Alt Text!

Cruise industry rejects new CDC technical instructions & calls them "unworkable"

By: Matt Hochberg

The cruise industry has renewed its call for cruise ships to be able to sail again, calling new federal instructions "disappointing".

On Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued new technical instructions after many months of silence, but the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) today responded to them as not helpful.

In a statement, CLIA called on the U.S. government to once again lift the Conditional Sail Order (CSO), rather than continue with these steps.

CLIA represents nearly every major ocean, river, and specialty cruise line, including Royal Caribbean.

In short, CLIA called out the technical instructions, "The new requirements are unduly burdensome, largely unworkable, and seem to reflect a zero-risk objective rather than the mitigation approach to COVID that is the basis for every other US sector of our society."

Read more: Read the technical instructions

CLIA pointed out the glaring double standards that the cruise industry faces compared to every other form of travel.

"Moreover, the instructions are at odds with the approach the CDC and governments in other parts of the world apply to all other travel and tourism segments in mitigating the risk of COVID-19."

"On the same day CDC issued new onerous requirements for the cruise industry, five months after the original order, CDC issued relaxed guidance for domestic and international travel due to vaccination progress and recognition of the improved public health environment."

CLIA reitterated not only its call to lift the CSO, but also reminded the CDC about the working examples of cruise ships that have been able to operate around the world with extremely low cases onboard.

"The irony is that today an American can fly to any number of destinations to take a cruise, but cannot board a ship in the U.S."

CLIA believes a joint effort can restart sailings faster and with the health and safety in mind of all passengers, crew, and local communities than continuing with the CSO.

"CLIA urges the Administration to consider the ample evidence that supports lifting the CSO this month to allow for the planning of a controlled return to service this summer. If anything, the announcement last Friday is a clarion call for closer cooperation and coordination among stakeholders to achieve the President’s goal of reaching a ‘new normal’ by the Fourth of July.

"Working together, we can avoid the negative consequences that come when cruising, and the workers who support it, are not afforded the same opportunities as other workers in industries with far fewer practices in place to provide for public health and well-being."

The new technical instructions were as disappointing as Royal Caribbean President and CEO Michael Bayley had feared they would be.

Last week, Mr. Bayley used the word, "worried" to describe what the CDC may tell cruise lines to do if they actually provided any kind of guidance.

"We're worried that the guidance that we're going to get is going to be pretty outdated."

Joining CLIA in its disappointment was Port Canaveral, whose CEO shared his disdain for the new instructions.

Captain John Murray, Port Canaveral CEO, issued a statement criticizing them, "We’re disappointed that this guidance for the cruise industry appears to be nothing more than an incremental step in a far-reaching process to resume passenger sailings in the U.S. with no definitive or target start date."

The Port of Galveston also voiced their displeasure with the new instructions.

Galveston Wharves CEO and Port Director Rodger Rees called on the CDC to lift the CSO citing the inaction by the agency, "As CEO and port director of the fourth most popular cruise port in North America and the only cruise port in Texas, I am joining Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), major cruise lines and many others in calling for the CDC to lift the Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) and allow safe, sustainable phased cruising to begin in July."

"The CDC has taken no action despite the following facts: millions of Americans are vaccinated; COVID case numbers in the U.S. have declined significantly in recent months; cruise ports and cruise lines have put measures in place for safe, sustainable cruising; cruising in markets around the world has resumed while preventing or limiting spread of the virus."

You didn't miss it. Royal Caribbean hasn't released West Coast cruises to book yet

By: Matt Hochberg

There has been so much cruise news over the last couple of weeks that you might think you missed Royal Caribbean opening up bookings for West Coast cruises in 2022, but that is not the case.

When Royal Caribbean announced it would return to the west coast after 10 years with Navigator of the Seas sailing from Los Angeles, the cruise line said the new sailings would go on sale the week of March 29, 2021.

That week has come and gone without any of the new sailings available to book.

UPDATE:  These new itineraries will open for sale the week of April 12, 2021. 

