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The cruise industry is slowly approaching a return to normal, finally returning to service amid pent-up demand for leisure travel. After a year of shutdowns, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Norwegian, and other major cruise lines are returning to US ports as limited-capacity bookings fill up fast and ticket prices rise.

Vaccination rates continue to climb, and consumers are beginning to feel safer about cruising to vacation destinations, but there is still a lot of work to do. New polling data shows only half of US consumers are confident the cruise industry can reopen safely coming out of the pandemic. Ongoing legal challenges to CDC vaccine requirements for cruises and multiple vessels reporting positive COVID-19 tests show the industry’s road to recovery may still be a bumpy one.

Related Stocks: Royal Caribbean Cruises (RCL), Carnival Corporation (CCL), Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. (NCLH)

Cruise Lines Prepare for Leisure Travel Boom

Cruise lines are finally preparing for a return to normal after more than a year of industry-wide shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the depths of the pandemic, cruise lines were forced to downsize, selling some of their ships for scrap metal just to bring in some revenue and stay afloat. According to Cruise Critic, Carnival Corporation sold 13 ships last summer as scrap and placed another two ships in long-term layup with no plans to restart their voyages. Royal Caribbean had to sell seven of their older vessels amid months of no-sail orders and voyage cancellations, per Royal Caribbean Blog.

Now, as COVID-19 restrictions loosen, pent up demand for leisure travel is driving a surge in bookings and cruise lines have begun restarting operations. Recently, Travel Pulse reported that Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings has added cruises to its voyage resumption plan in the United States. Norwegian aims to start sailing this summer, from ports in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Port Canaveral and Alaska. The company announced it’s plans include 23 of Norwegian’s 28 total ships to be fully operational beginning in July 2021 and then phasing in through early 2022.

Carnival Corporation is also resuming its cruise operations in July, while requiring all of its guests to be fourteen days removed from their final vaccine dose. The company announced voyages returning included its Alaskan cruise lines departing from Seattle as well as two cruises sailing out of Texas as early as July 3rd, per MarketWatch. Last month, Carnival had to add additional voyages due to high demand, according to Cruise Fever, signaling the cruise industry can expect a much more profitable year than the lows they fell to last summer.

COVID-19 Concerns Continue with Vaccination Battles Heating Up

Unfortunately, the industry recently discovered that, even with passengers providing proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test, the virus can still derail the cruise line operations.

Last week, Royal Caribbean made headlines for the wrong reasons when it learned that two of the passengers on the company’s Celebrity Millennium vessel, the first North American cruise in 2021, tested positive for the virus. Billed as the largest COVID-vaccinated cruise in the world so far, it was not the only ship to exhibit issues with passengers contracting the virus. Forbes reports that an additional cruise ship, the MSC Seaside, had two guests contract the virus as well.

Despite the positive tests in these early voyages, Royal Caribbean and Carnival Corp announced they are not changing their plans and will push ahead with restarting their cruise operations this summer, according to US News. Some positive cases among vaccinated passengers are…

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