The Norwegian Spirit on May 9 set sail from Tahiti, marking a turning point for both Norwegian Cruise Line and the cruise industry as a whole.
Norwegian has now reactivated its entire 17-ship fleet, a process which began last summer when the Norwegian Jade took off on July 25, 2021.
With this sailing, the cruise line industry as a whole has now almost completely recovered from the closures mandated by the pandemic, as all three of the big cruise companies have either gotten their full fleet sailing again, or are nearing the point where that will happen.
The Pandemic Hit The Cruise Industry Hard
Norwegian Cruise Line had a 500-day pause on service after the COVID-19 pandemic began, and it wasn’t alone.
Cruise lines nearly always flag their ships outside of the U.S. in order to work around American labor laws. As we’ve noted, “this gives the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention more sway over the cruise industry than it has over perhaps any other form of travel.”
Once vaccinations became available, all three of the major players, Norwegian (NCLH) – Get Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. Report, Royal Caribbean (RCL) – Get Royal Caribbean Group Report and Carnival Cruise (CCL) – Get Carnival Corporation Report, spent millions on updates in order to meet safety standards so customers would feel safe getting back on board, and even today the industry has stricter safety standards than many other businesses.
The Norwegian Spirit underwent an extensive bow-to-stern renovation that cost over $100 million, the most expensive in the company’s history.
But at first, the CDC labeled sailing a level 4 “high risk,” activity, giving off the impression that the agency was only letting people sail again reluctantly. But eventually, it eliminated its pandemic-related Cruise Travel Health Notices for cruise passengers and also eliminated all risk warnings.
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People were finally free to sail their hearts out, and all three of the big players slowly began getting their entire fleets operational again.
Carnival Cruises And Royal Caribbean Are Both Almost Back To Full Fleet
These are exciting times for cruise fans.
Last week, Carnival Cruise announced that, following the departure of Carnival Splendor from the Port of Seattle, it had become the first company to get its entire full fleet back onto the water in less than 10 months since sailing resumed last July.
Carnival Splendor was the 23rd and final Carnival ship to set sail. To celebrate the return, Carnival Cruise Line hosted its “Back to Fun” event at the Port of Seattle to officially welcome the first guests on board.
“With Carnival Splendor beginning operations today from Seattle, Carnival Cruise Line is thrilled to have our entire fleet of 23 ships back in service, providing more opportunities for our guests to enjoy our signature fun while traveling to beautiful vacation destinations,” said Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line.
That just leaves Royal Caribbean, which hopes to catch up soon.
In a first quarter earnings call, Royal Caribbean CEO Jason Liberty said that his company will see full fleet operations “in less than eight weeks when our 63rd ship, Celebrity Infinity, welcomes guests for the first time since March of 2020,” he said, adding that “since we resumed operations, we have delivered memorable vacation experiences to over two million guests worldwide, while earning record high guest satisfaction scores.”