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Royal Caribbean Summer 2021 Cruise Planning Guide

In:
03May2021
By: 
Matt Hochberg

In summer 2021, Royal Caribbean will restart cruises in the Caribbean and Europe on select ships, and there is plenty you should know about booking, planning, and going on a summer cruise.

After more than a year of no cruises, a handful of ships will begin sailing from ports such as Nassau, Haifa, Southampton and more. There will be an array of new rules, protocols, and things to be aware of for anyone considering a cruise this summer. In short, you should expect a lot of changes compared to cruises prior to 2020.

Much of this Royal Caribbean planning guide is subject to change because of the uncertainty related to going on a cruise.  Don't take that as necessarily a bad indicator, but rather, a setting of proper expectations.

This guide aims to provide helpful tips and advice during this period of changes, as well as the latest news and critical information for sailings this summer.

This page is a jumping off point to give you some background information on each aspect of the cruise, with a ton of links to other blog posts that offer much more detailed information.

Be prepared for changes

Unlike planning a cruise in years past, the typical strategies are irrelevant or inaccurate, so this guide aims to fill in the gap until going on a cruise more closely resembles what it was like before the global health crisis began.

The good news is there will be cruises this summer from at least certain ports outside the United States, and with cases and hospitalizations dropping and vaccine rollout increasing, there is hope we may even see cruises from the United States and Europe return as well.

So much of the fate of the cruise industry depends on real world factors, and you need to have some level of flexibility and understanding when it comes to undertaking a cruise in 2021 simply because even Royal Caribbean is trying to figure it all out.

For some people, the opportunity to go on a cruise ship again is the most important consideration, and change is a way of life, so embracing it means getting back to the vacation they have dreamed about since it all shut down in March 2020.

Others may find the changes, uncertainty, or restrictions, simply too much for now.  In that case, postponing your trip to a later date when there is more predictability to going on a cruise may be the best course of action.

The bottom line is one cannot be ignorant of the cruise experience in summer 2021, and you should keep up with changes and what happens on the first sailings back.

Which ships are sailing in summer 2021?

Royal Caribbean will offer cruises this summer on a half dozen ships from ports around the world.

The only cruise ships you can count on sailing this summer as as follows:

  • Odyssey of the Seas from Haifa, Israel beginning June 2, 2021
  • Adventure of the Seas from Nassau, Bahamas beginning June 12, 2021
  • Vision of the Seas from Bermuda beginning June 26, 2021
  • Anthem of the Seas from Southampton, England beginning July 7, 2021
  • Jewel of the Seas from Limassol, Cyprus beginning July 10, 2021
  • Quantum of the Seas is sailing from Singapore already

As of right now, there are no cruises sailing from the United States until further notice.  Yes, Royal Caribbean still has cruises scheduled to sail from the United States, but until a formal restart plan is announced for U.S. sailings, do not assume those will actually happen.

If you have a cruise booked from the U.S., or are thinking of booking a cruise from the United States this summer, you should be aware of the legal issues facing the cruise industry, although the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced on April 29 it would open up a pathway for ships to restart as early as mid-July.

Royal Caribbean has yet to announce how the CDC news would affect restart plans from the United States.

What health protocols can I expect on a cruise?

Will you have to wear mask? Are vaccines required? What venues will be closed?

Royal Caribbean has yet to announce its full set of protocols and rules for cruises this summer from the Caribbean or Europe, so we are still waiting to see what they will be.

Moreover, Royal Caribbean has said protocols will evolve with science, and that means guests sailing on early summer sailings may experience something different than guests sailing in late summer. 

For cruises sailing this summer, Royal Caribbean is requiring all adults to be fully vaccinated in order to sail (except for Quantum of the Seas from Singapore).  Children under 18 do not need to be vaccinated, but will need to be tested to get onboard.

All crew members will be vaccinated as well.

Details on additional health and safety measures to be implemented by Royal Caribbean will be announced at a later date. 

In my opinion, anyone going on a cruise this summer should expect a minimum to wear a face mask around most areas of the ship, limited capacity, social distancing guidelines, and modifications to certain experiences to make it less of a health risk.

Slowly, I expect Royal Caribbean to slowly roll back those changes as the protocols and risk of the virus subside. There’s a lag time with everything, and it is anyone's guess when exactly wearing a mask, or reduced capacity may go away all together. 

It will not be a matter of "flipping a switch" and having the pre-cruise shutdown experience magically restored overnight. Certain things will return before others, rules relaxed, and so forth. In short, it will be a continuing process with things going back to normal as things improve.

What is Royal Caribbean doing to stay safe from Covid-19?

While the full set of health protocols are not quite known yet, there are some important steps the cruise line will be taking that have been announced.

Royal Caribbean has said it intends to make cruise ships "safer than walking down Main Street, USA." It is not only a refrain, but it is based on the fact they can control many more facets of the environment on a cruise ship than land based destinations.

Among the many changes, here are some of the major highlights:

  • Ships have HVAC system continuously supplies 100% fresh, filtered air from outdoors to all indoor spaces.
  • New sanitization protocols use EPA-certified disinfectants and techniques like electrostatic fogging to clean frequently and consistently.
  • More doctors and nurses on each ship and state-of-the-art equipment enhancements in the medical facilities.
  • Access to immediate medical evaluations, rapid testing, and more critical care beds on each ship
  • In the event of a positive case onboard, Royal Caribbean has partnered with local authorities to develop transport protocols to get you home safely.

