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As larger ports announce plans, no timeline for cruise resumptions in Baltimore

Royal Caribbean's "Grandeur of the Seas" cruise ship docks in the South Locust Point Cruise Terminal at the Port of Baltimore on Feb. 28, 2020. Capital News Service/Jeff Barnes)

Royal Caribbean’s “Grandeur of the Seas” cruise ship docks in the South Locust Point Cruise Terminal at the Port of Baltimore on Feb. 28, 2020. (Capital News Service/Jeff Barnes)

The Maryland Port Administration does not have a timeline on when major cruise lines will resume operations out of Baltimore, but cruise industry experts say the companies are more inclined to resume operations out of larger ports first.

Two major cruise ships operate out of the Port of Baltimore: Carnival Cruise Line’s Pride and Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas. In 2020, more than 90 cruises were scheduled to embark out of Baltimore year-round before the pandemic hit.

The port administration is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and both cruise lines on restart protocols, specifically on issues such as transportation services, lodging and medical care facilities, according to a statement from William P. Doyle, the administration’s executive director.

Carnival has announced that the Pride line is on pause through Aug. 31. Royal Caribbean announced that trips on the Grandeur of the Seas will be canceled through August, and it plans to resume its full fleet of ships by the end of the year.

On Saturday, a ship left a port in Fort Lauderdale, the first major cruise line voyage with passengers in more than 15 months. 

But where does Baltimore land on the cruise industry’s path to reopening? Experts say the small size of the port could result in a longer wait.

With only two major cruise lines operating out of the port, Baltimore is a much smaller cruise hub than other locations across the United States, said Roger Blum, the principal of Cruise & Port Advisors, Inc., a Florida-based organization that works with cruise ports and destinations.

So far, cruise lines have announced plans to resume operations out of their bigger ports, namely those in Florida and Galveston, Texas.

“It’s the big cruise home ports that are getting the ships first,” agreed Monty Mathisen, the managing editor of Cruise Industry News, a publication based in New York.

Blum added that the first cruises to return to operations are often larger. The Pride and Grandeur of the Seas lines are on the smaller side, with both having a capacity of fewer than 2,500 guests.

At the same time, accessibility may be a factor in determining which ports reopen, Mathisen said. Baltimore is an accessible location, with the port located off Interstate 95, he added.

“What the cruise lines have found in the past few years, which again, really does make sense, is that people like to have the convenience of being able to drive to a cruise. And Baltimore’s in just such a great location for so many people to be able to drive to a cruise,” Blum said.

This accessibility is part of the reason why Mathisen anticipates operations in Baltimore will resume “somewhere in the middle.”

“I think Baltimore will come back sooner than some other people may think, and why not? You can drive to the port and get on the ship,” Mathisen said.

The CDC has given cruise operators a choice of conducting a simulated voyage with no passengers or embarking on a trip where at least 95% of passengers and 98% of the crew are fully vaccinated.

“All the cruise lines have been very upfront in saying that it’s going to be a kind of a step-by-step rollout, that they’re not going to just flip the switch and have all the ships sailing again,” Blum said. “The cruise lines are being conservative with it.”