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Royal Caribbean removes mixed vaccine policy from its website

By: Matt Hochberg

It looks like Royal Caribbean has perhaps changed its mind about the mixed vaccine policy after all.

Over the weekend, Royal Caribbean had joined other cruise lines in adding language to its vaccination policy saying it would not accept mixed vaccines as being fully vaccinated.

As of this morning, that policy has been removed from its website, and there is no mention at all of mixed vaccines.

The rule change was originally about not considering someone who had taken doses of different brands of Covid-19 vaccines fully vaccinated. This would mean someone who took 1 dose Pfizer + 1 dose Moderna, or 1 dose AstraZeneca + 1 dose Pfizer, etc.

Royal Caribbean's revised policy on July 19

Royal Caribbean's policy on July 17

If a guest did have a mixed vaccine regiment, they would be considered instead unvaccinated.

The practice of mixing vaccines is prevalent in countries like Canada or Germany, where those governments have been openly advocating this approach for months.

The new policy would have resulted in many Canadian cruise fans potentially unable to sail.

Royal Caribbean has not commented publicly about the policy change, but it was not the only line to update its requirements.

Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Princess Cruises all modified their Health and Safety protocols to exclude those who had received mixed COVID-19 vaccinations.  Royal Caribbean followed with their change a day later.

As of right now, Royal Caribbean's policy posted online makes no mention of mixed vaccines and it is not clear if public pressure or something else compelled them to reverse the change.

Royal Caribbean Post Round-Up: July 18, 2021

By: Matt Hochberg

Happy Sunday! We hope you are having a great weekend! Now it’s time to sit back, relax, and catch up on all the Royal Caribbean news from the week!

Royal Caribbean shared which changes to its customer loyalty program will be temporary or permanent.

As cruise ships return to service, the Crown and Anchor Society has had some changes made to adhere to certain social distancing guidelines.

Most of the changes are enhancements or additions, although there are a few benefits that have been temporarily rescinded and fewer that have been permanently removed.

To clarify the situation, Royal Caribbean has outlined which changes are going to be lasting, and which are just here for the time being.

Royal Caribbean News

Video: What's one thing you will never do on a cruise?

Have you subscribed to the Royal Caribbean Blog YouTube Channel? We share some great videos there regularly, all about taking a Royal Caribbean cruise! This week, we are sharing our latest video — What's one thing you will never do on a cruise? — and don’t forget to subscribe here.

Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast

The 414th episode of the Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast is now available, where Matt shares the best food he's eaten so far on a cruise ship this year.

It may be just three sailings so far, but Matt got to try a few new restaurants and return to some favorites. In this episode, he has a look at which dishes really stood out.

Please feel free to subscribe via iTunes or RSS, and head over to rate and review the podcast on iTunes if you can! We’d appreciate it.

Royal Caribbean will begin picking volunteers to go on test cruises

Check your email, because invitations to test cruises are coming soon.

Royal Caribbean posted on social media it will begin picking randomly from its list of well over a quarter of a million volunteers to come aboard a test cruise.

"The time is here," Royal Caribbean announced with excitement. "This week we’ll be randomly selecting and extending invites to registered Volunteers to participate in upcoming simulation cruises."

CDC gets a last-minute hold against lifting cruise ship regulations

By: Matt Hochberg

The rules under the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Conditional Sail Order were set to become just a recommendation last night, but a new judge has ruled to hold off on that change just yet.

POLITICO reporter Josh Gerstein reports the Circuit Court of the 11th District voted 2-1 to put U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday’s June 18 ruling on hold.

The Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit has not yet shared its opinions on the case.

Judge Steven D. Merryday ruled on June 18 in favor of the State of Florida in its lawsuit against the CDC to lift the Conditional Sail Order.

Florida Governor Ron Desantis sued the CDC in April as a way to combat the CDC holding cruise ships back from restarting cruises.

The CDC instituted a ban on all cruise ships from the United States in March 2020 due to the global health crisis. Then on October 30, 2020 the CDC imposed a four-phase conditional framework it said would allow the industry to gradually resume operations if certain thresholds were met.

The CDC appealed the verdict and asked Judge Merryday for a stay to ensure the CSO did not get lifted while the litigation is sorted out in the appeals process.

Judge Merryday denied the stay, saying the CDC can show no factor that outweighs the need to conclude an unwarranted and unprecedented exercise of governmental power.