If your sailing occurs on or before October 31, 2021, Royal Caribbean will include the following reassurance at no extra charge:

  • 100% cruise fare refund for you, and your Travelling Party, if any of you tests positive for COVID-19 within 14 days prior to the cruise or at the boarding terminal.
  • Pro-rated cruise fare refund for anyone who has their cruise cut short due to testing positive for COVID-19 or being suspected of having COVID-19 during the cruise.
  • If you test positive for COVID-19 during the cruise, Royal Caribbean will cover the costs of COVID-19 related medical treatment onboard, any required land-based quarantine, and travel home for you and your Travelling Party.

Once Royal Caribbean announces their new health protocols, expect much more detail on what they are doing onboard to protect guests.

As for whether a Royal Caribbean cruise is safe enough to sail during the pandemic is something no one can answer for you. I believe it is sufficiently safe for my family, but everyone's risk tolerance is different. The advent of Covid-19 vaccines certainly gives my family much more confidence in going, and the cruise line is taking steps unparalleled anywhere else on land.  I know of no other resort, theme park, airline or venue that requires full testing of all customers, vaccinations for its workers, and a slew of other changes.

Which cruise should you book for summer 2021?

There are basic considerations right now: cruises that will likely sail this summer (the six listed earlier) and the rest of the sailings that are still in limbo.

For the purposes of this blog post, let's assume you are considering one of the six ships confirmed for restart this summer.

Where the ship sails from is likely your first starting point.  There are two choices that visit the Caribbean: Adventure and Vision of the Seas. Anthem is only open to Brits, Odyssey is only bookable by Israelis, and Quantum of the Seas is only open to residents of Singapore.  That leaves Jewel of the Seas to the eastern Mediterranean as an option for anyone.

More than likely, the combination of residency restrictions and how far you are/aren't willing to fly will dictate which ship is your best choice. For Americans, Vision and Adventure of the Seas have the shortest flights to get on a ship.

Nearly all the sailings available to book this summer are at least 7-nights. Odyssey has a few shorter options, and Quantum only does short sailings.

Unlike a normal year, there is not the usual "short versus long cruise" debate to consider since so many of the sailings come in at 7-nights.

Once you narrow down your search based on these factors, you will likely be left with one or two choices at the most:

  1. Residency restrictions
  2. How long of a flight you are willing to take
  3. Price
  4. Itinerary

Vision or Adventure?

If you are an American choosing between Vision of the Seas or Adventure of the Seas, there are a few things to think about.

Both ships will take you to Royal Caribbean's private island of Perfect Day at CocoCay, but Adventure gets you an extra day there. Being able to spend two days at CocoCay is a rare occurrence, and it provides ample time to try to "do it all".

Adventure also visits two more ports (Cozumel and Freeport). Ordinarily extra ports might be desirable, but with anticipated restrictions on shore excursions and concern over visiting foreign countries while the pandemic is ongoing, it may be less important now.

Read moreWhat you need to know about visiting Nassau on a cruise ship

Vision includes more time in Bermuda before, during, and after the cruise.  There is even an overnight there, which is another bonus for an island that so many enjoy going to.

Depending on where you live, the cost of flights may be another factor.  Keep in mind for any cruise you book, Royal Caribbean has been subsidizing airfares if you book through the cruise line, so always check prices on Air2Sea.

Something else noting is the difference between each ship. Adventure of the Seas is larger and has more for families to enjoy, including water slides.  Vision of the Seas lacks those amenities, but offers a classic cruise experience many cruisers relish.

There is not a right or wrong ship to choose, but you should be aware of what each offers (and doesn't offer), and then make the right decision for you.

Read moreHow do I pick the perfect first cruise?

Discounts

Getting a "deal" on a Royal Caribbean cruise this summer is basically the same as getting a good price before everything shutdown.

The cruise line offers new sales and promotions on pretty much a weekly basis, and just like before, whether or not it saves you any money depends on a variety of factors.  Some people will save money, but not everyone.

Read moreWill a Royal Caribbean sale actually save me any money?

Regardless of which promotion is being offered, you can still get a good price on a cruise by employing a few tried-and-true strategies.

If nothing else, book as early as you can. Generally speaking, the earlier you book, the better the price. As occupancy goes up, so do prices.

Since you will need a flight, compare flight prices on Royal Caribbean's Air2Sea program.  In order to spur bookings, Royal Caribbean is actually subsidizing the price of airfare if you book flights through them in many markets. Plus, booking your flights through the cruise line makes changes easy too.

I never used to book my flights through Royal Caribbean, but the potential discounts and flexibility if they cancel a cruise makes it incredibly valuable, even if you are paying a small fee for their service.

Do yourself a favor and use a good travel agent. Using a travel agent has never been more important than in 2021. Given all the craziness of cancellations, future cruise credits, redeployments and other changes, using a travel agent is now a must-do.

All too often, I would see posts on social media from people upset about a variety of issues related to cancelled cruises. Refunds, future cruise credits, errors in reimbursement and trying to change dates were just some of the common areas where those without an agent were stuck on hold for hours to get a response.

Read more10 mistakes travel agents see people make going on a cruise ship

While the old argument against using a travel agent of, "I prefer to manage it myself" may have been fine in the past, those managing it themselves were also dealing with relentless hold times and changing policies.

Lastly, look for price drops and then re-price to assure yourself of the best possible price. Under the Cruise with Confidence program, you can now take advantage of a price drop up to 48 hours before your cruise. Once again, a good travel agent makes this easier.

Your thoughts

This post is just a starting point, and there is lots more information you should start reading about to be better prepared for your cruise.

Are you planning to take a cruise in summer 2021? Will you wait until going on a cruise is a bit/lot more like it was in 2019? If you’re a first-timer, is there anything else you’d like to know? I love hearing from readers, whether it is a question, comment or suggestion.

This is not the place for arguing about efficacy, politics, and so forth–all such comments will be deleted, irrespective of perspective.