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Royal Caribbean Post Round-Up: July 26, 2020

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!

Cruisers were happy to hear this week that Royal Caribbean has reimagined the muster drill with a new electronic version.

Dubbed "Muster 2.0", this new safety drill approach will not only promote social distancing, but will also make the safety drill process a heck of a lot more convenient for guests.

Instead of standing in line at the muster station to listen for instructions, guests will be able to do much of the drill from their mobile device or stateroom television, and then simply report to their muster station to complete the process.

Royal Caribbean News

Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast

The 364th episode of the Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast is now available, where Steve shares a story about his big win(s) in Casino Royale.

Anytime you go to the casino, you dream of winning it big, but it rarely happens. This week, Steve shares how he won three different jackpots on one cruise!

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: 50 Royal Caribbean tips you should know in 10 minutes

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 — 50 Royal Caribbean tips you should know in 10 minutes — and don’t forget to subscribe here.

What needs to happen before cruises can start again

The big question on everyone's mind is when will cruises actually start again, but first a few things need to happen first.

While the answer is nobody knows when it may happen, there are some important steps that need to occur first in order for Royal Caribbean and other lines to start up again.

The general public is not privy to every single step that may need to occur, but there are some big tasks remaining in the way of cruise ships welcoming guests back onboard.

Top 10 questions about Royal Caribbean's new Muster 2.0

By: Matt Hochberg

Did you hear Royal Caribbean is completely changing the muster drill by going with a new electronic safety drill?

Royal Caribbean unveiled its Muster 2.0 innovation that will allow guests to conduct the muster drill on their own via mobile devices instead of standing in a line at the muster station.

With a fundamental change this significant, there are a few questions about how it will all work, and here are the answers to the most common questions cruisers have been asking since the big announcement.

What is the difference between Muster 2.0 and the old muster drill?

In the traditional muster drill, guests would have to report to their muster station and stand in large groups prior to the ship departing.

With Muster 2.0, guests: 

  • are provided with an efficient, convenient way to complete the required safety drill
  • receive the information in a more individual setting using personal mobile devices or the interactive stateroom TV
  • have the flexibility to complete the safety drill at their own leisure in a four-hour window of time, before the ship departs.

How does Muster 2.0 work?

There are four basic steps to how eMuster will function:

  1. Review safety information in the mobile app or interactive stateroom TV, and acknowledge completion
  2. Visit assigned assembly station and scan in using your stateroom key
  3. At the assembly station, a crew member will verify the safety information was completed and be available to answer questions individually
  4. Listen to the emergency signal in the mobile app or interactive TV, and when the captain demonstrates the signal before the ship sets sail

You will not need internet access in order to access Muster 2.0. The mobile app uses the ship’s WIFI without the purchase of an internet package.

What if I don't have a mobile device?

You do not need to have a mobile device, as you can complete Muster 2.0 using their interactive stateroom TV.

How will Royal Caribbean know if a guest has not completed the muster drill?

Both the mobile app and interactive stateroom TVs integrate with ship systems that monitor completion of the drill.

If a guest does not complete the muster drill, the guest will be contacted by a ship officer and asked to complete the safety drill. If they do not comply, they will be asked to disembark the ship.

Will children be required to complete Muster 2.0?

Yes, guests of all ages are required to complete Muster 2.0 to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone on board.

Are there multiple blocks of time to complete Muster 2.0 or does everyone have the same window of time?

Guests will be able to review the information at their own time, at any point from the time they arrive on board until sail away, eliminating the need for the traditional large group assemblies.

With Muster 2.0, everyone will have a four-hour window to complete the drill checklist via the mobile app or their interactive stateroom television. 

Will Muster 2.0 be available on all Royal Caribbean ships?

Muster 2.0 will be available on all Royal Caribbean International ships.

It will also be available on sister brands of Celebrity Cruises and Azamara ships, excluding Celebrity Cruises’ Galapagos-based ships — Celebrity Flora, Celebrity Expedition and Celebrity Exploration.

Guests mustering on their own may take elevators to their muster station, how do you ensure they know how to arrive to their station via safe pathways in case of an emergency?

Royal Caribbean Group ships equipped with the mobile app will have dynamic walking maps directing guests to their assembly stations using the safest pathways.

How will I know when I can start doing Muster 2.0 once onboard?