He also called out the CDC's claim that their actions are about protecting the public health, "this action is not about what health precautions against COVID-19 are necessary or helpful aboard a cruise ship; this action is about the use and misuse of governmental power."

The CSO was set to expire at 12:01 a.m. EDT on JULY 18, 2021, and instead become a recommendation instead of a requirement.

The intention of the ruling was to bring cruise ships in line with other forms of leisure travel and entertainment, such as airlines, railroads, hotels, casinos, sports venues, buses, subways, and others.

The CDC believes the Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) plays an important role in keeping passengers and crew safe on a ship, "It does not shut down the cruise industry but instead provides a sensible, flexible framework for re-opening, based on the best available scientific evidence."

"The undisputed evidence shows that unregulated cruise ship operations would exacerbate the spread of COVID-19, and that the harm to the public that would result from such operations cannot be undone."

"Cruise ships are uniquely situated to spread COVID-19, due in part to their close quarters for passengers and crew for prolonged periods, and stops at foreign ports that risk introducing new variants of COVID-19 into the United States."

In the CDC's opinion, "The balance of the harms and the public interest thus overwhelmingly favor Defendants and maintaining the status quo pending appeal."

Royal Caribbean won't accept mixed vaccines as being fully vaccinated

By: Matt Hochberg

Joining other cruise lines, Royal Caribbean has revised its Covid-19 mixed vaccination protocols.

UPDATE: Since posting this article, Royal Caribbean has revised its website and no longer lists this policy.

Less than a day after other cruise lines announced similar policies, Royal Caribbean updated its website with new guidance that says passengers who have mixed doses of the vaccines.

Specifically, Royal Caribbean says guests who have used mixed vaccination protocols will not be considered fully vaccinated (i.e. 1 dose Pfizer + 1 dose Moderna, or 1 dose AstraZeneca + 1 dose Pfizer, etc.).

To be considered fully vaccinated, a guest must have received all doses of one accepted vaccine. Otherwise, a guest will be considered unvaccinated.

Similar policies were announced by Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Line and other lines.

It is not clear yet what compelled Royal Caribbean to make this change.

Mixing vaccine doses is more of an issue in certain countries, such as Canada, than it is in the United States.

Canada currently uses vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca, as well as Johnson & Johnson, which uses a single shot.

In June, Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization issued guidance permitting AstraZeneca-Oxford, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots to be used interchangeably in certain situations.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said earlier this week his government is working to ensure Canadians will be allowed to travel if they have shots from two different vaccines, even if other countries haven't approved mixing doses.

"We're going to work with the international community to make sure that people who are fully vaccinated in ways that Canadians recognize as safe and effective are also recognized around the world," he said.

Many cruise fans were concerned about this policy and their ability to go on a cruise, and shared their frustrations on the RoyalCaribbeanBlog Facebook page.

Marc Van Niekerk posted, "I have the mixed vaccine and there is no way to undo that not that I even would. I know there are a very large number of Canadians in this situation as well as those from other countries."

Heather Whitehead exemplified many others by pointing out the decision to get a mixed vaccine regiment was prescribed by medical professionals, "I got told by my doctor to get the AstraZeneca because it was the first one available. Then got told to get Pfizer/moderna for the second because of the blood clotting issue (and because it would be more effective). And now I’m hearing that I might have trouble with travelling/cruises. So frustrating!"

Daniela Bahr said in Germany, the national rule is not to get two of the same doses, "No two doses of AstraZeneca for anyone under 60, it has to be Pfizer/Biontech."

Some cruise lines will not allow passengers with mixed vaccines to sail

By: Matt Hochberg

A few cruise lines have announced new policies regarding which Covid-19 vaccines are acceptable, as well as prohibiting mixed vaccine regiments.

At least three cruise lines have announced new policies this week.

Norwegian Cruise Line has updated its policy to say their U.S. based vessels will not accept mixed vaccinations, such as Pfizer + Moderna or AstraZeneca + Pfizer, etc.

NCL will accept accept any U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and/or World Health Organization (WHO) authorized single brand vaccination protocol.

NCL policy on their website as of July 16

This includes J&J Janssen, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca/Oxford.

NCL's other ships not based in the U.S. will accept any U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), European Medicines Agency (EMA), or World Health Organization (WHO) authorized single brand vaccination protocol. Or a mixed vaccination protocol of only AstraZeneca-SK Bio, Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna combinations.

