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Wall Street: Cruises wont restart until late 2021 or early 2022

By: Matt Hochberg

If you are looking for a "glass is half empty prediction" on when cruises might restart, here is a doozy.

One Wall Street analyst shared his thoughts on the likelihood of cruises restarting and it is not a good outlook for cruise fans.

Truist Securities analyst Patrick Scholes wrote in a note that cruises likely will not resume from U.S. ports until the second half of 2021 under the best of circumstances, and possibly not until early 2022.

Mr. Scholes wrote the note on Friday indicating a changing look at the prospects of cruises restarting, "The sentiment for 2021 has now changed to ‘It’s possible 2021 will not be a return to (revenue) sailings in North America, or at least not before'".

He added that while cruise bookings are exceeding cancellations, “we now see July as the best case for restart,” though the fourth quarter is more likely.

"Consensus expectations are for a return to revenue sailings in 2Q21 with [an] acceleration into 3Q21, which we do not see as realistic," Scholes wrote, adding that the stocks have "so far shrugged off unabated delays in restarting."

Royal Caribbean recently cancelled March and April cruises for nearly all of its sailings, and Norwegian and Carnival have both matched as well.

Cruise industry insider Stewart Chiron recently took to Twitter with his own predictions based on the recently announced cancellations.

"Several cruise lines will be announcing further cancelations of all April sailings. May sailings, at this point, are probably toast as well," Chiron stated in his tweet. "Test sailings of 3-5 nights will occur. All 7-night sailings, heading into summer are tentative at best right now."

The single biggest question is when cruise lines might be able to get started with testing out their new procedures.

Carnival recently tip-toed around the idea that the CDC is holding up the cruise lines from moving forward with restart plans.

Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald said Carnival is in phase one of the Conditional Sail Order, and said, "additional guidelines for future phases have not yet been issued by CDC."

Mr. Scholes wrote in his note, "there is concern amongst travel executives who believe that the recent CDC phased return to cruise is really a de facto no-sail order."

Read moreTop 14 things the CDC requires cruise ships do on test sailings

"The concern is that the CDC’s hurdles are so high that it will make it extremely difficult for the cruise lines to sail with paid customers."

The good news is demand remains strong in the form of bookings, and he expects the pent-up demand for travel to boost cruises whenever they have the opportunity to restart.

Bernie Sanders inauguration meme reaches cruise ships too

By: Matt Hochberg

You know a meme has hit critical mass when cruise ships get involved.  

Unless you have been off the internet since Wednesday (in which case, welcome back and thank you for visiting this blog first), Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has been the subject of a new meme involving how he sat at the Presidential Inauguration.

His mittens, winter jacket, and look on his face have proven to be Internet gold, as people have cropped him and pasted his sitting pose in endless funny scenarios, including cruise ship related memes.

It was not long until cruise fans got in on the fun, and we have seen quite a few Bernie memes involving cruise ships, and I wanted to share the ones I have run across so far.

None of these are my creation, nor do I take credit for making them.

The unwritten rules of going on a cruise

By: Matt Hochberg

From sports, to your workplace, to school, there are always unwritten rules that everyone kind of knows about and should follow.

The same is true about going on a cruise ship, and these rules are not necessarily written down anywhere, but they are the social norms many guests follow.

Many of these rules are based on "common sense" or courtesies extended through much of society these days.

If you are going on a cruise, these unspoken rules are things you should definitely be aware of before doing something you might regret later.

Don't cut the buffet line

The Windjammer buffet does not have defined lanes, or entry and exit points.  But that does not mean you can drop in ahead of others as you see fit.

When you approach a buffet station, the courteous thing to do is start at one of the ends and let others who are there before you pick their food first.

The key is not interrupting the flow of the line, and being respectful of other guests who have been waiting for their food too.

Speaking of the buffet, always get a new plate whenever you go back up.