Guests will receive notifications/reminders from crew and electronically to ensure they have completed the safety drill before the window of time has closed.

What is the difference between Muster 2.0 and eMuster?

Royal Caribbean says Muster 2.0 is the overall brand for the new approach to the guest safety drill, whereas eMuster is the name of the technology behind the scenes that enables guests to receive the safety information individually via their mobile devices and interactive stateroom TVs. 

Other questions

Do you still have a question about how Muster 2.0 will work? Share your concerns and inquiries in the comments!

CDC wants to hear how you think cruise lines should restart cruising

By: Matt Hochberg

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) wants to hear from people and organizations comments and questions about cruise lines resuming passenger operations.

The Federal organization has filed a new opportunity for the public to comment and submit questions that the CDC will use in formulating a new policy for cruise ships.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), announces a Request for Information related to cruise ship planning and infrastructure, resumption of passenger operations, and additional summary questions. This information may be used to inform future public health guidance and preventative measures relating to travel on cruise ships.

The CDC recently extended its "No Sail" order through the end of September, and it now requests comments from the public that will be used to inform future public health guidance and preventative measures relating to travel on cruise ships.

Specific questions

The CDC wants public participation specifically on the following topics:

1. Given the challenges of eliminating COVID-19 on board cruise ships while operating with reduced crew on board during the period of the April 15, 2020 No Sail Order Extension, what methods, strategies, and practices should cruise ship operators implement to prevent COVID-19 transmission when operating with passengers?

2. How should cruise ship operators bolster their internal public health programs with public health experts and invest in a robust public health infrastructure to ensure compliance with measures to detect, prevent, and control the spread of COVID-19?

3. How should cruise ship operators ensure internal public health programs Start Printed Page 44084are involved in all levels of decision-making processes relating to passenger and crew operations, crew welfare and mental health, occupational health, food safety, potable and recreational water safety, outbreak prevention and management response, and illness surveillance?

4. What is the feasibility of conducting COVID-19 diagnostic testing using FDA-approved or authorized laboratory tests on board a cruise ship?

a. Should specimens be tested on board or should specimens be collected on board for commercial testing onshore?

b. How frequently should cruise ship operators test all passengers and crew?

c. What would be the anticipated financial cost of testing all passengers and crew?

5. Because reports of illness may lead to restrictions on crew activities, how should cruise ship operators encourage crew members to report mild symptoms of COVID-like illness to medical personnel?

a. How should cruise ship operators encourage medical personnel to report these cases to CDC?

6. What should be the medical capacity to manage an outbreak or a severe case of COVID-19 on board the ship?

a. What arrangements should cruise ship operators have with private companies to transport and obtain medical care shoreside for passengers and crew with severe COVID-19?

7. What pre-arrangements should be made to ensure that all U.S. seaport communities will accept a returning ship after a COVID-19 outbreak is identified?

8. What plans should cruise ship operators have for operationalizing shoreside quarantine facilities in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak on board a ship, without exposing the public and without relying on Federal, State, or local resources?

9. Due to obstacles with commercial travel thus far, what pre-arrangements should cruise ship operators make with the airline industry to accept crew and passengers from ships not affected by COVID-19?

10. How should cruise ship operators address specific country travel restrictions that emerge as COVID-19 activity increases in geographical areas, such as

a. border closures preventing passengers and crew from repatriating?

b. seaport closures preventing porting of ships?

c. embarking passengers originating from countries with heightened COVID-19 activity?

11. What measures should cruise ship operators be required to take to reduce the burden on U.S. government resources if foreign seaports deny cruise ships the ability to come into port during a voyage?

12. Given difficulties cruise ship operators have experienced when repatriating crew via non-commercial transportation, what preparations should the industry make to repatriate passengers or crew via non-commercial transportation after COVID-19 is identified on board?

13. What innovations should cruise ship operators develop to reduce transmission of COVID-19 on board ships and how would these innovations be effective?

14. Should cruise ship operators implement other interventions to decrease or prevent the spread of COVID-19 on board ships?

15. What evidence of efficacy or other rationale exists for any public health interventions that cruise ship operators propose to take on board ships?

