Future of Cruising Uncertain
Cruise industry continues to shift from impacts of coronavirus
In the ever-shifting landscape created by the uncertainties of coronavirus, the seascape fares no better. Cruise lines are extending cancelations, suffering financial losses, and New Orleans, the sixth-largest cruise port in the United States, is being directly impacted.
Carnival Cruise Line announced Monday that it has cancelled all North American and Australian homeport cruises through Aug. 31, with the possible exception of eight ships that could depart from Miami, Port Canaveral and Galveston. Carnival is the largest cruise line that homeports in New Orleans, with two vessels operating year-round under normal conditions.
Carnival has made clear in a statement that “any resumption of cruise operations — whenever that may be — is fully dependent on our continued efforts in cooperation with federal, state, local and international government officials.” Carnival said the three ports chosen for possible operations before Aug. 31 were identified based on locations with more significant operations that are easily accessible by car for the majority of its passengers.
All this comes as Carnival is under federal scrutiny for its handling of the coronavirus. Last week, the Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Chair of the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) initiated a records request to Carnival Corporation and its nine affiliated cruise lines, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for relevant correspondence.
In a terse letter to Carnival Corporation president and CEO Arnold Donald (who happens to be a New Orleans native and active St. Augustine High School alum) DeFazio and Maloney wrote, “it seems as though Carnival Corporation and its portfolio of nine cruise lines, which represents 109 cruise ships, is still trying to sell this cruise line fantasy and ignoring the public health threat posed by coronavirus to potential future passengers and crew.”
Other cruise lines are showing signs of strain as well. Norwegian Cruise Line filed a financial report Tuesday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that outlined the negative impacts of the novel coronavirus on the company’s financial liquidity.
Norwegian, which homeports a vessel in New Orleans five months a year, said it “has experienced substantial impacts related to the emergence of the COVID-19 global pandemic including meaningful softness in near-term demand and elevated cancellations.”
Looking ahead, Norwegian reported advanced bookings for the remainder of 2020 were meaningfully lower than the prior year, with pricing down and booking trends in the medium and longer term in 2021 slightly lower with lower pricing.
Norwegian is taking cost-cutting measures, such as furloughing 20 percent of its shoreside employees through July 31 and initiating a company-wide hiring freeze. It has suspended all of its cruises through June 30. As of now, you can book a cruise aboard the Norwegian Breakaway departing from Port of New Orleans (Port NOLA) for sailings starting Nov. 2020.
Royal Caribbean and Disney Cruise Line also have available bookings departing from Port NOLA. Royal Caribbean will resume its year-round sailings in August and Disney plans to return in Feb. 2021, as scheduled.
Port NOLA reported 1.2 million cruise passenger movements in 2019 and 251 vessel calls, setting another record for the port. It also reports 90 percent of cruise guests travel from out of state, with 73 percent spending a day or two in New Orleans either before or after their cruise.