Don't save a pool chair indefinitely

The pool deck tends to be more of a "wild west" in terms of reserving space, but the right thing to do is not hoard chairs if you are not using them.

A contentious issue is how long one can reserve a deck chair near the pool while it is unoccupied. 

You may hear the term "chair hogs" thrown around, which refers to people who throw their belongings on a chair in order to reserve it for the day.  While that may not sound bad, often someone will get up early in the morning to do this, many hours before the people who they reserved the chairs for actually show up.

It is easy to fall into, "if I don't do what they're doing, I won't get a chair either" mentality, but I prefer to not contribute to the problem.

The respectful thing to do is reserve chairs as long as they are actively needed. Certainly everyone steps away now and again, but locking up chairs for the day hours before they will be needed is a faux-pas.

Remember your neighbor can probably hear you

Stateroom cabins are not soundproof, so it is important to be respectful of noise levels from your room.

Whether you are playing the television too loud, yelling at your kids, or "frolicking" with a loved one, keep in mind there is a good chance the people on either side of your room can hear it.

This applies to balconies as well, as noise can easily bleed over into other people's balconies and even rooms.

You should tip the crew

While gratuity is technically optional in the academic sense of the word, it is compulsory on Royal Caribbean cruises.

Just like dining at a restaurant, the crew members work on tips and your cruise fare does not cover their services.

Royal Caribbean charges an automatic gratuity that covers your stateroom attendant and waiters. This is a daily charge you can pre-pay or have take out on each night of the cruise.

Royal Caribbean allows guests to remove the automatic gratuity if they would rather pay these same crew members in cash, and not as a cost savings mechanism.

Be punctual with shore excursions

They say, "punctuality is the politeness of kings" and it applies to shore excursions too.

Often tours you go on will have time to explore on your own, and if you are late, you are holding up the entire group.

Be mindful of your time and do your best to ensure you are back when everyone agrees to return.

Don't use your hands to pick up food

There are salad tongs at each buffet station for a reason, so don't use your hands.

Not only is using your hands to pick up food bad manners, it is putting others health at risk when it comes to cross contamination. Germs can easily be spread from hands to food surfaces.

I know those bread rolls are hard to grab with the tongs, but it is still a must do.

Let people out of an elevator first

When you are waiting for an elevator, let people who are in the elevator get out before trying to get in.

If you don't, you are going to cause a log jam in the elevator doors between trying to get in while others try to get out.

Not only is letting others out of the elevator first courteous, it also speeds things up all around.

Be kind to crew members

The crew members work on the ship, but that does not mean they are your servants.

Show the crew courtesy and listen to their instructions.  It is easy sometimes to get caught up in frustrations or aggravation while on vacation, but it is crucial for guests to always remember that crew are there to help, not to get yelled at.

Being kind means following their directions, thanking them for little things, and even pausing to talk to them about where they are from or what they love about their job. Most crew members are happy to chat and share things with guests, and being polite to them usually helps make their days great.

No cursing

Regardless of where you are from, or who you are with, you should always watch your language and avoid profanity.

Royal Caribbean is a family cruise line, and you should avoid any cursing, inappropriate comments, or insulting words out of respect for your fellow cruisers.

Royal Caribbean cancels Quantum of the Seas 2021 Alaska season

By: Matt Hochberg

The first casualty of the Alaska 2021 cruise season will be Quantum of the Seas.

Guests who had cruises booked on Quantum of the Seas for Alaska cruises in 2021 received an email that the cruise ship will not leave Singapore to go to Alaska as planned.

This affects scheduled Quantum of the Seas sailings between April 25- October 14, 2021.

This decision does not affect Alaska sailings on Ovation, Serenade, and Radiance of the Seas, as Royal Caribbean continues to work closely with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and government authorities in North America.

Instead, Quantum of the Seas will remain in the Asia-Pacific region.

A Royal Caribbean spokeswoman said, "Because of the success Quantum’s had, we made the decision to keep the ship in the Asia-Pacific region for the 2021 summer season and cancel her Alaska season."

