Norwegian Plans Restart, Cancels More Voyages, Enhances Commission Policy

Tuesday was a “big news” day today for Norwegian Cruise Line. Starting July 25, 2021, the cruise line will restart its cruise operations with sailings on three ships in Greece and the Caribbean. All guests embarking on voyages through October 31, 2021, will require proof of a COVID-19 vaccination to board.

That said, many cruises on other Norwegian ships were also cancelled today; see below for more details.

A revenue plus for advisors? Starting May 1, 2021, Norwegian plans to pay immediate commission to travel advisors for voyages that are paid in full regardless of method of payment. That could assist advisors with more immediate revenue if, for example, clients are holding FCCs for 2022 voyages. 

Here’s a look at these and other important developments:

The Cruise Restart 

Following test cruises with employees, travel advisors and invited guests, Norwegian will restart operations at a reduced capacity with Norwegian Jade, Norwegian Joy and Norwegian Gem as the first ships in its 17-ship fleet to welcome guests back onboard.

The “restart” voyages, which will be capacity-controlled, will include new seven-day cruises to the Greek Isles on Norwegian Jade from Athens (Piraeus) beginning July 25, 2021. Guests will wake up in a new destination every day with eight to nine hours of port time. Caribbean cruises will restart on Norwegian Joy from Montego Bay, Jamaica, on August 7, 2021, or on Norwegian Gem from Punta Cana (La Romana) on August 15, 2021; it’s the first time Norwegian has home ported in the Dominican Republic.

Each itinerary will offer 10 to 11 hours of port time, only two days at sea and four different ports of call. In addition, guests embarking on Norwegian Joy‘s cruises from Montego Bay will visit Harvest Caye, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings’ private resort destination in Belize.

“Over a year after we initially suspended sailings, the time has finally come when we can provide our loyal guests with the news of our great cruise comeback,” said Harry Sommer, Norwegian Cruise Line’s president and CEO. “We have been working diligently towards our resumption of operations, focusing on the guest experience with health and safety at the forefront.”

Why were those ships selected? Katina Athanasiou, Norwegian’s chief sales officer, said those ships were picked “because we wanted to be able to give our guests the experience that we believe our guests want in those destinations,” citing for example, Norwegian Joy’s “amazing activities and dining venues.”

Vaccine Requirement  

Sommer called the growing availability of the COVID-19 vaccine “a game-changer,” adding that the vaccine coupled with Norwegian’s science-backed health and safety protocols, “will help us provide our guests with what we believe will be the healthiest and safest vacation at sea.”

All guests sailing on cruises embarking through October 31, 2021 will be required to be fully vaccinated and tested prior to boarding any Norwegian ship.

“Given the ever-evolving nature of the pandemic, the accelerating rollout of the vaccine, and the speed of scientific learnings, it is premature to make decisions about our health and safety protocols for cruises with embarkation dates beginning November 1, 2021,” Sommer noted.

Those are expected to evolve as the line continues to evaluate its health and safety protocols. 

Cancellations of More Cruises 

In conjunction with its return-to-service announcement, Norwegian also cancelled all July and August 2021 itineraries aboard Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Dawn, Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Sky, Norwegian Spirit, Norwegian Star and Norwegian Sun.

In addition, voyages aboard Norwegian Epic through September 1, 2021; and Norwegian Pearl  through November 7, 2021 have also been canceled. Guests and travel partners with impacted reservations will be contacted directly.

Athanasiou told Travel Agent today that there are no schedule changes right now for either Pride of America or Norwegian Bliss.

Health and Safety

Previously, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) and Royal Caribbean Group had teamed up in creating a Healthy Sail Panel, which had provided the basis for protocols submitted to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last fall.

On Monday, Norwegian’s parent company, NCLH, launched a new “SailSAFE Health and Safety” program. It’s founded on three pillars:

  • Safety for guests and crew with vaccination requirements, universal COVID-19 testing and enhanced health screening protocols
  • Safety on the ships with medical-grade air filtration, increased sanitation measures and enhanced medical resources
  • Safety ashore through the collaboration with land-based tour operator partners to extend health and safety measures to each destination

The SailSAFE Global Health and Wellness Council is a panel of six experts led by chairman Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and co-chair of the Healthy Sail Panel.

