Two cruise lines regroup after Caribbean setbacks

The Norwegian Sky in Havana in a 2017 photo.

Norwegian Sky outside Havana Port, Cuba.

Two cruise companies affected by sudden upsets in the Caribbean and Bahamas region are slowly regaining their footing.

For Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH), the big blow was the abrupt end to U.S. cruises to Cuba in June. NCLH had bet heavily on Cuba’s reopening, scheduling not only short cruises on its contemporary Norwegian Cruise Line brand but longer visits by its two premium brands, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

As detailed in a conference call with investors, the U.S. government decision to shutter Cuba with no advance warning hit NCLH third-quarter earnings big-time.

“Given the suddenness of the termination and the lack of lead time we had to make any meaningful fleet redeployment changes, the third quarter bears the largest negative earnings impact from the Cuba travel ban,” said Frank Del Rio, the company’s CEO.

The hit was more than $47 million.

Overnight, high yielding routes to Cuba for the Norwegian brand turned into low-yielding routes to the Bahamas. And several months later came Hurricane Dorian, which made its own dent in NCLH’s earnings through cancelled sailings and reworked itineraries.

Del Rio said Norwegian plans to redeploy half of its Bahamas capacity to higher-yielding areas such as Alaska, the eastern Mediterranean and Asia, and will slowly get out from under the Cuba aftermath.

Even more impacted by Dorian than Norwegian was Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line, whose only destination is the Bahamas.

It suspended its two-day sailings to Grand Bahama for most of September, filling in the time by providing much-need relief and evacuation services.

The silver lining, of sorts, is that Dorian forced Bahamas Paradise into a new market, Nassau, which was not much affected by the storm. It now runs one of its ships from West Palm Beach to Grand Bahama and the other to Nassau.

Bookings for Nassau started slow, said Francis Riley, senior vice president of sales and marketing, but are now on par with those to Grand Bahama. Part of the attraction is the Cruise & Stay program where guest can vacation for two or four nights at one of four Nassau hotels:  Atlantis, The Melia, the Comfort Suites Nassau or the SLS Baha Mar.

Bahamas Paradise has a similar program in place on Grand Bahama with the Lucayan, which has reopened, and the Viva Wyndham, which plans to reopen Dec. 10.

Unlike Norwegian, Bahamas Paradise doesn’t have plans to go elsewhere, and it is busy selling the Bahamas to Canadians and New Yorkers, who have just started getting the frosty temperatures they can look forward to until next spring.

So close yet so far: Disappointment on the Norwegian Sun

Image result for Norwegian sun

Lori Osgood’s clients were eager to visit Cuba for the first time this week when they were to cruise into Havana aboard the Norwegian Sun. The group had been planning their family cruise since last November.

It was not to be.

The Trump administration’s new regulations implemented on Tuesday forced cruise lines to immediately remove Cuba from all itineraries.

“They were excited to soak in all that Havana had to offer — the sights, sounds, people and culture,” said Osgood, a Cruise Planners travel advisor in Jacksonville, Fla. “They are disappointed that they missed their chance.”

Instead of Havana, the Norwegian Sun’s passengers headed to Nassau, Bahamas. Norwegian informed passengers with an announcement on the ship.

“I sell a fair amount of Cuba and am saddened that many of my clients who were planning to travel there will not have the opportunity to do so, at least not in the foreseeable future,” she said.

As for cruise travellers already booked for Cuba, she will spend “a few extra hours to make sure our clients who were supposed to go to Cuba are well taken care of.”

Norwegian Alters Cuba Itineraries, Quantifies Financial Impact

Norwegian Cruise Line ship in Havana
Norwegian Sky cruise ship in Havana Cuba. (Photo by Brian Major).