Norwegian Cruise Lines CEO Frank Del Rio said Tuesday that his full fleet of 28 ships will resume service by April 1 for the first time since the pandemic anchored most of the cruise industry across the world — with 75% of the company’s vessels returning to regular operations by the end of the year.
Norwegian currently has eight ships in service across its three cruise brands, and all onboard must provide proof of full vaccination before setting sail.
“If anything, the world is opening up, more people are getting vaccinated,” Del Rio told CNBC’s “Closing Bell.” “Pent up demand continues to be very, very strong for the sailings we’ve operated thus far.”
The company currently requires all passengers and crew to be vaccinated before boarding and isn’t allowing unvaccinated children who aren’t yet eligible for the shots to sail, he said.
Those under 12 are not yet allowed to receive their Covid shots, but Pfizer submitted data to the Food and Drug Administration last month in hopes of receiving an emergency use authorization to administer vaccines to 5- to 11-year-olds. If approved, Del Rio said fully immunized children in that age group would be allowed to cruise.
The FDA will review Pfizer’s findings at a meeting on Oct. 26, and vaccines could roll out to 5- to 11-year-olds as soon as Halloween.
“Are we missing some customers? Possibly,” Del Rio said of the vaccine mandate. “But today, we believe that our mandate is a competitive advantage.”
Miami-based Norwegian clashed with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis this summer over the state’s law banning businesses from demanding proof of vaccination from customers. Norwegian said on Aug. 8 that a federal judge issued a temporary injunction to preserve the company’s proof of vaccination requirement.
Despite the cruise line’s stringent vaccine protocols, Del Rio said Covid booster shots are not yet required for passengers and employees. But he said Norwegian could either mandate boosters if the pandemic worsens or adjust the company’s existing vaccine guidelines as the pandemic wanes and more people immunize against the virus.
“I myself got the booster two weeks ago because I qualify,” Del Rio said. “And so when the timing’s right, if the pandemic continues to be a threat to mankind, then we’ll have to consider that.”