The timeline is clearly stretching. Earlier this month, Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises all suspended sailings until June.
In the summer, ships are in Alaska, where it's currently not going to be possible to operate — though Del Rio is 'cautiously optimistic' something may happen to remedy that — and in Europe, where 17 of the company's 28 vessels are scheduled to be. In fall/winter, tonnage redeploys to the Caribbean, Panama Canal, Mexico and world cruises.
Del Rio gave no indication the focus is shifting to Europe for a restart but couldn't guess when the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may give technical guidance so ships can move to the next phase in the stateside conditional sail order.
'It could be a few days, it could be a few weeks. We simply don't know,' he said. (Earlier this week, Royal Caribbean's Michael Bayley said he expected technical instructions 'any day soon.')
When the conditional sail order took effect in early November, the company expected a first-quarter start, likely in the Caribbean due to the season, and brought back ships and crew. But the first phase was more challenging than expected, and COVID-19 cases were spiking in the US. The company ended up sending 4,000 crew home.
'Today we are in a better place,' Del Rio said. 'At the end of the day, the prevalence of the disease in our own country and around the world will be the greatest indicator of when we can resume cruising.'
Health experts think infections will continue to decline heading into spring and summer, while 1.2m Americans a day are being vaccinated and more people have recovered from coronavirus and have antibodies.
Once test cruises are able to operate and CDC gives the green light, Del Rio doesn't believe it's a hard 60-day waiting period. However, for internal planning, he thinks a 90-day window is more feasible.
'We keep cruises available as long as we believe there's a chance we can operate. Once we know we start entering that 90-day or so window, we owe it to everyone in the ecosystem — travel agents, consumers, employees, the crew — to cancel cruises in the future.'
Seniors ready to roll out
Mirroring Royal Caribbean's experience of a recent surge in bookings by over 65s due to their priority vaccination, NCLH has seen a similar increase. Del Rio added they're retired and their stock market investments have held up well.
Oceania and Regent, whose customers' average age is 66-67, are already 40% booked for 2022, 'much better than they've ever been at this stage in the booking cycle.'