Sailings on Quantum of the Seas to Alaska, including the transpacific sailing, have been cancelled. This includes Quantum’s Hawaii sailing, departing Vancouver on October 4th, 2021, and her Transpacific sailing, departing Honolulu on October 14th, 2021.

Royal Caribbean apologized to guests for having to make this change, "We’re terribly sorry for the impact to your vacation. Our primary goal continues to be a seamless and healthy return to service; we’re hyper-focused on welcoming you back!"

Back in March 2020, Royal Caribbean announced Quantum of the Seas would sail to Alaska in 2021 for the first time.

She was scheduled to sail from Seattle and offer mostly 7-night Alaska Glacier cruises between May and October.

Like all cancelled cruises during the global health crisis, Royal Caribbean is offering a series of compensation choices:

Lift & Shift: On or before February 4, 2021, move to a 2022 sailing onboard Quantum of the Seas departing within 1-week of the original sail date and your cruise fare/promotion is protected.

125% Future Cruise Credit: To account for the inconvenience this has caused, guests are eligible for a 125% Future Cruise Credit (FCC) based on your total cruise fare paid to book and cruise by October 31st, 2022.

Similar 2022 Hawaii and Transpacific sailings will open for sale in the coming months.

This will be automatically issued on or before February 19, 2021 if no other option is selected.

Refund: If you prefer a cash refund, you can do so by requesting this option on-or-before March 31, 2021.

You can expect their refund to the original form of payment within 45 days from the cancellation date. 

If you redeemed a Cruise with Confidence Future Cruise Credit on an impacted sailing and would now prefer a refund instead, Royal Caribbean will process this request in the amount of any new funds paid above the original certificate and, in turn, will reinstate the Cruise with Confidence FCC for future use.

Cruise Planner Purchases: If you had purchased any cruise add-ons, such as shore excursions, drink packages, wifi and more, you could opt to convert your Cruise Planner purchases  to an Onboard Credit valued at 125% of the total amount paid. This offer expires on February 4, 2021.

Quantum of the Seas ends sailing 7 hours early due to non-covid medical issue

By: Matt Hochberg

Don't worry, a cruise ship did not end its sailing because of that.

Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas returned back to Singapore a few hours early after a passenger became ill due to an non-covid medical issue.

The Straits Times reports the Royal Caribbean cruise ship headed back to port 7 hours early, "due to a medical condition unrelated to Covid-19".

An announcement onboard Quantum of the Seas informed all passengers they would be concluding the sailing earlier than expected, and the ship would be back in port by 8pm local time.  

The ship was scheduled to return to conclude the sailing at 6am.

Royal Caribbean said the guest was taken to a hospital in Singapore immediately for medical treatment.

Guests experiencing medical issues not related to the current global health crisis were not uncommon on cruise ships in the past.

The medical staff onboard can triage many issues, but if the condition requires additional care, that guest is disembarked at the next port.

Quantum of the Seas is engaged in a series of "cruises to nowhere" from Singapore, which are limited to only residents of Singapore and have no port stops.

This is the second time a Quantum of the Seas cruise ended its sailing early, following a false positive test for Covid on a December sailing.

The man was on one of the cruises to no where on Quantum of the Seas when he complained to the ship's medical staff that he was not feeling well.  He was given a PCR test onboard and it came back positive for COVID-19.

After further tests on land, neither the 83-year-old man, nor anyone else onboard Quantum of the Seas, was actually positive.

Since then, Quantum of the Seas has been sailing successfully without any incidents.

British cruise line will require everyone to get a COVID-19 vaccine

By: Matt Hochberg

The first cruise line to announce it will require its guests to get a COVID-19 vaccine is Saga Cruises.

The British cruise line announced it will require that all guests must be fully vaccinated in order to sail.

Specifically, Saga said guests must have received their full two doses of the COVID‑19 vaccination at least 14 days before going on the cruise.

