Norwegian Cruise Line Sets August U.S. Return, Joining Rivals

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. plans to offer Alaska cruises starting in early August, joining several Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. ships in plotting returns to the sea after more than a year without U.S. operations due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Norwegian Bliss will offer Alaska cruises for fully vaccinated passengers and crew starting on Aug. 7 from Seattle, Norwegian said in a statement Monday.

“We are thrilled to reach the next milestone in our Great Cruise Comeback with the expected resumption of cruising in the U.S. starting in Alaska, one of our guests’ most popular destinations,” Chief Executive Officer Frank Del Rio said in the statement.

With memories still fresh of the deadly outbreaks on cruise ships at the start of the pandemic, the cruise industry has faced numerous obstacles to starting up again. When Canada banned cruising through 2022, it was seen as a major impediment to the popular summer cruises to Alaska. Alaska cruises traditionally stop in Canada, because U.S. maritime law bars foreign-flagged ships from transporting passengers directly between two U.S. ports. But Congress last week approved a waiver on the rule, paving the way for Norwegian’s announcement.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says cruise ships can only return if they follow one of two paths. They can either confirm 95% of passengers and 98% of crew are vaccinated, or they can go through a rigorous approval process with no-revenue trial sailings for each ship. Norwegian is pursuing the former path, and said it expects to obtain a so-called conditional sailing certificate from the CDC “in the coming days.”

But it’s also noteworthy that the initial restart will be far from Florida, home of Norwegian’s corporate headquarters and the world’s largest cruise port, PortMiami. Norwegian is making vaccinations mandatory on all its initial voyages, and Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, said so-called vaccine passports are illegal under state rules he pushed for.

Carnival’s Princess Cruises, Holland America Line and Carnival Cruise Line brands are also restarting with Alaska sailings from Seattle, as are Royal Caribbean ships Serenade and Ovation of the Seas.

Norwegian shares were up 2.7% to $29.47 at 9:58 a.m. in New York, while Royal Caribbean added 1.9% to $84.42. Carnival rose 1.3% to $27.52.

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