Passengers are already flocking back to cruise ships

Rough seas.
Rough seas.
Image: Reuters/ Mike Blake
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If ever there was an event to discourage vacationers from booking cruises, it should have been the Covid-19 pandemic. Passengers got sick, ships were stranded, and the industry stumbled badly in its response.

Yet despite a bruising 14 months, industry leader Carnival is feeling buoyant (sorry). While the company is still losing billions—it’s burning through $500 million a month so far this year—bookings for 2022 are ahead of 2019’s bookings, Carnival executives said on a conference call with analysts and investors today. And its not just discounting: Pricing for 2022 cruises is higher than for 2019 as well.

“There’s a lot of pent-up demand out there and we feel very good about our overall position,”  David Bernstein, Carnival’s CFO, said on the call.

The thirst for cruising isn’t limited to Carnival or the US, either. Domestic cruises on Cunard and Viking departing the UK are selling out in record times. A 2023 world cruise—a 180-day voyage that starts at almost $50,000—on Oceania Cruises sold out in a day.

Even first-time passengers are eager to take a cruise

In an industry-sponsored survey taken in December, 74% of former cruise passengers said they were likely to return in the next few years. Perhaps more surprisingly, 58% of international vacationers who had never taken a cruise said they were willing to try one. Whatever negative image the industry suffered in 2020, it clearly hasn’t resonated with the vacationers. While it may have seemed far-fetched in the darkest days of the pandemic, its seems the industry has a chance of surpassing its 2019 record of 29.7 million passengers next year.

Of course, to get to 2022, the industry has to survive 2021 first. Cruise ships have been barred from sailing from US ports by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since March of 2020, leading Royal Caribbean to schedule voyages departing from ports in the Bahamas and Barbados this summer.

After a lawsuit filed by Florida governor Ron DeSantis, a US federal judge ruled the CDC can no longer enforce its orders starting July 18. If 95% of passengers and crew are vaccinated, the ships can sail even sooner. Carnival CEO Arnold Donald says it’s planning a cruise leaving Miami July 4.