A spokesperson added: "We have taken the decision to require everyone traveling with us to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Our customers want the reassurance of the vaccine and to know others traveling with them will be vaccinated too."

The topic of if cruise lines will require guests to be vaccinated has been a hotly debated topic, and a question of "will they or wont they."

Saga Cruises exclusively markets to and operates for people aged 50 and over, making it appeal to a demographic that is more at risk to the effects of COVID-19.

The plan for Saga is to begin with hotel stays, river cruises and escorted tours in May, and then launch ocean cruises in early June.

Read moreCDC will require Covid-19 test for all international flights to the US

Pre-cruise COVID-19 testing will be conducted in the terminal, as well as doubling the medical staff and social distancing on its ships.

What about Royal Caribbean?

Of course, a small cruise line in the UK is not necessarily an indication of what Royal Caribbean may or may not do.

Last week, Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain indicated they are looking into the role a vaccine will play in the cruise line's plans.

Ultimately, Royal Caribbean will rely on the guidance of the Healthy Sail Panel of health experts to guide the cruise line in if they should require the vaccine or not of its guests.

"Exactly how are we going to require it? Are we going to just use it as an adjunct? I think all of that is going to come out reasonably soon."

Mr. Fain's response put the decision on if requiring the vaccine is a good idea on the panel of experts so that the cruise line can make the best decision based on the panel's guidance.

"We have the experts and we'll let them guide us."

Top 10 things you didn't know about what it's like working on a cruise ship

By: Matt Hochberg

The crew members on a cruise ship are extremely hard working people that bring smiling faces to the services they provide, but working on a cruise ship is anything like a job on land.

Some crew members elect to work on cruise ships for many years, and repeat cruises often keep an eye out for their favorite bartender, Adventure Ocean staff member, or Guest Services officer so that they can say hello.  

In order to get a better idea of what it is like to be a crew member on a cruise ship, I reached out to some former crew members to get their thoughts on what many guests may not not know about working on a ship.

They really do work hard

While everyone knows that crew members are not on vacation, they put in a lot of time and effort to make the guest vacation amazing.

Ceri Jackson noted some guests overlook that fact and think crew are almost on a kind of "working vacation".

Hickdale James said simply, "Working on ship was damn hard but I must admit, I miss it sometimes."

With that, they make good money while not having to pay for food, rent or utilities.

Crew love to have a good time when not working

It is cliched to say "work hard, play hard", but it is very true of the crew too.

Alana Campbell added, "How hard they work is pretty well known.... but crew members generally party much harder than the guests."

Depending on the ship, different facilities were available to crew to unwind, but so-called "hall parties" would always work in a pinch.  These are parties when a few crew members in nearby rooms would open up their doors and hang out in the hall, similar to a neighborhood party on a street somewhere.

Long contracts means time away from home

Unlike a job on land, you don't get to go home to your family after your work is complete.

Working on a cruise ship means many months away from loved ones, and that can take a toll on some crew who are not prepared for it.

Radu Cosmin said, "This job is not for anyone. You must to have this in you... I'm away from home for 6 months."

Some guests plan cruises around crew members

The old saying, "good service is hard to find" may be why some people who book a Royal Caribbean cruise actually try to figure out which ship a certain crew member is on before booking it.

NJ Cole said there were times where guests would try to figure out where he was working, "I had a number of families that would make sure I was going to be on board when they were planning their cruises.

"And, there were even a few families/individuals that I went to visit when I was off the ship and some who came to visit me."

Natalie King also enjoyed meeting guests who later became friends, "I have also meet some really nice guests whom I am friends with on Facebook. I even meet a few persons born in my country but living somewhere else."

Read more8 cruise ship tips from a former employee

They really do live onboard

There are some guests who are surprised to hear the crew members live onboard the ship.

Evidently there are some guests who think perhaps crew members come and go somehow on and off the ship, perhaps through the different ports the ship visits.