There has not been any update on when these Navigator sailings from L.A. might become available to book, nor an explanation of the delay.

It is not unheard of for new sailings to be announced to go on sale, only to be delayed later.

Royal Caribbean will offer 3-, 4- and 5-night itineraries to Catalina Island, California and Ensenada and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico – plus, select winter holiday 7-night sailings.

Read moreRoyal Caribbean will cruise from California for the first time in a decade

What happened to the sailings?

Some RoyalCaribbeanBlog readers have reported calling into Royal Caribbean and been told there is in fact some sort of a delay.

Twangster shared what he was told from a phone agent, "Latest agent I spoke with said an internal announcement went out announcing the delay.  The announcement doesn't mention a new release date but he said there are rumors it will be closer to the end of April."

Johnt83 was also told by a phone agent there is a delay, "The lady I spoke to was very nice, she did confirm that there has been a delay in getting the Nav sailings out of LA posted on the website as they are still working on some critical details."

RoyalLaker was able to get some more details on the first sailing after calling the Crown and Anchor Society phone number, "First sailing out of LA is June 10th 2022 3 nights day 1 LA day 2 sea day  day 3 Ensenada no pricing was available. Asked when they would go sale no timeframe was given just said a announcement would go out once they are open."

What should you do if you are waiting for these sailings?

No one can book anything until Royal Caribbean is ready to release the new sailings, so it appears it will take a bit longer than expected.

In the meantime, it is a good idea to talk with your travel agent about which type of sailings you would be interested in, and the timeframe for sailings to book.

Read moreHow far in advance should I book a cruise to get the best price?

It is also a good idea to look at a deck plan and get a sense of stateroom category and location you would be interested in.

Doing this now makes booking the actual sailing later much faster, which is important when new sailings are announced to lock in the best possible rates.

One of the best strategies for getting a good price on a cruise is to book as early as you can.

Read moreWhat are the different types of cabins on a cruise ship?

Moreover, certain popular stateroom categories, such as suites, are the first to be booked up by savvy cruisers who know which cabins have the highest demand.

NCL submits plan to CDC how it can restart cruises by July

By: Matt Hochberg

Norwegian Cruise Line is thinking positive and has a plan cruise fans would love to see happen.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. (NCLH) announced on Monday it has sent a letter to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that outlines a plan to be able to restart cruises beginning July 4th.

The new plan calls for 100% vaccination of guests and crew onboard, as well as strict health and safety protocols for all sailing sailing through October 31, 2021.

The company would then "follow the science" to determine if vaccines would still be required for future sailings beyond October.

NCLH represents three cruise lines: Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

The multi-layered SailSAFE Health and Safety Program was developed with the Healthy Sail Panel, a joint cooperative effort with Royal Caribbean Group.

In a statement, NCLH said it believes this is an effective and safe plan to restart operations, "Norwegian trusts and is optimistic the CDC will agree that mandatory vaccination requirements eliminate the need for the [Conditional Sailing Order] and therefore requests for the lifting of the order for Norwegian's vessels, allowing them to cruise from U.S. ports starting July 4."

The plan was sent to the CDC and its Director, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, which calls for the CDC to lift the Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) for all NCLH ships departing from U.S. ports effective July 4, 2021.

Vaccines required

At the heart of this plan is requiring the vaccine for guests and crew members.

If approved, 100% vaccinated guests and crew and reduced capacity initially will be part of a phased-in launch.

Read moreEverything we know about if Royal Caribbean will require a vaccine

"By requiring full and complete vaccinations of guests and crew, the Company believes it shares in the spirit and exceeds the intent of the CDC’s Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) to advance mutual public health goals and protect guests, crew and the communities it visits."