16. What steps should cruise ship operators take to prevent the introduction of COVID-19 onto ships after resuming passenger operations?

a. Should cruise ship operators deny boarding to passengers with COVID-like illness or confirmed infection with COVID-19?

b. Should cruise ship operators deny boarding to passengers with known exposure to a person with COVID-19 during the previous 14 days?

c. What methods should cruise ship operators use to screen for exposures and detect COVID-like illness in passengers seeking to board the ship?

d. Should cruise ship operators deny boarding to passengers coming from COVID-19 high-incidence geographic areas?

e. How should cruise ship operators manage embarking crew with COVID-like illness, known exposure, or coming from high-incidence geographic areas after resuming passenger operations?

f. Should cruise ship operators test passengers and crew pre-boarding? If yes, what should the testing protocol be?

g. Should cruise ship operators transport and house passengers and crew denied boarding at the seaport to avoid exposing the public?

17. Should cruise ship operators plan to reduce passenger and crew loads to decrease the risk of transmission on board the ship?

a. To what extent and for how long should cruise ship operators reduce passenger capacity?

b. To what extent might reducing passenger capacity affect the economic viability of cruise lines?

c. Should cruise ship operators be required to provide scientific evidence that reducing passenger capacity will prevent transmission on board?

18. Should cruise ship operators decrease the length of voyages and, if so, by how much?

a. How would decreasing the length of voyages affect the transmission of COVID-19 on board the ship and in U.S. communities?

b. Should cruise ship operators be required to provide scientific evidence that reducing length of voyages would decrease the risk of further introduction of COVID-19 to U.S. communities?

19. Should cruise ship operators limit shore excursions?

a. What precautions should cruise ship operators take during shore excursions to prevent passengers and crew from being exposed to COVID-19?

b. During shore excursions, how should cruise ship operators prevent transmission of COVID-19 into land-based communities?

20. Should cruise ship operators restrict the number of persons per room (e.g., maximum capacity of 2 adults per cabin)?

a. Should cruise ship operators be required to provide single-occupancy rooms with private bathrooms for crew after resuming passenger operations?

21. What mental health services should cruise ship operators provide to crew and passengers during quarantine or isolation?

22. What precautions should the cruise line industry take to safely disembark passengers and crew without transmitting COVID-19 into local seaport communities?

23. Should the cruise line industry immediately cancel cruise voyages if COVID-19 cases are identified on board or after disembarkation?

24. Because of the economic costs associated with cruising, some cruise ship passengers may be reluctant to cancel travel plans if they become ill or are exposed to COVID-19 or may try to hide symptoms of illness. Should cruise ship operators fully refund or provide incentives to passengers that:

a. Are denied boarding due to COVID-like illness symptoms, confirmed infection, or known exposure?

b. are denied boarding due to coming from high-incidence geographic areas?

c. request last-minute cancellations due to COVID-19 concerns?

25. Due to the costs associated with seeking medical care on board, and the likelihood that sick passengers will be isolated and their travel companions quarantined for the remainder of their voyage, how should cruise ship operators encourage passengers to notify the medical center when they experience COVID-19 symptoms?

26. How should cruise ship operators decrease or eliminate the risk for COVID-19 transmission for both passengers and crew in the following group settings?

a. Embarkation and disembarkation?

b. Safety drills and trainings?

c. Dining?

d. Onboard entertainment events?

e. Shore excursions?

27. What benefits can be expected in terms of averted deaths and illnesses and how does this compare to the expected financial costs of the above measures?

28. Should cruise ship operators be required to designate a responsible company official who will accept legal responsibility for failure to implement measures to protect public health?

How to submit comments or questions to the CDC

You may submit comments, identified by Docket No. CDC-2020-0087 by any of the following methods listed below.

  • Federal eRulemaking Portal: Follow the instructions for submitting comments.
  • Mail: Maritime Unit, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1600 Clifton Road NE, MS V18-2, Atlanta, GA 30329.

CDC does not accept comment by email.

Written comments must be received on or before September 21, 2020.

Royal Caribbean announces electronic muster drill on its cruise ships

By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean announced a new way for guests to conduct the cruise ship safety drill by digital app, which will help with promoting social distancing onboard.

Known as Muster 2.0, the cruise line revealed its plans on Friday to implement a new way to conduct the mandatory guests safety drill, known as the muster drill. 

The rollout of these reimagined safety drills will debut in Germany this week on board Royal Caribbean Group’s joint venture, TUI Cruises GmbH, and continue in Royal Caribbean Group’s return to service. 

