to take an antigen test prior to boarding, and other policies will be fully fleshed out closer to sail date.

NCL will require guests go on only ship sponsored shore excursions through September 1. 

NCL plans to sail its vessels at 60% capacity, and then add 20% additional capacity every 30 days.

More cancellations

In addition to these new sailings, Norwegian also announced more cruise cancellations.

NCL cancelled all July and August itineraries aboard Norwegian Breakaway, Dawn, Escape, Getaway, Sky, Spirit, Star and Sun. 

Sailings for the Norwegian Epic through September 1, 2021 are also cancelled; and Norwegian Pearl through Nov. 7, 2021 have also been canceled. Guests and Travel Partners with impacted reservations will be contacted directly.

NCL also extended its Peace of Mind Cancellation policy to cruises booked by April 30 with embarkation dates through October 31.

NCL submits plan to CDC how it can restart cruises by July

In:
05Apr2021

Norwegian Cruise Line is thinking positive and has a plan cruise fans would love to see happen.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. (NCLH) announced on Monday it has sent a letter to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that outlines a plan to be able to restart cruises beginning July 4th.

The new plan calls for 100% vaccination of guests and crew onboard, as well as strict health and safety protocols for all sailing sailing through October 31, 2021.

The company would then "follow the science" to determine if vaccines would still be required for future sailings beyond October.

NCLH represents three cruise lines: Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

The multi-layered SailSAFE Health and Safety Program was developed with the Healthy Sail Panel, a joint cooperative effort with Royal Caribbean Group.

In a statement, NCLH said it believes this is an effective and safe plan to restart operations, "Norwegian trusts and is optimistic the CDC will agree that mandatory vaccination requirements eliminate the need for the [Conditional Sailing Order] and therefore requests for the lifting of the order for Norwegian's vessels, allowing them to cruise from U.S. ports starting July 4."

The plan was sent to the CDC and its Director, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, which calls for the CDC to lift the Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) for all NCLH ships departing from U.S. ports effective July 4, 2021.

Vaccines required

At the heart of this plan is requiring the vaccine for guests and crew members.

If approved, 100% vaccinated guests and crew and reduced capacity initially will be part of a phased-in launch.

Read moreEverything we know about if Royal Caribbean will require a vaccine

"By requiring full and complete vaccinations of guests and crew, the Company believes it shares in the spirit and exceeds the intent of the CDC’s Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) to advance mutual public health goals and protect guests, crew and the communities it visits."

The plan has five major components:

  1. NCLH will require that all guests embarking from a U.S. port and/or disembarking to a U.S. port provide proof of having been fully vaccinated with an FDA-, EMA-, or WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccine no less than two weeks prior to their departure date;

  2. All crew on NCLH vessels will be fully vaccinated with an FDA-, EMA- or WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccine at least two weeks prior to commencement of their duties onboard their assigned vessel;

  3. NCLH will also incorporate and operationalize the protocols developed by the Healthy Sail Panel (“HSP”), led by former Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt and former Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration Dr. Scott Gottlieb. These protocols, include universal testing of guests and crew, combined with required vaccines for all guests and crew, thereby creating a safe, “bubble-like” environment; and

  4. On or about July 4, 2021, NCLH vessels will begin cruise operations at an initial reduced capacity of 60%, gradually ramping up our fleet departing from U.S. ports and increasing capacity by 20% every 30 days.

  5. These stringent requirements will remain in place until public health conditions allow for the implementation of more lenient protocols.

"We believe that a cruise ship with a fully vaccinated population when combined with the virus protection defenses provided by the HSP protocols is one of the safest vacation options available."

Norwegian cancels June 2021 cruises

In:
16Mar2021

One of the big three cruise lines just announced it will not be restarting cruises until at least July.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings announced on Tuesday morning it has canceled its June 2021 cruises across its three brands: Norwegian, Regent and Oceania.

The cancellations extend through June 30. 

Prior to today's announcement, NCL had cruises canceled through May.

The pattern thus far during the cruise industry shutdown has been when one of the major three cruise lines, NCL, Carnival, or Royal Caribbean, cancels cruises, the other two follow eventually.

The company said it it continues to work through its return-to-service plan to meet the requirements of the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Guests who are currently booked on canceled voyages on Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises or Regent Seven Seas Cruises are asked to contact their travel advisor or the cruise line for more information.

NCL had pulled all of its June cruises from being bookable on its website earlier this week, which has been another tell-tale sign of impending cancellations.

Royal Caribbean had only just cancelled its May cruises one week ago, and there has been no announcement yet by Royal Caribbean if June will also go.

We know that Quantum of the Seas cruises from Singapore and Odyssey of the Seas sailings from Israel will be able to sail in June, with perhaps a chance of cruises from China being able to sail.