The plan has five major components:

  1. NCLH will require that all guests embarking from a U.S. port and/or disembarking to a U.S. port provide proof of having been fully vaccinated with an FDA-, EMA-, or WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccine no less than two weeks prior to their departure date;

  2. All crew on NCLH vessels will be fully vaccinated with an FDA-, EMA- or WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccine at least two weeks prior to commencement of their duties onboard their assigned vessel;

  3. NCLH will also incorporate and operationalize the protocols developed by the Healthy Sail Panel (“HSP”), led by former Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt and former Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration Dr. Scott Gottlieb. These protocols, include universal testing of guests and crew, combined with required vaccines for all guests and crew, thereby creating a safe, “bubble-like” environment; and

  4. On or about July 4, 2021, NCLH vessels will begin cruise operations at an initial reduced capacity of 60%, gradually ramping up our fleet departing from U.S. ports and increasing capacity by 20% every 30 days.

  5. These stringent requirements will remain in place until public health conditions allow for the implementation of more lenient protocols.

"We believe that a cruise ship with a fully vaccinated population when combined with the virus protection defenses provided by the HSP protocols is one of the safest vacation options available."

Four Royal Caribbean cruise ships will get dry dock work in Spain

By: Matt Hochberg

Cadiz, Spain will be a hot spot for Royal Caribbean cruise ships very soon.

The Navantia shipyards announced four ships are scheduled to get dry dock work there, beginning with Harmony of the Seas.

Cruise ships must undergo routine work every few years (usually five) in order to keep the ship properly maintained, as well as up to date with being seaworthy.

Harmony of the Seas just arrived in Cadiz on Monday to undergo technical work on her propellers, stabilizers and bottom valves, as well as give the ship some paint work. In fact, the shipyard estimates they will need about 8,000 liters of paint for the work.

Captain Johnny Faevelen posted photos on Twitter of Harmony's arrival at the yard.

The work on Harmony of the Seas is expected to last about a month.

The Navantia shipyards said Jewel of the Seas and Symphony of the Seas will follow in May 2021, followed by Liberty of the Seas in July 2021.  

In addition, Jewel of the Seas will get some work done prior to her summer season sailing from Cyprus to the Greek Isles.

The work done across the four ships will take about 500,000 hours and create 1,230 jobs at the shipyard.

Will these cruise ships get any upgrades or new features?

When a cruise ship goes into dry dock, that is usually a good opportunity for Royal Caribbean to add new features and things to do onboard, but not this time around.

The work being done on all four ships is limited to a technical dry dock, which means just maintenance work.

Royal Caribbean postponed previously scheduled upgrades for Libeerty of the Seas (and many other ships) once the cruise industry shutdown in March 2020.  The inability to cruise has created a lot of financial hardship for the company, and they have cut back on spending where they can.

In addition, Jewel of the Seas was never going to be Amplified.

As a result, the work being done on these ships will be limited to just "under the hood" type work, in order to ensure the ships can sail for another five years without problems.

Michael Bayley addresses concerns of requiring Covid-19 vaccine on Royal Caribbean ships

By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean has proudly announced the restart of some ships this summer outside of the United States, but the role of the Covid-19 vaccine for those sailings has some cruisers concerned.

Based on comments across social media, there is a vocal contingent of cruisers who are unwilling or unable to get the Covid-19 vaccine at this time.

As part of the March 2021 newsletter to Crown and Anchor Society members, Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley addressed the undetermined role of a Covid-19 vaccine in the cruise line's overall plans.

Mr. Bayley acknowledged the issue in his message to guests, "I know there are questions when it comes to our future plans, health and safety re measures, vaccines and more. The current vaccine requirements for our new sailings this summer, in particular, have raised concerns."

"I want you to know that we understand. This environment we are in is one we're navigating as best we can with the ever-evolving information that tells us what will help reduce the chances of COVID-19 impacting any cruise."

He added that changes in protocols and the approach to the virus may change this summer, "There's nothing more we would like than to welcome everyone back on board and for today's needed measures, like vaccinations, to become unnecessary in the near future."

"We believe that much will change leading up to summer, and we're working through it all with the Healthy Sail Panel, public health experts and governments around the world."

"One thing is tor sure: Delivering memorable vacations is still what we do, and you, our crew and the communities we visit matter most."

