The world’s largest cruise company, Carnival Corporation, which has nine cruise line brands and nearly 90 ships, is poised to give the green light to cruises on all 22 US-based ships by spring 2022. In an industry hit hard by two full years of the Covid-19 pandemic and has had to make radical changes to ride out the storm, this is a bold move to send a clear message that times are indeed changing.

Towards the end of 2021, with eight of its ships already in guest operation, Carnival brought more back into service in September and October, and then announced further restarts beginning in November 2021. Carnival Valor and Carnival Glory in New Orleans restarted on 1 November, then Carnival Legend out of Baltimore resumed operations later that month, with Carnival Radiance undertaking its maiden voyage in mid-December from Long Beach. Then a further ramping up of operations ensued.

“We are very pleased with the progress of our restart, which will grow to 15 ships sailing from seven US home ports by mid-November 2022,” said Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line at the start of the relaunch programme last year.

“We are making slight adjustments to our timeline to take into account supply chain realities and ensure that our destination and shore excursion offerings can meet the strong demand we are seeing from our guests,” she added. “Our teams, ship and shore, are prepared to continue delivering on our great guest experience and manage all health and safety protocols.”

For such an undertaking, the reality of Covid-19 and its new variants, particularly the highly transmissible Omicron variant, had to be taken into account. Initially, Carnival advised any guests booked for November and December cruises that the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s (CDC) standard of vaccinated cruises must be adhered to and proof of both vaccination and a negative Covid- 19 test at check-in would be required. The company also committed to setting up mobile pre-cruise rapid testing sites at all of its home ports.

Though, as conditions have continued to change, the company has remained flexible in light of a full restart of all 22 US-based ships in spring 2022.

“For all of us at Carnival Corporation, our highest responsibility and top priority is always compliance, environmental protection and the health, safety and well-being of our guests, the people in the communities we visit and our shipboard and shoreside personnel,” says Roger Frizzell, senior vice-president and chief communications officer, who reports directly to Carnival Corporation chief executive Arnold Donald.

“Throughout the pause in operations, our shipboard and shoreside teams remained focused on preparing to resume operations with a gradual, phased-in return of ships in the best interest of public health,” he adds.

Preparing to meet demand

Judging from the interest among passengers, the fear of contracting Covid-19 is not dampening the demand for cruises, however, as the nature of cruises offers flexibility in meeting Covid-19 restrictions for holidaymakers alike.

“As destinations continue to open up in staggered ways around the world, our national brands have given us a unique opportunity to resume cruising with each brand independently under local and regional guidelines,” notes Frizzell. “Additionally, the mobility of cruise ships enables us to move our vessels between regions to meet changing demand across different geographic areas.”

“At the same time, the expansion of vaccine availability, along with other advancements in treatments as well as advanced and affordable testing, have all supported a return to travel and cruising with enhanced health and safety protocols,” he adds. “While the situation around the world remains dynamic, our teams have been able to adapt and execute extremely well, and our enhanced health and safety protocols have proved to be effective in sailing over 1.2 million guests around the world – all of which has enabled a successful, phased-in return.”

In terms of demand, Carnival continues to attract both loyal guests and new cruisers to its voyages, and there is no doubt that people are ready to sail again. The company can, therefore, work towards a full fleet return in 2022 with great confidence.

“Overall, we haven’t seen major shifts in the mindsets or attitudes of travellers, and we know our guests are excited to cruise again,” says Frizzell. “Cruising has evolved as one of the world’s most popular vacations for families, romance, multiple generations, reunions and generally for those who want to get away from it all and be pampered while on board. Those reasons for cruising’s popularity were valid prior to the pandemic, and they remain true today.”

There has been a strong flow of bookings and Carnival’s most recent business update in December showed that cumulative advanced bookings for the second half of 2022 and the first half of 2023 are at the higher end of historical ranges.