Holland America Line & Princess Cruises also updated their policies to exclude mixed vaccinations.

HAL policy on their website as of July 16

The website for both Princess and HAL indicates guests who have had one single does of a vector vaccine and a single dose of a mRNA vaccine will not considered fully vaccinated, whereas guests who have had mixed vaccines from the same type of vaccine will be considered fully vaccinated.

"Guests who have received one single dose of a vector vaccine (e.g. AstraZeneca) and one single dose of a mRNA vaccine (e.g. Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna) will not be considered fully vaccinated. Guests who have received two single doses of mixed vaccines that are the same type (e.g., both are mRNA) will be considered fully vaccinated and will be permitted to sail, so long as the final dose is received at least 14 days prior to the beginning of the cruise."

Princess policy on their website as of July 16

Carnival Cruise Line also added verbiage addressing mixed vaccines to their website.

Carnival says Pfizer and Moderna can be mixed to complete a full vaccination series. All other vaccines in a 2-dose series are required to be of the same type.

Carnival policy on their website as of July 16

UPDATE: Royal Caribbean has updated its policy to match other cruise lines.

The policy change among the cruise lines comes just days after the World Health Organization (WHO) warned of the trend of mixing vaccines as "dangerous".

WHO's chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan spoke about the issues with mixing vaccines earlier this week, "It's a little bit of a dangerous trend here."

"We're in a data-free, evidence-free zone here as far as mix-and-match. There is limited data on mix-and-match. It will be a chaotic situation in countries if citizens start deciding when and who will be taking a second, a third, and a fourth dose."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says on its website Covid-19 vaccines are not interchangeable.

"The safety and efficacy of a mixed-product series have not been evaluated. Both doses of the series should be completed with the same product."

While the CDC advises against mixing and matching, it does address those "exceptional situations" in which it's unclear whether someone had an initial dose of a Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccine, for example. In that case, "any available mRNA COVID-19 vaccine may be administered" to complete the series.

Royal Caribbean gets CDC approval to start test sailings on Ovation of the Seas

By: Matt Hochberg

Another Royal Caribbean cruise ship has a test sailing scheduled.

Royal Caribbean confirmed on Thursday that Ovation of the Seas has received permission from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to start test cruises.

Ovation is one of a half dozen ships within the Royal Caribbean fleet to have gotten approval to start test cruises so far.

Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley confirmed the news on Facebook, along with sail dates.

Ovation will sail from Seattle to Alaska on July 30 to August 4th.

"Onwards and upwards ship by ship," Mr. Bayley added with the news.

Simulated voyages (also known as test cruises) are when cruise lines can operate ships with volunteer passengers in order to prove their new protocols work.

Read moreEverything you need to know about Royal Caribbean test cruises

These are not cruises you can book, but rather, are limited voyages where a cruise line invites certain unpaid volunteers to help go through all the necessary steps and procedures to ensure cruise ships can be run safely.

Each cruise ship needs to be approved by the CDC in order to conduct test cruises.

During these test cruises, Royal Caribbean will go through a variety of scenarios to prove to the CDC that the ship can conduct sailings in a safe manner. Specifically, the new protocols aimed at preventing Covid-19 from getting onboard the ship are at the heart of these dry runs.

Each ship must conduct at least one simulated cruise, and each voyage must be between 2-7 days in length with a least one overnight stay, including through embarkation, disembarkation, and post-disembarkation testing.

According to the CDC, passengers and crew must meet standards during the simulated voyage for hand hygiene, use of face masks, and social distancing for passengers and crew, as well as ship sanitation.

Royal Caribbean must modify meal service and entertainment venues to facilitate social distancing during the simulated voyage.

Canada lifts cruise ship ban beginning in November

By: Matt Hochberg

Canada's multi-year ban on cruise ships is coming to an end.

Canada's Transport Minister Omar Alghabra announced today it will end its prohibition on cruise ships as of November 1, 2021.

Prior to today's announcement, the cruise ship ban was set to go through February 2022.

Effectively, the announcement means cruise ships can sail to Canada for the start of the traditional cruise season beginning in 2022.

"As Canadians have done their part to reduce the spread of COVID-19, our government continues to work hard to safely restart our economy and build back better," said said Alghabra, in a release Thursday.

"We will welcome cruise ships — an important part of our tourism sector — back in Canadian waters for the 2022 season."