In order to comply with maritime law, passengers on an ocean-going vessel must be aware of what to do for a response to an emergency condition onboard.

How it works

With Muster 2.0, the new tech will be used to help provide the information to guests via their mobile devices and interactive stateroom TVs.

Travelers will be able to review the information at their own time prior to setting sail, eliminating the need for the traditional large group assemblies. 

After reviewing safety information individually, guests will complete the drill by visiting their assigned assembly station, where a crew member will verify that all steps have been completed and answer questions. Each of the steps will need to be completed prior to the ship’s departure, as required by international maritime law.

One on the cruise ship, guests have a set time (indicated by a timer in the app) during which muster drill must be completed by all of the passengers and, in response, a message is transmitted to each mobile device that the muster drill has commenced.

As well, subsequent to a lapsing of the timer, a listing is displayed of any passenger not recorded as having completed the muster drill.

Muster 2.0 was first tested on Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas in January 2020. Guests who took part in the mock process indicated a strong preference for the new approach and also reported better comprehension and retention of the safety information.

Solving a problem

For many cruise passengers, the muster drill is viewed as a necessary annoyance.

Traditionally, in the context of a passenger cruise ship, a muster drill is performed at the beginning of the cruise before the cruise ship departs or shortly thereafter. During the muster drill, each individual passenger reports to an assigned muster station—a specific location on the vessel. A crew member then confirms the presence of each passenger expected to be present at the specific location during the muster drill so that all passengers may be accounted for in the event of an actual emergency and a resultant actual muster.

Further, the muster drill can be confusing for some—particularly the elderly and children—both of whom often require additional assistance locating and moving towards assigned muster stations.

For crew members, trying to perform the drill with thousands of guests may create unnecessary confusion or missed opportunities to educate and inform, in light of the ultimate goal.

Moreover, an electronic muster drill would potentially allow guests to conduct the safety drill at their leisure during the first day, and while maintaining proper social distancing. 

The inventor of Muster 2.0 is Royal Caribbean's Senior Vice President of Entertainment, Nick Weir, who is listed as the inventor on the patent with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Royal Caribbean applied for a patent on the concept in September 2019, and the application was granted on March 3, 2020.

An innovation for everyone

Despite Muster 2.0 being a proprietary invention of Royal Caribbean is offering to license the patented technology to interested cruise operators and will waive patent license fees during the time the world and industry battle the global pandemic.

Patent licenses have already been granted to the company’s joint venture, TUI Cruises GmbH, as well as Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., the parent company of Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

Royal Caribbean launches new mobile game based on Adventure Ocean

By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean launched a new app for kids based on a game kids could play onboard its cruise ships in Adventure Ocean.

The Treasure of Barnacle Briggs is a new game available on Apple's App Store that offers kids an interactive quest and is free to download.

The concept was originally created for Adventure Ocean on Royal Caribbean's cruise ships by a company named Firstborn, and it launched as part of the Royal Amplifications of Oasis of the Seas and Freedom of the Seas.

The game is an adaptation of what kids would find on the ships, and gives kids the choice of four mysterious islands that together present immersive, imaginative stories and adventures that your family can play through together. 

Firstborn technical director, Drew Dahlman, describes the game, "The benefit of the narrative is we’re building a whole universe that really brings players in."

Each of the mystical islands features its own set of challenges that takes the user on a journey to retrieve coveted keys that will unlock Barnacle Briggs’ hidden treasure. 

The game features stunning visuals, this interactive quest brings players a mind-bending maze, a formidable foe, tricky turns on tracks that test reaction time and a wild ride down slippery slopes.

Whether kids, parents or Diamond Plus guests play the game, they will find a game inspired by classic video games that put your reaction time and precision to the test.

  • On Maze Island, players must dodge boulders in a twisting labyrinth
  • On Gold Mine Island you must leap across gaps in the track
  • On Blizzard Island you can maneuver a toboggan through every peak and valley in a race down the slopes

On top of it all, Royal Caribbean included a mischievous animal adversary based on feedback from kids.  On Octopus Island, you will find an eight-legged foe who throws barrels, crates and sticky starfish that players must avoid by tapping their quick reflexes.

The interactive digital experience was first a success at sea. “When we saw how well the games were received on board Oasis of the Seas—people were congregating around the large screens at Adventure Ocean to check it out—we knew we needed to introduce Barnacle Briggs to the world in some way,” said Lauren Berman, senior manager for product development at Royal Caribbean.