“Our Cunard brand just announced that the recent launch of their summer 2023 voyage programme drove their strongest bookings in a decade and even surpassed their previous record-breaking sales in 2021,” says Frizzell. “In fact, Cunard’s two strongest booking periods in more than a decade have happened in the last 12 months, which is a testament to the enthusiasm we’re seeing from guests who are eager to sail again.”

“Cruising has evolved as one of the world’s most popular vacations for families, romance, multiple generations, reunions and generally for those who want to get away from it all and be pampered while on board.”

Importance of the supply chain

Bringing the Carnival Cruise Line brand and also AIDA Cruises, Costa Cruises, Cunard, Holland America Line, P&O Cruises (UK), Princess Cruises and Seabourn back online is not without its challenges, however.

“From a corporate perspective, while there is plenty of availability of destinations to visit, we are optimistic that we will soon see all destinations, such as China and Australia, open to visit,” says Frizzell. “We expect that to play out over time as the situation continues to evolve, and then we will introduce more cruises and itineraries.”

A successful restart depends heavily on supply chain vendors, who are integral to the operations of Carnival’s business. Many vendors and service providers have been, and may continue to be, affected by the pandemic. As Carnival operates on a global scale, however, it sources from long-time partners all over the world, giving it more options when it comes to provisioning or procuring particular services.

“While we may see single challenges or impacts at times like any other business would, overall we have been able to manage through and create a great experience for our guests,” says Frizzell. “At the same time, we’ve used the pause in operations and our gradual restart to review all aspects of our operations, our structure and our business to learn how the company can work differently while increasing productivity and efficiency.”

Communication is crucial to these efforts, and Carnival has remained in close contact with destinations, government and health authorities around the world in order to ensure it is in compliance with regulations everywhere it operates.

“This requires strong communication in advance to make sure we’re in compliance from a health and safety standpoint, while also staying flexible and adaptable,” Frizzell explains. “Overall, our goal is to make certain that we’re taking care of everyone, while respecting the requirements and protocols of the destinations we visit.”

Safety first

Carnival is making a stalwart commitment to ensuring the health and well-being of passengers and the communities its vessels visit. It is operating its cruises with enhanced protocols that are developed in conjunction with global government and health authorities and are informed by guidance from its own public health, epidemiological and policy experts.

“To date, our restart effort has been highly successful with our crew delivering great guest experiences that continue to generate record-high guest satisfaction scores, and we are excited to be back doing what we do best – providing our guests with one of the world’s most popular vacations,” says Frizzell.

“During our initial restart of guest cruise operations across eight brands, we have safely sailed over 1.2 million guests and counting, with historically high net promoter scores, so it is clear from our guests that there is tremendous confidence in our brands, our health and safety protocols, and the return of cruising as a great vacation experience and value.”

Those efforts are driven in part by regulatory requirements, but equally by Carnival’s commitment to its passengers.

“Most of our brands are operating cruises with vaccine requirements, in addition to comprehensive health and safety protocols, and we are also encouraging boosters,” Frizzell remarks. “In the US, for example, we are sailing vaccinated cruises as defined by the CDC and have updated our testing requirements and mask policies based on the latest guidance to support public health.

“As guidance and circumstances continue to evolve, we will be well prepared to comply and adjust to changing circumstances while serving the best interest of public health” he adds.

So far, passengers have seemed comfortable with the requirements cruises have put in place to limit the spread of Covid-19, and compliance among guests has not been a problem. Indeed, Frizzell says that most cruise passengers report they feel confident about the measures, which have been upgraded with the enhanced set of protocols implemented during the restart.

“At the same time, we have used our guests’ feedback to fine-tune the experience – and we will continue to enhance and evolve health policies and procedures along the way, with the ultimate goal to protect the health and well-being of all our guests, crew and the people in the communities we visit,” he says.

Cruise lines have some of the most stringent and effective public health and sanitation practices, but these do not seem to be deterring guests. Perhaps Carnival’s restart is the starting gun for the rebirth of the industry.