Cruise ships have been banned since March 2020 in Canada due to the global health crisis, although unlike the United States, there had been no pathway for ships to restart until today.

Canada's cruise ship ban had a significant impact on cruise ships, which meant due to U.S. cabotage laws, ships were unable to conduct Alaska or New England cruises.

Canada banning cruise ships means cruise lines cannot legally offer cruises to Alaska or New England because of cabotage laws that require a foreign port to be visited during the sailing.

Cruises sailing from the United States must adhere to the Passenger Vessel Service Act of 1886 (sometimes referred to as the Jones Act).

For the 2021 cruise season, the United States passed a temporary waiver allowing cruise ships to bypass Canada, although that only helped Alaska cruises for this season.

Royal Caribbean reverses decision to get rid of popular customer loyalty perk after fan backlash

By: Matt Hochberg

Hours after Royal Caribbean announced it was making changes to its customer loyalty program, one change has been rolled back.

In a webinar on Wednesday, Royal Caribbean told travel agents one of the benefits for their top tier members was going away.

Crystal blocks are given to Diamond Plus guests periodically after they accrue enough points, but evidently many of these heavy blocks were being left behind on the ship.

Royal Caribbean said over 60% of guests that received a crystal block left it on the ship for one reason or another, leading the cruise line to announce they would distribute whatever stock they have left and then end the amenity.

That decision did not sit well with many cruise fans, who told Royal Caribbean exactly how they feel about that change.

While there may have been some guests that did not care for them, many others felt strongly about getting them.

Clearly Royal Caribbean heard the feedback loudly, and decided to continue the crystal block program.

Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley posted on Facebook on Wednesday evening that a formal announcement will be made, but the crystal blocks will continue.

"We will be posting an official update on the future of Crystal Blocks tomorrow, however, here’s a sneak peek.   Crystal Blocks will remain!"

Mr. Bayley said Crown and Anchor members will now have the option to either have the bocks delivered onboard, delivered at home, or decline them completely.

The new options are aimed at ensuring many blocks do not end up in the trash.

The same cruise fans who were upset at the change celebrated the policy reversal.

barbeyg loved the change back, "It is funny how the smallest of things can lift the spirits. Made my day!"

smokeybandit thinks cruise fans may have surprised the company with their response, "I assume they got a bit more negative feedback on that move than they expected."

Royal Caribbean is no stranger to reversing policies due to strong customer feedback.  From honoring the $18 drink package error, to grandfathering in Oasis Class neighborhood perks, the cruise line listens very closely to their loyal customers.

Read moreFive times Royal Caribbean changed its mind after announcing something

How to earn a crystal block

Crystal blocks are a recognition of loyalty and for achieving milestones in the Crown and Anchor Society.  

Once you reach 140 points in Crown and Anchor Society, you earn a crystal block from the ship you happen to be on at the time.

You then earn a new block every 70 points you accure thereafter. 

The block you get is from the ship you are on when you cross the point threshold.

Royal Caribbean's customer loyalty program changes: What's temporary and what's here to stay

By: Matt Hochberg

With Royal Caribbean restarting cruise ships again, comes many changes, including to their customer loyalty program.

The Crown and Anchor Society program has undergone a number of changes, some temporary and some permanent.

Nancy Ramos, Royal Caribbean International's Director of Onboard Branding, Communications & Loyalty, spoke to travel agents in a webinar on Wednesday to go over the changes made, and outline which will revert back later.

Guests sailing on early cruises have experienced many of the changes, but other changes may have gone overlooked.  More importantly, it was not clear which changes would be reverted at a later date.

Most of the changes are enhancements or additions, although there are a few benefits that have been temporarily rescinded and fewer that have been permanently removed.

Here is a breakdown of the changes, and what to expect going forward as you cruise.

Permanent changes

One of the most popular changes so far has been Royal Caribbean's shift with drink package vouchers.

Instead of a few select drinks they can use in the evening, Royal Caribbean has revamped its offerings to allow at least 4 beverage vouchers for Diamond and higher guests in Crown and Anchor, which are good all day and at any bar (except Starbucks).

This includes alcoholic and non-alcoholic options, and includes any beverage up to $13 per drink ($14 on ships from the UK).

Royal Caribbean also made enhancements to the youth benefits, where kids can now qualify for the same internet WiFi discount that their parents have always had.

Other program enhancements include changes to some entertainment offered to Crown and Anchor Society members, along with standardizing some other offerings.

