Needles and numbers.
Those are two critical words for the cruise industry right now. Before ships start sailing out of American ports, the number of active COVID-19 cases needs to be brought under control, and the number of people vaccinated needs to increase substantially.
While the picture remains foggy about a potential return and major cruise lines have canceled departures from the U.S. through May, one of the world’s busiest cruise ports has now weighed in. Port Canaveral says it believes it won’t see cruise ship traffic until July.
Port Canaveral Guide: What You Need To Know
The port in Brevard County, Florida, normally handles about 4.5 million cruise passengers per year. But calls came to a hard stop last March, and at a port authority budget meeting this week, officials revealed they expect a slow and careful return to service.
“We have a new administration,” said Port CEO Captain John Murray, as reported by the Orlando Sentinel. “The cruise lines themselves have kicked everything down the road for three months already, or at least through March and April. The reality given the pandemic right now, until those numbers start coming down, we just don’t see that this industry is going to get any attention that it needs to get restarted.”
Murray said infections would need to decline and vaccinations increase before he expects restart discussions to really begin in earnest with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For the 2020-2021 fiscal year that will end on September 30, the port is now projecting an overall loss of $43.12 million. To keep things running, the port is moving $17 million from its reserve funds to help balance the budget. Officials say it has the financial wherewithal to last through this year and beyond.
Port Canaveral is home to ships from Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Carnival Cruise Line. A fifth line, Europe-based MSC Cruises, had planned to homeport its ship MSC Seaside there this spring.
Carnival Cruise Line was the latest to put the brakes on a return to sailing, canceling all of its itineraries through April, and delaying the debut of its new ship Mardi Gras from Port Canaveral until at least May 29. The much-anticipated ship will be the first vessel powered by liquefied natural gas to homeport in North America.
Cruise lines are scrambling to comply with the CDC’s Conditional Sailing Order, released on October 30, 2020. The order requires many new health and safety protocols onboard ships, and requires lines to hold test cruises and recertify each vessel individually.
Cruise lines say they are making progress with the requirements, but are in a bit of a holding pattern, awaiting technical direction from the CDC before they can move forward with next steps including test cruises and recertification.