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Carnival Cruise Line frets over no-sail order as bookings continue to climb

The company says it may move its U.S. home ports if a compromise isn’t reached soon

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Photo (c) Emilian Danaila - Getty Images
The cruising industry’s return rolls on, and Carnival Cruise Line is certainly feeling the love from wanderlusters who have been forced to stay at home during the pandemic. 

While the company lost $2 billion in the first quarter of 2021, it said on Wednesday that pent-up demand has booking volumes for all future cruises running close to 90 percent higher than booking volumes during the fourth quarter of 2020.

"We are focused on resuming operations as quickly as practical, while at the same time demonstrating prudent stewardship of capital and doing so in a way that serves the best interests of public health,” noted Carnival Corporation President and CEO Arnold Donald.

Shuffling destinations and tours

Donald added that six of the company’s nine brands are expected to resume limited guest cruise operations by this summer -- although the company will have to do some shuffling of routes because of restrictions certain countries have put on cruising. Canada is a prime example of that. The country has banned all cruise ships, putting Alaska’s 2021 cruise season at great risk.

So, what’s a cruise line do in one of its more prosperous markets? In Carnival’s situation, it’s taking its act off-shore. To bring in some revenue, Carnival’s Holland America Line and Princess Cruises are setting up shop to offer land-based vacation options for travelers to experience Alaska through a combination of tours, lodging, and sightseeing.

Here is the current plan for some of Carnival’s other brands:

Canary Islands: AIDA Cruises has already resumed guest cruise operations in late March for sailing in the Canary Islands. On Thursday, the company announced it is extending its Canary Island season into June.

Italy: Costa Cruises expects to resume operations in May for sailing to Italian ports.

United Kingdom: Cunard and Princess Cruises will each offer a series of cruises this summer sailing around U.K. coastal waters. P&O Cruises (UK) will kick off the season in June, followed by Cunard and Princess Cruises in July. 

Greece: Seabourn also expects to resume guest cruise operations this summer for sailing from Greece. 

Still trying to dance around U.S. restrictions

The biggest hurdle the cruise industry still has to overcome is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the industry has tried to make its case for resuming operations, the CDC has yet to budge.

Donald says the CDC obstacle is forcing Carnival to adapt how it operates a cruise to meet guidelines that seem to be in a constant state of flux. He said the company has no other option but to make 2021 a “transition year.”

“Of course, the thing on everyone's mind is when are we going to resume sailing here in the U.S.?” Arnold said in an investor conference call. “Now, while we're very disappointed with the April 2nd additional guidance issued under the conditional sail order, all 30 of our ships in U.S. waters and that fall under the conditional sail order have achieved green status and we are continuing to work with the CDC and the administration to find practical approaches to resuming cruising in a way that serves the best interest of public health.”

But what will happen if the CDC continues to stand pat? Donald says Carnival may have to consider sailing or home porting out of the Caribbean. “Carnival, it's really America's original cruise line … we sail more people than anybody else from America and more kids and all that,” Donald said.

“I have 14 home ports here in the U.S., nobody else has anything like that … We prefer to get the people who are working in the ports, all the people who depend on the cruise industry for their livelihood, obviously we prefer and I'm sure the other companies would too, we prefer to have those jobs and all that stuff be here. But if we're unable to sail, then obviously we will consider home porting elsewhere,” he concluded.

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