Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Talks COVID-19 Protocol, Family Travel, and the Future of Cruising

"We're happy to have reduced occupancies so that we can provide an excellent product, with social distance, no crowding, no lines anywhere. It's working great.

Norwegian Cruise Line's president expects things to feel normal again by the second or third quarter of next year — but still has a positive outlook for the future of cruising.

"Every day, every week should be a little better than the week before," Harry Sommer, the president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line, said in an interview with Cruise Critic ahead of the launch of the Norwegian Breakaway, the first major cruise ship to sail from New York City since the pandemic.

Sommer said there have been highs and lows as Norwegian saw a decrease in bookings as the number of COVID-19 cases increased, but saw an increase in bookings after the U.S. announced it would lift travel restrictions on vaccinated foreign visitors in November.

But he's not worried either way.

"We're in no rush. Our main goal now is to get our ships up and running," he said. "We're happy to have reduced occupancies so that we can provide an excellent product, with social distance, no crowding, no lines anywhere. It's working great. And making sure that if we do get the occasional COVID case, that we have all of our internal protocols in order, and we show that there's never any spread."

Norwegian first started sailing in Europe in July with trips out of Athens. Now, the company is sailing from Miami, Seattle, and New York in the United States, having won a court battle defending its vaccination policy, one of the strictest in the industry. The company requires every passenger who boards to be fully vaccinated through at least the end of the year.

Looking ahead, Sommer said he's hopeful younger children will be able to get vaccinated soon, paving the way for family cruises over the holidays.

"There will still be enough time that parents will be able to book their winter vacations with us," he told the industry outlet. "The timing works out perfect for Christmas and New Year, but even if people miss that window, because they're not right there at the front of the line -- you have Spring Break, Presidents' Day, weeks in March. Those are great opportunities for people to bring families on board."

Norwegian Pearl cruise ship leaves Lisbon harbor
Horacio Villalobos/Getty Images

On Sunday, the Norwegian Breakaway sailed into New York's Manhattan Cruise Terminal ready to set out on weeklong trips to Bermuda through Oct. 31, including overnight stays on the island, according to Norwegian. Sommer called the sailing a "significant milestone."

"We have a 30-year history of cruising from New York and were the first to sail from the destination year-round. Our return feels like a homecoming," Sommer said in a statement. "This fall, as New York comes back to life after more than a year, with Broadway and other top attractions opening back up, we are honored to be part of its story and to provide travelers easy access to a safe and exceptional warm-weather vacation experience from one of the top cruise destinations on the East Coast."

The Norwegian Breakaway is the sixth Norwegian ship to redeploy since cruising restarted around the world, with each ship operating between 50% and 60% capacity on a "fairly regular basis." Of all the cruises being offered, Sommer told Cruise Critic that sailings to Alaska seem to be among the most popular — not least of all because he said Americans are "by far... the largest source market to come back to cruising."

Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. When she's not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.

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