You can download the game from Apple's App Store.

Royal Caribbean Group CEO gives update on panel of health experts work to start resume cruises

By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean Chairman and CEO Richard Fain posted a new video update on the 4 month anniversary of when the cruise line suspended sailing due to the current global health crisis.

Mr. Fain began the video update with a look at the current impact of COVID-19 in the United States, citing a growing trend of new cases and consequently, new restrictions aimed at curbing the spread.

He then contrasted this trend with what is happening in Europe and Asia, where things are trending in a very positive manner, and cases are dropping and flare ups are quickly identified.

"As an American, this is incredibly embarrassing. There's simply no excuse for the United States to do worse than almost all the other developed countries in the world. And yet chart after chart shows that's just what's happening."

"In America, we pride ourselves on our individualism. But taken too far, individualism can begin to look a lot like selfishness. We should be angry that so many people are ignoring the simple fact that by exposing themselves to others, they are helping the spread of the disease."

Mr. Fain discussed how much progress scientists have made in better understanding the virus, and identified two key areas that stand out.

The first fact is that the main source of becoming infected is by breathing in air droplets from someone else's air. 

The other is that it takes more than a trivial amount of contact to spread it from person to person. Namely, you have to be closer than 6 feet apart for more than 15 minutes.

Mr. Fain feels these two facts are key to understanding the problem, and identifying a solution.

"If we all do what they tell us, if we all take the steps to wear a face covering and to keep separated by at least six feet, it won't take long to bring this disease under control."

"Frustrated, but optimistic"

While Mr. Fain spent the first half of the video lamenting the lack of progress in the United States addressing the root causes of the spread of the virus, he remains optimistic that it is still easy to fix things.

"It's clear that we don't have to go into hibernation to constrain the spread. We just need to follow a few simple practical restrictions for a short period of time to bring the numbers low enough that we can all feel comfortable again."

Healthy Sail Panel Update

The Healthy Sail Panel, which is tasked with creating new policies for Royal Caribbean to keep crew and guests safe once they resume sailings, has been at work as a team for over a month now.

Mr. Fain professed pride in the work this panel is doing to come up with practical rules and suggestions on how to make cruising safer.

"They're really going into depth on every topic, whether it is the air conditioning system or the practicalities of social distancing, or even the utensils used in a buffet setting."

"Our objective is not only to meet the minimum safety requirements, but to actually make the ship safer than the communities where our guests come from."

Mr. Fain reiterated that Royal Caribbean will not resume sailings until the cruise line and government authorities, "are satisfied that we can do so with all of the appropriate protocols in place."

In Germany, TUI Cruises will restart cruising on Friday because of the incredibly low rate of the virus there combined with extremely effective protocols, which Mr. Fain feels is a good sign that cruising has a future.

"Just as daffodils that are important sign of spring, I hope this small start in Germany bodes well for our future resumption. It won't be immediate, but it is coming."

In short, Mr. Fain concluded that these bad times will pass, and when it does, Royal Caribbean will be ready.

Royal Caribbean has only 100 reservations waiting more than 30 days for a refund

By: Matt Hochberg

Following up on Royal Caribbean's commitment to process guest refunds for cancelled cruises significantly faster, they announced today they have not only cut down the amount of time guests must wait for a refund, but the super long waits are also nearly gone.

Vicki Freed, Royal Caribbean's Senior Vice President, Sales, Trade Support and Service, proudly informed travel agents on her weekly webinar that there are just 100 reservations left that are waiting more than 30 days for a refund.

"We're pretty much caught up to date. We have about a hundred bookings that are still over the 30 day mark that we have not refunded," Ms Freed said. 

Just last week, Ms. Freed said there were about 1,000 bookings that are still over 30 days waiting for a refund. While she said they aimed to process them all by this past Sunday, they have been able to process nearly every single one.

Currently, Royal Caribbean is averaging about 23 days to process a new refund request

If any travel agent has a client who is waiting more than 30 days for a refund at this point, she asked the agent to personally contact her via email to get a resolution immediately.

Moreover, Ms. Freed added that phone call wait times are significantly down, which means no more crazy long phone hold times.

