Huge Debt for Top Three Cruise Lines But Positive Signs Ahead

You can receive daily cruise news updates directly to your inbox, so you don't miss a thing! Go ahead and Subscribe here.

The cruise industry has been suffering heavily under the pandemic is something we all know too well. A year without cruises means the cruise lines have had virtually no income, while the maintenance of the ships continues, fuel is still needed to run the ships, office, and crew members need to be paid, and the cruise lines have to pay out thousands of refunds and interest on the debt.

The scale of the devastation that has befallen the industry beggars belief. The industry has profited from golden years; The lines had filled up coffers to brim before the pandemic took hold.

Cruise Line executives have been telling us for months that the cruise lines will not fall, and true to their word, they haven’t. But how does the financial outlook look?

Data: Comprar Acciones

We look at the financial numbers researched by Comprar Acciones of the three major cruise lines and how they have performed over the last 12 months.

Carnival Corporation

We’ll start with the biggest of the three. Carnival Cruise Line currently operates the most extensive fleet of cruise ships in the world. Its nine brands and 87 ships (down from over 100 a few years ago) have been burning through their cash reserves at an astonishing rate.

Carnival Cruise Ship Funnel


As of August 2020, Carnival Corporation announced a total debt amounting to $24.9 billion. There was $20 billion raised through share and debt offerings by the end of 2020, while liquidity stood at $9.5 billion at the end of November.

However, that debt multiplied quickly, and by the end of February 2021, a total of $30 billion debt had accrued. Within one month, the company raised $3.5 billion in a debt offering and announced plans to raise another $1 billion. Additionally, the company has a debt refinancing commitment of $4.2 billion that due in 24 months.

Cash Burn

With reasonably healthy liquidity of $9.5 billion, the cash burn rate the company can afford remains high. In the fourth quarter of 2020, the monthly cash burn averaged out at around $530 million per month; however, this number is expected to go exponentially higher once ships start being ready for cruising.

The cost here will be in fully stocking ships, fuel costs, and last but not least, flying in and testing or vaccinating thousands of crew members.


The company has been blessed with pent-up demand from repeat guests, which showed high bookings for the latter part of 2021.

However, the competition has been racing towards restarting as many ships as possible, whereas CCL only has Costa and AIDA sailing with a few ships, and will sail with a few ships once the UK starts up. The largest cruise line within Carnival Corporation, Carnival Cruise Line has no plans so far to start up.

Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean has been making serious efforts to restart cruises from outside the US, circumventing the CDC’s framework stuck for months now. Investors have welcomed the company’s plans, and stock prices have been going up steadily in the last month. It doesn’t mean the company is out of the woods just yet.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship Deck
Photo: Emrys Thakkar


As of November 4, 2020, the total outstanding debt amounts to $19.12 billion, consisting of $17.63 billion in long-term debt and $1.49 billion in current debt. Adjusted for $3.02 billion in cash-equivalents, the company’s net debt is at $16.11 billion. Although the company sold luxury brand Azamara, the sale had little influence on the companies financials.

Cash Burn

Royal Caribbean burned through its cash reserves at a rate of $250 million to $270 million per month since the start of the pandemic. While the number is certainly not something the company will want to continue, it will go up over several ships’ start-ups over the coming months. However, the company can also look forward to seeing some cash flow back into the bank.


Bookings were already strong for the second half of 2021, and the same counts for 2022. However, the line can now also convert the passengers who want to sail to actual bookings.

With multiple cruise lines reporting strong sales for their domestic, Mediterranean, and Caribbean Itineraries, this will likely be the same for Royal Caribean. Some cabins onboard Celebrity Millenium, which sails from St. Maarten, are already showing as sold out.

Norwegian Cruise Line


Norwegian Cruise had collected a total debt burden of $12.15 billion at the end of 2020. The company had reported $11.3 billion in debt at the end of Q3 2020. It went on to issue senior notes worth $850 million in December 2020.

Norwegian Cruise Line Ship Funnel
Photo Credit: ackats /

Cash Burn

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, the parent company for Norwegian Cruise Line, Regent Seven Seas, and Oceania, has been keeping its cash-burn reasonably stable over the twelve months. Burning on average $150 million per month; however, this is not far from the other two companies if we compare sizes.


Norwegian Cruise Line seems to want to take the same route as Royal Caribbean. The company has so far canceled cruises onboard several ships and announced NCL would redeploy them elsewhere.

With booking numbers looking very strong across all three brands, there is no doubt Norwegian will be able to come out of the pandemic reasonably strongly.


The cruise industry has taken it upon itself to force a restart of cruising onboard its ships, with Royal Caribbean leading strongly. With a combined debt of more the $60 billion, the pandemic has had a severe effect on the cruise companies, and it will be many years before they have recovered completely.

However, if the current trend continues and we see more and more ships taking to the high seas, the recovery will never be very far away.

If you enjoyed the article and would like no fuss daily cruise news to your inbox directly from Cruise Hive, you can Subscribe here.

You can also discuss this topic and more over on the Cruise Boards. If video is your thing, we've even got daily cruise news updates over on YouTube.


Free expert cruise tips and news from Cruise Hive! We'll send you the latest cruise updates daily to your inbox.

Don't Miss Any Cruise News!

We'll send you the latest cruise updates daily to your inbox.

1.2K Share
Copy link