Read moreEverything we know about if Royal Caribbean will require a vaccine

Despite the fact all of the recently announced ships that will resume cruises this summer will require the Covid-19 vaccine, Royal Caribbean has been adimant no decision has been made if they will or will not require the vaccine across the fleet.

Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain has said on a few occasions that nothing firm has been established, and things could very well change as the science evolves.

Most recently, Mr. Fain talked about the role of vaccines this summer during a webinar last week, "As the science continues to progress, I think we will change and we will adjust to that. And I think we're now trying to predict the future. Remember, these cruises don't start till June. And so we're starting on this basis that they will require vaccines, but that could change tomorrow."

"We do respond to the facts and the evidence, and so we started out on the new cruises that we've announced and they are going to require initially vaccines. But we don't know how long that will be a feature."

Royal Caribbean is not alone in its indecision. 

None of the major cruise lines have announced if they will or will not require the Covid-19 vaccine when they resume cruises.

Royal Caribbean Post Round-Up: April 4, 2021

By: Matt Hochberg

They say April showers brings May flowers, but Sundays bring you a round-up of all of this week's Royal Caribbean news!

Odyssey of the Seas was delivered this week to Royal Caribbean, and we have our first look at some areas around the ship.

During a virtual ceremony, Royal Caribbean executives joined executives from the Meyer Werft shipyard to formally take ownership of the new vessel.

The new ship weighs 169,000 gross tons and measures 1,138 feet (347 meters) long and 135 feet (41 meters).

More Odyssey of the Seas news:

Royal Caribbean News

Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast

The 400th episode of the Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast is now available, all about Royal Caribbean's announcement it will restart sailings outside the USA.

In this episode, Matt breaks down the announcement that Adventure of the Seas and number of other ships will start sailing again this summer from new homeports outside the U.S.

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.

New RCB Video: Why you shouldn't book a flight on same day of your 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 — Things I'll never do again on a Royal Caribbean cruise — and don’t forget to subscribe here.

Test cruises are the next phase of the CDC's plan for restarting cruises

While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control's (CDC) release of technical instructions this week left many cruise fans less than enthused, the good news is test cruises are theoretically next on the agenda.

The CDC confirmed that the next phase once ships complete the new technical instructions is to conduct simulated (trial) voyages that will demonstrate the new protocols and health rules.

There is no timeline given when that may occur, but the possibility of test cruises on the horizon gives hope change is on the horizon.

Royal Caribbean will provide a Covid test for cruisers returning to the United States

By: Matt Hochberg

If you are headed on a Royal Caribbean cruise this summer from Bermuda, The Bahamas, or somewhere else, you can expect to get a negative Covid test before your cruise ends so you can go home.

One of the many extra steps required to cruise in 2021 is upon returning to the United States on an international flight, you need a negative Covid test result.  

Current U.S. requirements stipulate that returning international travelers must get tested no more than 3 days before re-entering the United States. 

Disembarkation day is difficult enough with everything going on, so how would cruise passengers find time to get a negative test before heading to the airport for a flight home?

It appears Royal Caribbean will take care of this for guests.

Read moreHere's what you need to do before going on your Adventure of the Seas cruise from The Bahamas

A new update to the cruise line's website indicates guests will undergo an antigen test onboard the ship at no additional cost so that its results can be used to re-enter the United States.

This test would only benefit someone flying home within 24 hours of departing the ship, for the test result to be within the valid window. 

Royal Caribbean says guests staying after their cruise will need to get their own test at their own expense.

The new printed policy follows up on a verbal promise to travel agents last week by Royal Caribbean's Senior Vice President, Sales, Trade Support and Service, Vicki Freed.

Ms. Freed said, "We will be providing those tests on board the ship at no cost to the guests so that they can re-enter the U.S."

The CDC requires anyone must have a negative COVID-19 test result before they board a flight to the United States and get a COVID-19 test 3 to 5 days after returning from international travel.

CDC confirms test cruises are the next phase of cruises restarting

By: Matt Hochberg

Earlier today the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provided technical instructions for cruise lines, and it now appears test cruises are next.