"And by the way, with the exception of groups and service, the phone lines are pretty much under control and even groups of service, maybe the wait time is 15 to 20 minutes."

Getting refunds processed quicker has been a high priority for Royal Caribbean, which was inundated with refund requests following wave after wave of cruise cancellations due to the global health crisis.

The growing pool of refunds waiting to be processed became a black eye for the company, and they quickly made knocking those numbers down a top priority.

A combination of introducing new self-service tools, along with hiring back laid off workers, have contributed to greatly reducing the processing times.

Royal Caribbean extends flexible cancellation policy by an additional 2 months

By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean informed travel partners on Wednesday they have extended its popular Cruise with Confidence policy by another two months.

Cruise with Confidence now allows cancellations up to 48-hours prior to sailing, in exchange for a 100% Future Cruise Credit (FCC) on sailings through April 2022 for bookings made on or before September 30, 2020.

There is no change to the policy parameters, which was originally announced on March 6, 2020 in an effort to give consumer a higher level of trust that they could change their mind later if they do not want to cruise.

Under the program, should you change your mind about a booked sailing, Cruise with Confidence offers the flexibility to cancel up to 48-hours prior to the sail date in exchange for a 100% Future Cruise Credit.

Cruise with Confidence is applicable to guests booked on-or-before September 30, 2020 on sailings departing through April 2022 (all open deployment as of July 22, 2020).

Ordinarily, guests would incur a penalty for canceling a sailing beyond the final payment date, which is typically 90 days before a sailing commences. Cruise with Confidence provides a great deal more flexibility to change minds with no penalty.

In addition to Cruise with Confidence, guests can still take advantage of "Best Price Guarantee" and "Lift and Shift."

  • Best Price Guarantee: Guests can choose to change the price and promotional offer on their reservation up to 48 hours before their cruise.
  • Lift and Shift: This option is ideal for those guests wishing to move their vacation plans to next year. Eligible between now and September 30, 2020, guests can protect their original cruise fare and promotional offering by shifting to a future sailing on the same itinerary type, sailing length, stateroom category, and within the same 4-week period of their original cruise date same-time-next-year.

“Guests are reacting positively to our Cruise with Confidence policy,” says Royal Caribbean Group chairman and CEO Richard Fain, “because it enables them to make informed decisions and to better manage complicated travel plans during this unprecedented time of uncertainty.”

Currently, Royal Caribbean has cancelled all of its sailings through September 30th, 2020.

Helpful resources:

Remembering Royal Caribbean's first mega ship, which is about to be scrapped

By: Matt Hochberg

Social media has spotted that Royal Caribbean's first mega ship, Sovereign of the Seas, is about to be broken down and scrapped in Turkey.

For some, saying goodbye to this ship (and her sister Monarch of the Seas, which is also facing the maritime guillotine) evoke a great deal of memories from past sailings.

Dreaming a giant

It is difficult to understand in today's terms how impactful Sovereign of the Seas was for her time. She revolutionized an industry, and her debut instantly made every other main stream cruise line ship obsolete.

In 1984, Royal Caribbean had 11% of the cruise market share, compared to NCL at 14% and Carnival at 15%. Royal Caribbean wanted to recapture the leadership edge it had achieved in the early 1970s.

Miami management felt that if anything, they should proceed cautiously, producing a slightly larger Song of America with a 1,600-passenger load. But the committee argued for even greater expansion, constructing a larger ship altogether.

Royal Caribbean had never built a cruise ship with either an indoor café, a casino, a champagne bar or a health club; and having made the decision to include those options inside a suitably large hull, the scale of an inevitable new prototype emerged. Thus, Sovereign of the Seas, the world's largest purpose-built cruise ship at the time, was conceived.

The theoretical phase began with three questions: how many passengers, how fast and how luxurious?

All had to be answered before the vessel's dimensions could be considered. The first answer was awesome: The passenger count, which started at about 1,800, would be 2,673 total occupancy, more than half again Song of America's capacity. Speed would remain at sixteen knots for cruising with a top speed of twenty-one. And, a decisive spatial augmentation, passengers would be accommodated in slightly larger (three percent was the exact increment) cabins than those on board existing Royal Caribbean tonnage.  

Building Sovereign

To build the world's largest cruise ship was not something any shipyard could handle. 

