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Thoughts and emotions on a year of no US cruising

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Top row, from left, Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, Gus Antocha, Rubén Rodriguez, Harry Sommer. Bottom row, from left, John Heald, John Waggoner, Juan Kuryla, Christine Duffy
A sad anniversary: No US cruise operations for a year.

It was on March 13, 2020, that Cruise Lines International Association announced a voluntary suspension of US operations for 30 days following the World Health Organization's March 11 declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic. And, on March 14, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made the suspension mandatory for all cruise lines.

Back then, 30 days seemed like an eternity.

Who could have imagined that a year later, no cruise ships are carrying passengers from or to US shores?

Seatrade Cruise News asked some industry figures for their thoughts/emotions on a year of no US cruising.

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, president and CEO, Celebrity Cruises — 'During my 35 years working in cruising, I never could have predicted the turmoil of the last year. As optimistic as I am, there were days when I really had to dig deep to stay positive for the team, our crew and our partners.

'But I refuse to let this time define us. If there’s any silver lining in the COVID-19 cloud for our industry, it’s that it has highlighted the power of travel and the role it plays in the livelihoods of people, businesses and entire communities around the world. Travel is transformative for the human spirit and there is no more special way to see the world than cruising. Our comeback WILL be stronger than the setback.'

Gus Antorcha

Gus Antorcha, president, Holland America Line — 'The past year has been one of the most challenging ever in our industry as we’ve faced a year of non-operation and many changes to our company structures. Through this, the heart and dedication of this industry and those that work with us is amazing.

'We’ve moved mountains in the past year on several fronts and, yet, we still have some hills to go. But one thing that is true now more than ever is that we will return and be a much stronger brand and industry when ships begin sailing again. With current trends and vaccination, I’d like to think we are at the beginning of the end.'

Harry Sommer

Harry Sommer, president and CEO, Norwegian Cruise Line — 'I look to the future with hope and determination. Throughout the past 12 months, our team members, driven by our "Guest First" philosophy, have been innovating across multiple fronts so that we return to cruising better than ever. From our aggressive, multi-layered approach to health and safety to setting the stage for an unprecedented cruise comeback with itineraries for extraordinary journeys, fleetwide enhancements, upgraded menus, new entertainment concepts and the much-anticipated launch of our next class of ships, the future looks incredibly bright.

'More than 350,000 guests have already cruised in Europe and other parts of the world safely and securely in the last few months, vaccines are starting to roll out in a meaningful way and several governments have announced plans to welcome back cruising, indicating a promising future outlook. We look forward to being back at sea with our guests and partners, visiting the amazing destinations around the world we have come to cherish.'

Rubén Rodriguez

Rubén Rodriguez, president, MSC Cruises USA — 'I joined MSC Cruises last March, re-entering the cruise industry at an unusual time just as it announced its voluntary pause in operations ...  Although this past year has delivered unprecedented circumstances, our industry’s resilience will allow us to emerge stronger, smarter and better equipped to meet the needs of future travel.

'Even over the last year, we have been encouraged by our continued progress. For MSC Cruises in particular, we are proud to have led the charge in the resumption of cruising. And with over 40,000 guests having sailed with MSC Cruises in the Mediterranean since August, we have demonstrated that, through the implementation of a comprehensive health and safety protocol, a safe and enjoyable return to cruising is possible.

'Our future remains bright and our order book remains full, as we continue to invest heavily in our growth. This year alone we are introducing two exciting new ships, MSC Virtuosa and MSC Seashore, bringing our fleet to 19 cruise ships, with projections to increase to 23 ships by 2025, and options for six vessel orders in place through 2030.

'And for the US in particular, we are committed to expanding our presence here, bringing our newest ships to the region such as MSC Seashore later this year, introducing our new homeport in Orlando [Port Canaveral] and offering our private island destination, Ocean Cay, as a highlight of our Bahamas and Caribbean itineraries.

'Looking ahead, I can’t wait to join our guests and crew in our very first cruise from the US when it’s safe and appropriate to restart. I’m excited to introduce MSC Seashore to Miami when she arrives in November and welcome guests on board for the first time. We continue to be encouraged by the progress here in the US and remain optimistic for our return in this region.'

Christine Duffy

Christine Duffy, president, Carnival Cruise Line — 'March 11, 2020, was one of many busy days that week. I was in Doral, Florida, at our company headquarters. We were actively managing the guest and crew communications related to growing public concerns about COVID-19 as well as engaging with our port and destination partners.

'At the time, many small island nations were denying cruise ships the right to dock and disembark guests, and the media was reporting on even the slightest hint of a possible case on board any cruise ship, so there was a great deal of confusion and uncertainty. The March 11 declaration of the travel ban from Europe was an omen for things to come — it was a clear signal of the severity of the pandemic.

'And then, two days later, on March 13, the cruise industry announced its voluntary 30-day pause in global operations. We had no idea then that we'd be sitting here one year later, still awaiting a clear sign on when cruising can resume from US homeports.'

John Waggoner

John Waggoner, founder and CEO, American Queen Steamboat Co./Victory Cruise Lines — I think of friends who set up three small businesses around river cruising and river cruisers haven’t visited their town in over a year. The hundreds of our crew family we had to lay off and furlough.

'And I just miss walking onto one of our riverboats and hearing "Hey, John …" from one of our guests and then getting lost in a conversation about the day on the river, how a server made last night’s dinner extra special or where they want to sail with us next.

'Earlier this year a past guest knocked on my door in our New Albany office. He was in the area, had driven out of the way to just say hello, see how we were doing and tell me how he was ready to travel with us again.

'The restart is going to be like a dimmer switch and not a simple on/off switch. We will start with the American Duchess and our new American Countess at reduced capacities with SafeCruise enhanced health and safety protocols. I am optimistic about the future of cruising and proud to be a part of this community.'

Juan Kuryla

Juan Kuryla, PortMiami director and CEO — 'We never imagined that the industry would be shut for this long. We can’t wait for cruises to come back. We are eagerly waiting for the new set of protocols from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

'The one thing we do know for certain is that the industry will be back stronger than ever when the time is right.'

John Heald

John Heald, Carnival Cruise Line brand ambassador — 'It’s the longest time in my 33 years with Carnival that I have not been on board and … I don’t like it. But I’m gratified by the enormous level of support from our fans.

'We’ve got thousands of people signing on to my Facebook page every week to check in and talk about how much they miss cruising. One thing I know for sure is that our unique brand of fun will be back and, our guests cannot wait for that day to happen.'

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