Carnival cruise lines plan ‘staggered’ comeback, won’t return to full capacity until 2022

Cruise giant Carnival plans a phased-in approach for its return to sailing, beginning with fewer ships and fewer passengers, on a region-by-region basis. The company will not make a full return in terms of passenger capacity until 2022 at the earliest, according to CEO Arnold Donald.

 “[The] nature of restart is going to be almost country by country and destination by destination,” Donald said on an earnings call Friday, four months after the company paused operations because of the coronavirus. 

Carnival’s restart will mimic international reopenings.

The resumption of shoreside social gathering practices will be the “critical thing” as an indicator for the resumption of cruising. Donald pointed to Germany, where Carnival subsidiary AIDA Cruises will resume sailing three of its ships in August after the country began to reopen in the spring.  Italy, he suggested, might be next. 

AIDA’s three scheduled cruises will not make port calls in Europe when it begins sailing in early August. Nor will it sail to Canada or the USA for the remainder of the year. 

Because most of its client base varies by region, Donald said he believes Carnival is in a good position looking ahead, in spite of travel restrictions. For example, 95% of AIDA’s passengers come from Germany – likewise, 92% of Carnival Cruise Line’s passengers are from the USA.

Though AIDA is scheduled to sail, the majority of Carnival’s brands, including flagship Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, P&O Cruises, Costa Cruises, Seabourn and Cunard will remain on pause for the time being, spokesperson Roger Frizzell told USA TODAY on Thursday, reiterating that “the time frame for restart in the U.S. has not been determined.”

When will Carnival lines return to service in the USA?

None of Carnival’s lines will sail until at least early October because all have extended their North American suspensions through the end of September, Frizzell said Thursday. That’s two weeks longer than members of the trade group Cruise Lines International Association agreed to remain idle and nearly two months beyond the expiration of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “no-sail order,” which is scheduled for July 24.

Frizzell said the extended suspension has given Carnival extra time to finalize plans for health protocols and ship-capacity levels when it resumes operations. When its lines resume cruising, they are likely to take a phased approach, returning to sailing over time rather than all at once.

‘We are going to be patient’: Carnival plans phased return to cruising amid coronavirus pandemic

How Carnival addresses COVID-19 and onboard health

Carnival hasn’t released a full plan for how its ships will combat coronavirus, but Donald noted some changes during Friday’s call.

As they restart operations, ships will not be full. Carnival will follow the social distancing guidelines that the country of operation has determined appropriate.

“[We’ll] probably start at less than 50% occupancy as we work out details,” Donald said.  

The company hopes to ramp capacity up quickly, if it is safe to do so. 

On July 28, Carnival will host a joint summit with the World Travel and Tourism Council, where Donald represents North America.

During the event, open to the public for viewing online, Carnival said, medical, epidemiology and public health experts will “explore and share the latest best practice on the science of COVID-19 and how best to address the many practical questions people have about the disease.” 

2021 bookings are in demand

In spite of the industry’s operational pause, which will have spanned at least six months in North America by the time CLIA’s suspension expires  Sept. 15, cruisers are still booking.

Though spending less on advertising, Carnival continues to see demand. In the first three weeks of June, nearly 60% of its 2021 bookings were new; the remaining bookings were the result of customers applying cruise credits in lieu of a canceled cruise. 

The company hasn’t seen many changes in the profile of cruisers booking itineraries, but there has been one discrepancy: Longer cruises, particularly those with a duration of longer than 21 days, are not being booked as much as shorter cruises, Donald said.

Carnival brands have attempted to provide cruisers with more “confidence” with the announcements of varying incentives and flexibility measures, including reduced or refundable deposits. 

Delays, itinerary changes are causing cancellations 

The company is negotiating the delay of delivery of 16 ships on order – 14 ships and two expedition ships – across its brands, Donald said.

Many Carnival cruise lines announced schedule changes and ship repositionings before Friday’s call, causing a domino effect that resulted in the cancellation of at least 30 cruises.

Because of the delay of Carnival Cruise Line’s newest ship, the Mardi Gras, and the delay of renovations on the Radiance, Carnival Cruise Line was forced to shift sailings, moving some itineraries to the Carnival Breeze and the Carnival Magic. Princess Cruises altered its plans for Alaska and Europe next summer. 

13 ships to leave the fleet

In June, Carnival announced that six ships would leave its fleet within 90 days. Friday, Carnival said additional ships would be removed from the fleet, reducing it by nearly 9%.

The 13 ships will meet different fates. One was sold in June, four are agreed upon for sale, five will be disposed of and there are “preliminary” agreements for three ships, according to Friday’s earnings report.

Company remains under investigation for its handling of the virus

In early May, Carnival was put under investigation by the U.S. Congress over its handling of outbreaks of COVID-19 on its ships.

The House of Representatives required the company, which owns at least nine ships that experienced outbreaks, including the Diamond Princess and the Grand Princess – to turn over all internal documents pertaining to COVID-19 from Jan. 1 onward. 

Thursday, Frizzell told USA TODAY that Carnival is “providing any information requested.”

‘Feels very unfair’: Families say cruise lines use a ‘technicality’ to refuse refunds

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Carnival cruises will not operate at pre-COVID-19 capacity until 2022

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