Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, which includes NCL, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, and Oceania Cruise, submitted its restart plan to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday.
The plan, which can be found in full here, outlines NCLH’s target to restart in July, a plan that it says is “consistent with the CDC’s updated guidance that international travel is safe for fully vaccinated individuals and that COVID-19 vaccination efforts will be critical in the safe resumption of cruise line travel.”
Aside from the public health measures that came from its Healthy Sail Panel, the biggest part of NCLH’s plan is a requirement for all guests and crewmembers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to be allowed to sail (must be fully vaccinated two weeks before sailing date and show proof before boarding either through paper documents or electronically).
While other lines have opted to require all adult guests to be vaccinated, NCLH’s plan goes beyond that and requires all guests, regardless of age, to be vaccinated if they want to sail, meaning minors who are not eligible yet to receive the vaccine, depending on where they are located, will not yet be permitted to sail.
That vaccination requirement could be lifted “when the public health environment allows us to modify our protocols accordingly,” but NCLH right now has it instituted for all sailings with embarkation dates prior to Oct. 31, 2021.
"We look forward to the day when we can safely welcome onboard our ships minors who have not yet been eligible to be vaccinated, when the public health environment allows us to modify our protocols accordingly," an NCLH spokesperson said to TMR.
The company believes with the new requirement, as well as protocols in place from the Healthy Sail Panel, it should be allowed to start sailing “on or about July 4, 2021…at an initial reduced capacity of 60%, gradually ramping up our fleet departing form U.S. ports and increasing capacity by 20% every 30 days.”
“By requiring full and complete vaccinations of guests and crew, we believe our extensive health and safety standards share in the spirit and exceed the intent of the CDC’s existing Conditional Sail Order (CSO) to advance public health goals and to protect guests, crew, and the communities we visit,” NCLH said in its letter. “Therefore, we respectfully request the CDC lift the CSO for all NCLH cruise vessels departing from U.S. ports effective July 3, 2021.”
‘Bubble like’ environment
For right now, NCLH and its brands have suspended operations through June.
In a statement accompanying the CDC letter on Monday, president and CEO Frank Del Rio said that the primary vehicle to bring an end to the pandemic is vaccines and that “we congratulate the CDC on the steps it has taken to further open travel for vaccinated Americans" but now is time for the cruise industry to also be given the latitude to restart like other travel segments.
“We believe that through a combination of 100% mandatory vaccinations for guests and crew and science-backed public health measures as developed by the Healthy Sail Panel…we can create a safe, ‘bubble-like’ environment for guests and crew. We look forward to joining the rest of the travel, tourism, and hospitality sectors in participating in this next phase of our recovery,” he added.
The vaccine requirement is in addition to other onboard protocols including controlling guest capacity, contactless foodservice ship-wide, face coverings required for all guests while indoors except in their staterooms or while eating and drinking, and universal testing prior to boarding.
NCLH also said that it will take it upon itself to provide medical assistance to its guests onboard, telling the CDC that “we will not require federal, state, or local governments to incur time and/or resources in providing medical assistance to our brands’ guests.’
Norwegian believes that all those requirements will make cruise ships a safe enough environment for the CDC to approve operations.
Now, NCLH will await a response from the CDC, which, for its part, issued new guidance last week for cruise lines but still has not updated its restart date from November 1, 2021.