The mood among a panel of cruise line industry presidents was optimistic at CLIA’s Cruise360 conference last week.
Before the pandemic, Fort Lauderdale saw almost 4 million cruise passengers a year, said Stacy Ritter, president of Visit Lauderdale, where the meeting was held. In 2022, she pointed out, pent-up desire and demand for travel is strong, particularly for cruising.
Port Everglades will become Disney Cruise Line’s second year-round homeport starting in 2023. And in 2025, a second Disney ship will be joining Port Everglades’ fleet, meaning one ship will be there year-round and another sailing seasonally. Another cruise line coming to Port Everglades is The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection. This summer, Celebrity Equinox and Celebrity Infinity as well as Allure of the Seas will sail from Port Everglades, and Princess Cruises and Holland America Line will winter at Port Everglades. Additionally, Wonder of the Seas recently made its debut at Port Everglades. Plus, Royal Caribbean’s Odyssey of the Seas and Symphony of the Seas will return in the fall and Azamara will be sailing from the port in 2024.
A panel of cruise presidents also spoke about current trends and hurdles. When asked how he feels about the year ahead, Harry Sommer, president and CEO, Norwegian Cruise Line, said, “I’m encouraged; it’s been a long two years and over the course there were low points and no high points, but we are starting to see ships coming back in the water. If things continue how they are now, I see a road to normalcy by the summer.”
The rise in gas prices now might be a new hurdle for some travelers, said Ruben Rodriguez, president, MSC Cruises. “Clearly we are concerned. …But what’s great about cruising is that we offer such great value and if there is ever a time for great value it’s now.”
Another current circumstance is the war between Ukraine and Russia, with cruise ships canceling or re-routing sailings to the affected areas. John Padgett, president, Princess Cruises, which dropped St. Petersburg from its routes, said, “Princess is a world cruise line so it’s not surprising we have to constantly adjust to geo-political situations.”
Most of the cruise lines have now dropped mask mandates. But asked when they foresee testing being dropped for people coming from outside the U.S., Rodriguez said, “I think things are getting better. But there are a number of trade-offs. What some of these protection layers like the mask mandate and vaccination layers enable is a better life on board. We are releasing the mask mandate and social distancing on board. We are making it very much what it was before the pandemic.”
Michael Bailey, president and CEO, Royal Caribbean, was also fairly optimistic, saying that, “All of this is going to fall on what we see with the actual COVID positive rates in different regions. When the CDC believes it’s moving from pandemic to endemic, when it really poses no risk, that’s when we’ll start to see government removing these testing styles. I think we’ll see that probably by the summer—that’s me being hopeful, it’s not based on any facts. We are going in such a positive direction, I can’t think it’ll go for much longer.”
Discussing the future of travel, Sommer added, “I think across the industry we have amazing ships that provide great experiences for our guests. But guests are always looking to do more—have more authentic experiences, better experiences, a more personalized experience. In the future I see ships that cater to those demands—more options for dining, more options for activity, better service and guest-to-crew ratio, more space. Everyone wants to feel like that cruise was just for them.”