In a press release that followed the new technical guidance, the agency confirmed simulated voyages (aka test cruises) will be next as part of the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO).

"The next phase of the CSO will include simulated (trial) voyages that will allow crew and port personnel to practice new COVID-19 operational procedures with volunteers before sailing with passengers."

No timeline was provided with that statement on when Phase 2B might commence.

Test cruises are when cruise lines can operate ships with volunteer passengers in order to prove their new protocols work.

While phase 2A of the CSO did not include much in the way of tangible steps forward, the possibility of test cruises on the horizon gives hope change is on the horizon.

In its statement, the CDC said it is "committed to working with the cruise industry and seaport partners to resume cruising when it is safe to do so, following the phased approach outlined in the CSO."

Read moreEverything you need to know about Royal Caribbean test cruises

In addition, the CDC specifically mentioned Covid-19 vaccines are being "critical" in allowing cruises with passengers to begin.

"COVID-19 vaccination efforts will be critical in the safe resumption of passenger operations.

"As more people are fully vaccinated, the phased approach allows CDC to incorporate these advancements into planning for resumption of cruise ship travel when it is safe to do so."

"CDC recommends that all eligible port personnel and travelers (passengers and crew) get a COVID-19 vaccine when one is available to them."

Read moreEverything we know about if Royal Caribbean will require a vaccine

The agency also added that it recognizes cruise ship operations can be conducted "safely and responsibly during a global pandemic."

"While cruising will always pose some risk of COVID-19 transmission, following the phases of  the CSO will ensure cruise ship passenger operations are conducted in a way that protects crew members, passengers, and port personnel, particularly with emerging COVID-19 variants of concern."

Why test cruises are so important

In late October, the CDC issued the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order that said any cruise line that wants to restart from the United States needs to apply for a conditional sailing certificate 60 days before a voyage. But before that happens, they need to run test sailings with volunteers — and must provide written notice 30 days in advance.

All volunteer passengers and crew members must follow testing protocols, which include rapid testing prior to both embarkation and disembarkation.

Simulated sailings will need to meet CDC expectations for certification, which includes passengers wearing masks, wash and sanitize hands, and practice social distancing. 

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

Disappointing update

The CDC released technical instructions earlier on Friday, but the update was far from what most cruise fans were hoping for.

The Phase 2A instructions included new requirements related to bringing crew members and other workers onboard, as well as testing requirements, but nothing substantially different.

After waiting months for any update, the CDC's news landed like a lead balloon. Many felt it was more of the same with little indication cruise ships might be able to sail from United States anytime soon.

This result was something Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley warned earlier this week was likely.

Mr. Bayley used the word, "worried" to describe what the CDC may tell cruise lines to do if they actually provided any kind of guidance.

"We're worried that the guidance that we're going to get is going to be pretty outdated."

CDC issues first technical instructions to cruise lines for moving towards resuming cruises

By: Matt Hochberg

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has issued one part of its new technical instructions for cruise lines to move towards cruise ships sailing again from the United States.

Five months after the CDC issued its Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO), there has been no additional information provided for cruise lines to progress further.

An update to Technical Instructions for Mitigation of COVID-19 Among Cruise Ship Crew now includes, "CSO Phase 2A Routine COVID-19 Screening Testing of All Crew."

Essentially, the new instructions address crew members currently onboard ships sailing with more stringent and quicker pace of reporting to the CDC.

This will allow the CDC to more closely monitor ships and assign the proper color code to signify the ship's health status. 

In order to do this, the CDC requires daily submission of the “Enhanced Data Collection (EDC) During COVID-19 Pandemic Form”. This form is used by the CDC to monitor reports and outbreaks of Covid-19 on a ship.

The CDC also told cruise lines to "explore options to vaccinate crew for Covid-19", which is something Royal Caribbean and other lines have already committed themselves to doing.

A great deal of the instructions in Phase 2A deal with what cruise lines need to do when bringing new crew members onboard, as well as visitors or overnight contractors.