"Because we can no longer take our members behind the scenes and take them backstage to see the actual props and costumes and all of that. We're trying to bring this to life through a masterclass type event onboard."

Ms. Ramos said they tested this out on Adventure of the Seas, but it is being refined so it offers a combination of live entertainment and backstage videos of where guests can no longer visit.

In terms of the reserved seating, this benefit is changing due to limited capacity and health protocols.

"What we agreed to do is that let's open the theater doors earlier to our Diamond Plus and Pinnacle members, allowing them to come into the theater and select the see that benefits them."

Something else Royal Caribbean did was to simplify the loyalty status match between Royal Caribbean's Crown and Anchor Society and Celebrity Cruises' Captain's Club.

Temporary changes

Some of the changes made to Crown and Anchor Society are in place now, but the plan is to revert them later on.

Most of these temporary changes are due to social distancing and other Covid-19 related protocols.

The most notable change is the reduced capacity in the Diamond Lounge, but the expectation is to roll that back once the cruise line is able to based on government guidance.

"The reality is that we are dependent on the local authorities and health guidance from the CDC, " Ms. Ramos explained to travel agents. 

"And as soon as we can lift this restriction and this capacity limit, we will and it will be like it was pre pandemic."

Discontinued benefits

Royal Caribbean completely got rid of three benefits due to either limited guest use or other program changes.

UPDATE: Royal Caribbean has reversed the decision, and will continue to offer crystal blocks.

The crystal blocks have been a cornerstone of the Crown and Anchor program, where a guest would recieve a paperweight block every so often after accruing enough points.

Ms. Ramos said according to the cruise line's internal data, over 60% of guests were leaving their crystal blocks on the ship when they left for any number of reasons.

"It's a beautiful recognition. However, we understand that a lot of people didn't have space in their luggage, it was heavy to carry back home, et cetera.

The plan right now is to distribute whatever crystal blocks they have left, but then end that benefit.

"We are looking at other ways to still recognize our members through a special appearance with the loyalty ambassador and something that they can still use to commemorate that that milestone."

The tuxedo rental program was something very few people were using, according to Ms. Ramos.  

And the reduced rate upgrades has become obsolete with the RoyalUp program.

Royal Caribbean Group CEO celebrates cruise ships sailing again

By: Matt Hochberg

Cruise ships are sailing again from North America and Europe, and it has the top executive at the Royal Caribbean Group quite happy.

Richard Fain, Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO, shared a new video update with travel agents on Wednesday, celebrating that twenty one ships in his company are now back in the water and offering cruises.

Mr. Fain returned recently from sailing on Celebrity Edge and Freedom of the Seas, and sees a positive outlook for the industry, despite some challenges.

Thus far, the 21 ships sailing break down as follows:

  • 5 from Royal Caribbean International
  • 6 from Celebrity Cruises
  • 2 from SilverSea
  • 5 from TUI Cruises
  • 3 from Hapag-Lloyd

Getting so many ships back into service was no simple task, and Mr. Fain talked about how they got things moving, "I've been asked why our restart is happening so fast, how we are getting so many of our ships sailing so quickly.

"The answer is simple. We believed in our people, and we believed in the science. We prepared, we started preparing early because we knew what was happening and because we wanted to get the flywheel of demand going early."

"I've never seen the level of enthusiasm, of excitement and of gratitude that I've experienced on these cruises," Mr. Fain said after being able to sail again.

Mr. Fain saw equal enthusiasm from guests and from crew members. He said crew members saw the return of cruising as a "literal lifeline" after months of no work.  Guests celebrated the return of cruising as a way to escape all the isolation and letdowns of the past months.

The cruise industry is far from clear of any concerns or dangers to their businesses, but Mr. Fain said there will always be challenges to overcome, "There are always immediate issues. Covid-19 is not going away, but it is slowly getting under better control."

"The vast majority of people onboard our ships are vaccinated. And this percentage will only climb. In addition, the testing regimens and the available therapies mean that cruising can properly aspire to be not only as safe as other vacations, but more so."

According to Mr. Fain, that is not to say that they are disregarding thing such as the delta variant, "We shouldn't ignore the present challenges. We should be concerned about the recent increase in cases and the impact of the variants."

"We need to manage today carefully. But if we only obsess about the present, we will fail to prepare for the future and we must keep our eye firmly on that future that we can all see is coming."