As protocols evolve and additional information becomes available, Norwegian will publish updates at www.ncl.com/sail-safe.

Commission Policy Change

To assist travel advisors, Norwegian will implement a new commission payment policy for fully paid bookings, effective May 1, 2021. What’s new? Travel advisor commission will be paid when a booking is paid in full; this new policy applies to any form of payment. So, commission will be paid on paid in full bookings with 100 percent cash, 100 percent FCC or partial cash/partial FCC payments (including CruiseNext).

This updated policy will be apply, for example, for those cancelled voyages announced Tuesday, April 6, 2021 forward. Full details from Norwegian are available on the cruise line’s Return to Sailing and Temporary Voyage Suspension Frequently Asked Questions document.

Partnerships are Crucial 

“Resuming operations is a comprehensive endeavor, involving many parties around the globe,” said Sommer. “We are very proud of our collaborations and look forward to deeper partnerships as we forge into the future.”

Athanasiou pointed out that the line’s restart home ports of Montego Bay and Punta Cana were selected because Jamaica and the Dominican Republic are the top two Caribbean nations in terms of number of North American air passengers. In tandem, itineraries were “carefully crafted,” she said. “We wanted to provide really port intensive itineraries without compromising the true experience of travel and travel on a ship.”

Edmund Bartlett, minister of tourism, Jamaica, said:  “I am very pleased that Norwegian Cruise Line has selected Jamaica as one of the first destinations in the world that it will visit when it resumes service. We look forward to welcoming the cruise line back to our shores, and I am confident that this important partnership will aid in our effort to rebuild our tourism sector and boost our economy overall.”

He continued: “Jamaica is ready for the return of cruise tourism and we have robust protocols in place to ensure a safe, seamless and secure experience.”

In response to Norwegian’s announcement that it would sail to Punta Cana for the first time in its history, Luis Abinader, president of the Dominican Republic expressed his appreciation by saying: “From the very first day, we’ve been committed to taking all of the necessary actions to support the recovery of our tourism sector.”

Abinader added that Norwegian’s “presence this summer reaffirms our commitment to providing a safe destination for travelers. We thank NCL for putting its trust in our country.”

Harry Theoharis, Greece’s minister of tourism, said, “We warmly welcome the announcement of Norwegian Cruise Line restarting its cruises from Greece.” He believes his nation’s diversity, history, culture and gastronomy will ensure a remarkable guest experience. 

“In 2020, we safely opened tourism and we are working to continue to do the same this year, so travelers go home with memories that they are proud to share and that last a lifetime,” emphasized Theoharis.

While Greece has not yet opened to American visitors, Athanasiou said “we have a great partnership with the tourism minister” and that the country expects to start approving entry for non-European Union citizens in May.

“So, we feel very comfortable and confident that on July 25, with100 percent vaccinated guests and crew, that we’re going to be able to provide a fantastic experience,” she said. The Greece itinerary offers six ports of call and not one sea day, so it delivers what Athanasiou describes as “a port intensive experience.” 

Peace of Mind Policy Extended

Norwegian has extended its temporary “Peace of Mind” cancellation policy to guests sailing on cruises booked by April 30, 2021 with embarkation dates through October. 31, 2021. These guests have the flexibility to cancel their cruise 15 days prior to departure.

Those who take advantage of the “Peace of Mind” policy will receive a full refund in the form of a future cruise credit, which may be applied to any sailing through December 31, 2022. In addition, final payment for all voyages with embarkations through October 31, 2021, will require payment 60 days prior to embarkation versus the standard 120 days.

New Video Series

As Norwegian makes final preparations to restart cruises in Greece and the Caribbean, a new docuseries of videos, “EMBARK – The Series,” will premier April 15 at 8 p.m. at www.ncl.com/embark and the line’s Facebook page. 

Athanasiou said that the docuseries shows “the journey” of exactly what’s gone into the restart efforts. Filming for two of those episodes is completed, and the line will begin the third shortly, according to Athanasiou. Separately, advisors can expect Norwegian to introduce a virtual trade session later this week to discuss all the changes and new itineraries.

For more information on Norwegian Cruise Line, visit www.ncl.com

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