The color codes the CDC uses to categorize ships based on their health status has also changed, expanding their color code system include a new orange level that is between green and yellow.

Orange ship status in the absence of pre-existing Red ship status or a case report on the same day that would change the ship’s status to Red.

What about test cruises?

The new update only mentions simulated voyages once in the document, noting that in order for a cruise ship to get permission to board "non-essential crew", the CDC must verify that the cruise ship operator has documented the approval of all U.S. port and local health authorities where the ship intends to dock or make port during one or more simulated voyages or restricted passenger voyages. 

What this means is a cruise line must have an agreement with the U.S. port it will sail from that it has the capability for screening & testing of embarking crew and the quarantine and isolation of crew.

However, the CDC did include in its press release that the next phase of the CSO will include test cruises.

"The next phase of the CSO will include simulated (trial) voyages that will allow crew and port personnel to practice new COVID-19 operational procedures with volunteers before sailing with passengers."

Read moreEverything you need to know about Royal Caribbean test cruises

New changes after public pressure

It is hard to ignore the fact these changes come after a whirlwind week of government officials and industry leaders calling on the CDC to act and allow ships to sail again.

A variety of public statements, as well as the cruise industry calling on the public to tell elected officials to allow ships to sail again has come leading up to today's new instructions.

Most notably, Florida's Governor threatened to sue the CDC if things did not change, and the cruise industry organization set up a way for cruisers to contact legislators to ask for action.

The serious double standard remains

While today's action is a step forward in the academic sense of the word, cruise lines remain hopelessly shutdown for more than a year while every other facet of travel remains unhindered.

Airlines, theme parks, casinos, trains and more are allowed to operate as they see fit, with minimal Federal requirements to basic needs.

In fact, the airlines have rebuffed every attempt to institute testing of passengers onboard domestic flights, which is something cruise lines have committed to do since October 2020.

The CDC even acknowledged earlier today that fully vaccinated people have a low risk in terms of travel.

Meanwhile, cruises that have been able to restart sailings in Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific have carried  almost 400,000 passengers and had fewer than 50 based on public reports. 

CDC says travel for fully vaccinated people has "low risk"

By: Matt Hochberg

Could this be a major step towards getting cruise ships sailing again?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued new guidance on Friday that people that are fully vaccinated can safely travel at "low risk".

The new advice comes after months of the CDC urging all Americans to avoid any kind of non-essential travel.

The CDC’s new guidance says fully vaccinated people do not need Covid-19 tests before international travel unless it is required by the international destination and vaccinated people returning from foreign travel do not need to self-quarantine after returning to the United States, unless required by state or local authorities.

Grandparents that have been fully vaccinated can fly to visit grandkids without getting a Covid-19 test or self-quarantining as long as they follow CDC advice for traveling safely.

Specifically, the CDC provided the following guidance:

  • Fully vaccinated people can travel internationally without getting a COVID-19 test before travel unless it is required by the international destination.
  • Fully vaccinated people do not need to self-quarantine after returning to the United States, unless required by a state or local jurisdiction.
  • Fully vaccinated people should still have a negative COVID-19 test result before they board a flight to the United States and get a COVID-19 test 3 to 5 days after returning from international travel.
  • Fully vaccinated people should continue to take COVID-19 precautions while traveling internationally.

Why the change? Studies show the "real-world'' effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines.

There is no change on guidance for people that are not fully vaccinated. The CDC discourages non-essential domestic travel by those who are not fully vaccinated.

This announcement comes on the heels that the CDC will be issuing new guidance to cruise lines very soon so that they can resume service.

Apart from cruise lines, no other sector of travel has been subject to actually adhering to the CDC's guidance. Airlines, theme parks, casinos and hotels have all been able to do whatever they want in regard to their operations.

Meanwhile, the cruise industry remains shutdown in the United States due to CDC regulations.

Cruise lines have already committed themselves to 100% testing for all passengers and crewenhanced HVAC and air circulation, and a multi-faceted approach to mitigate the risk of spread on a cruise ship.