Natalie King said she had to routinely confirm to guests, "we actually live onboard".

As mentioned earlier, crew contracts range in duration, but they are all many months and that time is spent living on a ship.

Crew do not eat the same food as guests

Many people who go on a cruise think the crew are eating the same food as passengers, but it is not the case.

Crew members have separate dining rooms with less glamorous cuisine.

Certain crew members are allowed to dine in guest specialty restaurants during their time off, such as officers or performers.

They love the travel opportunities

I asked these former crew members what loved the most about working on a ship, and many responded the opportunity to see the world is something they really enjoyed, and still miss today.

Pippa Madden said the travel working on a cruise ship affords you is something she misses a lot.

NJ Cole added, "Life on land does not remotely compare to life on ships."

Licinia Ferreira commented, "We earn very good money and have no expenses. Travel for free, meet different countries and people! I didn't regret leaving after 10 years, but sometimes I miss it."

Read moreWhat happens to the crew members onboard during the cruise suspension?

Crew members don't usually get full days off

Unlike working on land, where you get a day or two off here and there, crew members have longer work days that are broken up with breaks.

Ian Forbes noted crew members do not get full days off, but instead get a few hours break here and there. This is to work around the daily schedule of the ship.

While it sounds bad to say there are not full days off, the crew do get regular breaks throughout the day. Many crew members will even go as far as to get off the ship and explore a port for a bit during one of these long breaks.

Crew are forbidden from having relationships with guests

Certainly crew members and some guests form friendships, but crew are absolutely not allowed to take their relationships with guests to anything beyond friendly.

Cruise lines prohibit crew from engaging in any kind of personal relationship with guests, and if discovered, is grounds for immediate termination.

The rationale of this rule is mostly centered around ship security and avoiding workplace problems of any kind.

While the crew are usually very friendly, do not assume their intentions are anything more than platonic.

Read moreThe top crew members to find if you have a problem onboard your cruise

Even crew get seasick

You may think getting seasick is something that only happens to first time cruisers, but it can happen to just about anyone, including crew.

Crew members told stories of instances where on their first few weeks at sea it would unfortunately happen to them.

Alissa recalled her first run on a cruise ship, "When I first started working on ships, I would get seasick all the time and trust me, I've tried every remedy — ginger, green apples, wrist bands, ice. It is something you definitely get used to though, and now, I rarely deal with seasickness unless the water is particularly rough."

Kate added, "I remember laying in the fitness studio on a mat for an afternoon. I kept some ginger snacks around to help out."

CDC will require Covid-19 test for all international flights to the US

By: Matt Hochberg

The airline industry will begin to feel the first major impact of a new rule by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with new testing requirements.

The CDC announced beginning on January 26, all passengers that are two years old and older must show proof of a negative Covid-19 test to enter the United States.

Specifically, flyers must take a nasal or PCR test within three days before the flight departs for the U.S.

The written results (written or electronic) of the test must be provided to the airline in order to be able to board the plane. The CDC added documentation of having recovered from Covid-19 is allowed.

If you have a connecting flight, a test taken no more than three days before your flight departs is acceptable as long as it is booked under a single passenger record. Layovers between flights cannot exceed 24 hours.

If your connecting flight to the US was booked separately or you have a longer connection, you need to get tested within the three days before your final flight departs for the US.

If you are flying out of the country for less than three days, you can take a test in the U.S. before you depart and use it for your return or take a rapid test before your return flight.

If a passenger does not provide documentation or chooses not to take a test, the CDC has advised that airlines must deny boarding.

The rule applies to U.S. residents and tourists alike.

This is the first time the airline industry has had to deal with any kind of testing requirements. Cruise lines committed on their own to 100% testing of all passengers back in October 2020 without the CDC needing to mandate it.

Read more5 ways cruise ships have tougher COVID-19 protocols than airplanes

CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield commented on the importance of testing as a major tool, "Testing does not eliminate all risk, but when combined with a period of staying at home and everyday precautions like wearing masks and social distancing, it can make travel safer, healthier, and more responsible by reducing spread on planes, in airports, and at destinations."

