Carnival Corp.'s Mixed Signals Cloud Future For Cruise Industry

Cruise Week

It's been a week of mixed signals in the cruise industry, and with so many cruise lines saying so many different things, it's difficult to make coherent, big-pictures predictions about how the industry will be operating in a few months.

On Monday, Carnival Cruise Line announced plans to gradually phase in operations on eight ships from three U.S. ports -- Galveston, Pt. Canaveral, and Miami -- on 01AUG. The announcement signalled they were actually nearer to resuming to service in the Caribbean than had previously been thought.

Minutes after that initial release, Carnival sent out another press statement clarifying that voyages referenced in the first release were not guaranteed to operate, as a variety of contingencies must be made in place in advance of any potential sailing.

None of the eight ships are currently docked at their future home ports, but are nearby enough to meet an AUG return. The ships in the Caribbean are close by, and even the ones currently headed to Europe or Africa have plenty of time to get back within the next three months. 

Nevertheless, it is clear that Carnival is not yet at the "prepare to sail imminently" stage. 

For its part, Carnival says, "We continue to work with various government agencies, including the CDC, as we introduce new onboard protocols, but there is no assurance of a return on 01AUG. Our intent was to convey that we will take a phased-in approach, no matter when that is, and focus resources and new onboard practices on a limited number of operations from homeports where we have more frequency and thus more resources to implement new procedures."

On Wednesday, adding to the mixed signals, Princess, Holland America Line and Seabourn extended their pauses through the end of summer. 

The interpretation among some agents was that there would likely be no Alaska, no Europe, and even no Caribbean this year from cruise lines. 

"Scary," one veteran cruise seller told Cruise Week. "When is this ever going to end? I have clients excited about cruising out of Galveston later this year. Now, I just don't know."

The new reality is clear, and the cruise lines, like everyone else, are taking incremental steps. That said, some of the agent response to the extensions by Princess, HAL and Seabourn was visceral, and many more now expect further delays from others before things start to turn around. 

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