The big question is not if there will be any Royal Caribbean cancellations in June, rather, if there will be an opportunity for one or two other ships to move towards a restart.

Norwegian Cruise Line cancels May 2021 cruises

In:
16Feb2021

Norwegian Cruise Line has thrown in the towel on May 2021 cruises, which may point in the direction other cruise lines will follow.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. (NCLH) announced on Tuesday they continued their suspension of cruises through May 31, 2021.

In a statement, NCLH said it will continue to work with government and public health authorities to take all measures necessary to protect its customers, crew and communities visited.

Prior to today's announcement, cruises had been cancelled through April 30, 2021.

Guests who are currently booked on cancelled voyages on Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises or Regent Seven Seas Cruises are asked to contact their travel advisor or the cruise line for more information.

Throughout the entire cruise industry shutdown, the major cruise lines have mirrored each other's cancellation announcements and that means Carnival and Royal Caribbean may soon follow.

Moreover, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian work together on the Healthy Sail Panel group of experts.

Will Royal Caribbean also cancel their cruises?

The short answer is no one knows yet.

Royal Caribbean currently has cruises cancelled through April 30, 2021 (excluding sailings onboard Quantum of the Seas in Singapore and Spectrum of the Seas in China).

It is important for Royal Caribbean cruisers to take notice of these cancellations as a possible sign of what may come for Royal Caribbean.

There also is not distinct pattern when Royal Caribbean may make a similar announcement or not. The only pattern thus far is when one of the "big three" cruise lines cancels more cruises, it seeems it is just a matter of time before the other two dominos fall.

4 interesting facts from Norwegian Cruise Line's second quarters earnings

In:
06Aug2020

With Royal Caribbean's second quarter earnings report just days away, taking a look at competitor cruise line Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) quarterly earnings report from today may shed some light into what we could see next week.

NCLH posted an adjusted net loss for the quarter of $666.4 million in its second quarter, which includes the brands Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania and Regent Seven Seas.

While Royal Caribbean Group and NCLH are run differently, they have a lot of similarities and a lot of the same concerns among investors and cruise fans alike.

Millions in revenue instead of billions

It may be safe to assume nearly everyone knew this would be a bad quarter for any cruise line, but the question was how bad would it be.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings reported revenue for the second quarter of $16.9 million. That's revenue, not earnings. Revenue for the same quarter last year was $1.7 billion

That's a 99 percent plummet in revenue.  The net income reported was a loss of $715.2 million, compared to $240.2 million in the year prior. Earnings per share went from $1.11 to a loss of $2.99 year on year.

No plans to sell any ships

One trend that has emerged recently are cruise lines beginning to sell ships in order to drum up any kind of cash flow, but it looks like Norwegian has no plans for that yet.

Carnival has divested a number of ships across its brands and Royal Caribbean subsidiary Pullmantur recently had to get rid of Sovereign of the Seas and Monarch of the Seas.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) President and CEO Frank Del Rio said they have no plans to sell ships.

We absolutely have no plans to divest of any of our vessels,” Mr. Del Rio said during an earnings call with Wall Street analysts.

"We love our capacity. We're the smallest of the big three cruise brands, we're always wanting more. We not only have the youngest fleet, but we have nine incredible vessels on order."

Surprised by demand for 2021 cruises

Something Royal Caribbean noted in their Q1 2020 earnings call is happening with NCLH as well: its loyal customers are not going anywhere.

Despite the nearly year-long shutdown and plenty of fear among consumers, people are still booking a lot of cruises for 2021.

"If you had told me that we were going to be facing these set of circumstances, and your question is, ‘Frank, would you be taking any bookings?’ I would have laughed at you. I’ll say, ‘Of course, not, who would book? It’s crazy,'" Mr. Del Rio said in response to a question on the company’s second quarter earnings call on Thursday.

"But people are booking. People are confident that we’re going to come back. People do want to cruise. They miss it. It’s a heck of a vacation experience, a heck of a vacation value. And so this is temporary. The question is how temporary is temporary."

Restart plans

Just like cruise fans, Wall Street wants to know when cruises might restart and Mr. Del Rio noted the next few months will be critical in determining that.

He talked about Norwegian's joint-effort with Royal Caribbean Group to develop the Healthy Sail Panel, which will offer its initial recommendations by the end of August.

Mr. Del Rio felt good about the cruise line's ability to return, but timing is not so easy to answer.

"People are confident we're going to be coming back. They miss it cruising. This is temporary. The question is, how temporary is temporary?"

Between the CDC extending its No Sail order through the end of September to cruise lines in Europe encountering COVID cases onboard, the industry is not certain when a restart could realistically occur.