Royal Caribbean Group to sell Azamara cruise line for $201 million

By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean Group announced it has sold its small boutique cruise line, Azamara, for $201 million.

The all-cash deal will send the cruise line to the new owners, a private-equity firm Sycamore Partners.

Sycamore Partners is a private equity firm specializing in consumer, retail and distribution investments.

Sycamore Partners will acquire the entire Azamara brand, including its three-ship fleet and associated intellectual property. The transaction is subject to customary conditions and is expected to close in the first quarter of 2021. 

Royal Caribbean Group says the decision allows them to focus on its core brands and expanding those operations: Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Silversea brands.

Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain issued a statement about why they sold Azamara, "Our strategy has evolved into placing more of our resources behind three global brands, Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Silversea, and working to grow them as we emerge from this unprecedented period."

"Even so, Azamara remains a strong brand with its own tremendous potential for growth, and Sycamore’s track record demonstrates that they will be good stewards of what the Azamara team has built over the past 13 years."

In conjunction with the transaction, Azamara Chief Operating Officer Carol Cabezas has been appointed President of the brand. 

The transaction will result in a one-time, non-cash impairment charge of approximately $170 million. The sale of Azamara is not expected to have a material impact on Royal Caribbean Group’s future financial results.

Royal Caribbean Group Chief Financial Officer Jason Liberty said the decision to sell Azamara was not driven by the global health crisis, but was something they were exploring for a while.

"It allows us to really prioritize our resources, which are not just financial resources -- it's also the minds and time of management," Mr. Liberty told The Wall Street Journal.

The move follows up the recent sale of Majesty of the Seas and Empress of the Seas in December.

Azamara was created by Royal Caribbean in 2007, and according to financial filings, was the smallest of the group's brands. Azamara operated small cruise ships to regions around the world, but the acquisition of Silversea seemed to create a bit of overlap between the two lines.

The sale of Azamara will help remove some overlap Azamara has with Celebrity and Silversea, both of which cater to affluent customers, Mr. Liberty said.

Royal Caribbean Group CEO: "we are approaching the point where we can run out the clock on this terrible disease."

By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain shared a new video with travel partners that answers the question of how can he be hopeful for the near-term future when we are inundated with terrible news every day.

"We are approaching the point where we can run out the clock on this terrible disease."

Mr. Fain has been releasing video updates every few weeks that share his thoughts on what is happening currently with the global health crisis, as well as providing hints at cruises being able to restart.

This week's video focuses on projections of estimated infections, and how over the course of the spring and early summer, a combination of vaccine rollout and other rule changes could bring the daily count down.

Mr. Fain started out the video by saying he believes, "2021 will end up in a very good year for us all."

The projections come from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), which is an independent global health research center at the University of Washington.

Their stats indicate infections and fatalities will peak at the end of January, and then rapidly fall from there.

IMHE's projections are based on the fact 22% of the U.S. population has already had the virus, along with the growing number of vaccinated people, as well as people wearing face masks.

"They project that by the end of April, we can expect levels 20 times lower than today's peak and the lowest they've been since early last year."

Mr. Fain conceded virus mutations could affect the projections, along with possibility increased vaccine rollout could make it better.

The current events reminded Mr. Fain of hurricanes in Florida, with the anticipation, preparation and constantly changing updates associated with a storm.

"The TV rightly shows the winds howling in the trees, bending during the storm, and it is horrific. But we also look at the projections to see where the storm will be a little later on. It takes some pretty sophisticated modeling and a lot of experience, but we can get a good indication of the path of the storm." 

 "Not perfect, but pretty good. And I think the covid tempest is similar. We're in the midst of the worst part of the storm and it is horrific. "

 "But we need to consider the likely direction over the next few months, and that's why I'm so positive."