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Update (as of April 28, 2021): Besides the previously announced sailings to Greece and the Caribbean this summer, Norwegian Cruise Line is scheduling upcoming voyages from Barcelona and Rome, beginning in September. Norwegian Epic will complete Western Mediterranean itineraries from Spain from Sept. 5, 2021, to Oct. 24, 2021; and Norwegian Getaway will embark on Greek Isles routes from Sept. 13, 2021, to Oct. 25, 2021.
Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) is at the forefront of the push to reignite the mostly stagnant cruise industry with sailings from the U.S.
Here, Katina Athanasiou, the brand’s chief sales officer, discusses everything the company is doing to get customers back out to sea.
What can you tell us about Norwegian’s latest plans to resume sailings from the U.S. by July?We are advocates for coming back. Our request to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to respectfully lift the Conditional Sail Order (CSO) for a July start was because we believe that we are ready.
With a science-backed plan [created] with experts including Scott Gottlieb, who is the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, we believe that our Sail Safe program is, in the words of Frank Del Rio [CEO of Norwegian], “ironclad” — to help really facilitate the start of safe, healthy vacations.
Do you think the CDC will be receptive to the proposal?I don't know that answer, to be honest with you. But what I do know is that we wouldn't announce [our restart] until we were ready, and today is that day.
We hope to sail in the U.S. as early as July 4. But if not, then definitively we know that travelers can set sail with us as early as July 25 on some brand-new weeklong itineraries that are open for sale — be it in Europe onboard Norwegian Jade, which is going to sail seven-night roundtrip Athens [cruises] to the Greek Isles; new itineraries onboard Norwegian Joy, which will sail Western Caribbean [cruises] out of Montego Bay, Jamaica; or onboard Norwegian Gem sailings in the Eastern Caribbean out of Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.
Can agents safely book summer cruise travel for their customers without fear of further cancellations?I can tell you that we are definitively confirmed to operate the three ships with these brand-new itineraries. We have worked with the governments and with our Sail Safe council to ensure that [we’re] ready to go.
We have other voyages that are open for sale throughout this time frame, many of which touch U.S. waters. So, we are still dependent upon the CDC lifting the CSO in order to be able to operate those, but we remain hopeful and cautiously optimistic that with our science-backed plan, it’s going to be hard for them to say no.
Since all guests on these initial itineraries are required to be vaccinated, how should agents approach clients with children who aren’t yet approved for COVID-19 inoculations?We believe that there will be increased opportunity for minors to become vaccinated over the course of the coming months. So, will it be for everyone? It might not be, and that's okay.
What we have now with our Sail Safe program is right for today, for us to start back up successfully and safely, but it would be premature to say that the same requirements would be the case for voyages further out.
Phase one of our return goes through Oct. 31, and we're committed to continuing to re-evaluate, and to making sure our guests know ahead of time what the requirements will be for voyages from Nov. 1 onward.
What if advisors have bookings with adult travelers who don’t want to get the vaccine?This is a personal choice for everybody. We respect everybody's decision to do what's right for them.
If there are guests who are currently booked on voyages through Oct. 31 and they don't plan to be vaccinated prior to that time, we're offering them full refunds. They can choose a future cruise credit or a monetary refund.
We were founded on freedom, flexibility and choice, and we want to be able to give that same choice to our guests who love NCL.
What will the shipboard experience look like when guests return?Our onboard experience will not be materially different. We will sail initially at reduced capacity, but our offerings are all going to be the same. We're still going to have the amazing two-story racetrack on Norwegian Joy. We're still going to have our awesome entertainment and Broadway-style shows, as well as all of our dining venues available and open.
If anything, the service will be even better, because buffets are now going to be served by our staff. You get the best of everything, [with] contactless ordering and menus.
What’s next for Norwegian and the line’s partners?We’ve got a big Partners First webinar that will talk specifically about these return-to-sailing itineraries and our protocols to really get our advisors ready.
In support of our Partners First philosophy, we’ve updated our policy to state that commission is now going to be paid when a booking is paid in full. So, starting May 1, many partners are going to be paid for 2022 bookings and 2023 bookings. And this applies to any form of payment for the booking.
That's important because our travel advisors have so many bookings [made with] future cruise credits (FCC). Originally, the commission would not be paid on an FCC booking until it has sailed.
We are announcing our Great Cruise Comeback giveaway, which is an incentive for our travel partners. With every deposited booking that they make on one of our return-to-service itineraries, they enter themselves for a chance to win one of 500 free balcony cabins on any of our 2021 sailings.
Our chance to bring our partners back onboard to see the new NCL is being thoughtfully approached so we can get as many of our advisors onboard as possible.
Are there any new NCL documentary videos in the hopper?April 15 is our first Embark: The Series documentary. That will air live and give both our guests and our travel partners a behind-the-curtain sneak peek of our journey over the last 13 months, leading to our first ship back in the water. It's going to be a really fun way for people to engage with us.
What can advisors do to show support for cruising’s restart?Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has a petition, and we've supported CLIA in those efforts. We also have an advocacy campaign that is running in parallel.
This is about sharing the story of what the cruise industry brings to the tourism and hospitality sectors: the thousands of jobs; the thousands of American lives that we touch; and the various ports of call, restaurants and hotels that are filled because of the cruises that sail.
So, I would say to consumers and advisers alike, speak to your congresspeople about helping with the CSO.
The DetailsNorwegian Cruise Linewww.ncl.com