Until that point, all of Royal Caribbean's ships had been built at Wärtsilä in Finland, but Royal Caribbean found a better match with Chantiers de l'Atlantique in France with a $190,000,000 contract price and guaranteed delivery for December 1987, which beat the Finns.

Within weeks of the July 1985 contract signing, steel was ordered and subsequently cut at St.-Nazaire.

In the old days, in every shipyard, the first element of the hull, the keel, would be laid on keel blocks. But modern newbuilding involves the assembly of enormous chunks of ship (called sections) that have been prefabricated hundreds of yards from the ways.

Sovereign's first two keel sections were put into place on June 10, 1986. It was at this time the ship's name was announced, which had been a guarded secret.  It was only referred to up until this point by its pedestrian yard number, A-29.

Sovereign also has the distinction of introducing the now well-known naming convention for every Royal Caribbean ship.

The name of the vessel was suggest and vehemently argued by Mortis Skaugen. "He literally shook the name into me," Richard Fain observes. There have been two prior ships called Sovereign of the Seas. The first, the price of King Charles I, was a towering, intricately carved Royal Navy warship of 1637. The second Sovereign was launched 200 years later from an American yard, a swift clipper ship built by Donald McKay. A handsome model of each vessel decorates the current ship's Schooner Bar.

Although on first hearing the name seemed overlong, it imparted exactly the right sense of royal occasion. Of course, the vessel's workaday generic would, predictably, be abbreviated to Sovereign; "___ of the Seas" would serve as an invaluable class-identifying suffix integrated into the names of both successors.

Sovereign of the Seas was handed over to Royal Caribbean four days earlier than scheduled on December 19, 1987. Richard Fain, Royal Caribbean's CEO accepted the handover from Alain Grill, managing director of Chantiers de l'Atlantique.  Mr. Fain then handed over the completed vessel to Captain Tor Stangeland.

Game changing debut

The first sea trials took place on September 5, 1987, which was a weekend.  

Sovereign of the Seas' naming ceremony was held in Miami on Friday, January 15. 

Taittinger had created a huge new champagne bottle - the largest ever blown - specifically called a sovereign in honor of the ship - the largest of its kind ever built.

President and Mrs. Carter were onboard the ship, as the crowd, serenaded by a large orchestra, took their seats on the pier. It was a festive throng, caparisoned with hats, flowers, company ties, and always, multitudes of cameras.

Led by Chairman Eigil Abrahmsen, Mrs. Carter and the President emerged from the crew gangway and trod a red-carpeted path to the dignitaries' platform. The former First Lady had chosen a yellow suit, prettily matched by a chrysanthemum alee lining her right of way.

Of the many Carters on hand, one of the youngest had shared with Chairman Abrahmsen the ultimate grandmother's accolade. "This young man told me that he knew wat RCCL stands for," the chairman informed his audience. "It stands for Rosalynn Carter's Cruise Line!"

After the speeches and a solemn blessing, Mrs. Carter and the chairman climbed atop the launch platform.  The music stopped. A hush fell over the spectators.  In a clear voice, Rosalynn Carter offered the traditional benison, named the vessel and cut the launch cord.

Sovereign of the Seas demonstrated that it is possible for a modern cruise ship to offer a balance of beauty and function and be something more than a container carrier or a ferry.

She sailed with paying customers for the first time on Saturday, January 16, 1988. 

Sovereign of the Seas sailed year-round and offered seven-day cruises from Miami to the Caribbean, proving the viability of a megaship. Her success launched two sister ships (Monarch and Majesty of the Seas), and forced the hand of other competitors to build their own megaships.

In 2008, Royal Caribbean transferred Sovereign to Pullmantur Cruises to help catapult that Spanish cruise line and grow her operations.

Share your fondest Sovereign of the Seas memories in our comments!

What needs to happen before cruises can start again

By: Matt Hochberg

Everyone wants to know when cruises will truly restart again, especially in North America or Europe.

While the answer is nobody knows when it may happen, there are some important steps that need to occur first in order for Royal Caribbean and other lines to start up again.

The general public is not privy to every single step that may need to occur, but there are some big tasks remaining in the way of cruise ships welcoming guests back onboard.

New policies submitted and approved by CDC

By all accounts, the first step for cruise lines to resume service is to come up with a plan on how they will keep guests safe.

When the CDC instituted the first "No Sail" Order in March, they required each cruise line to submit a plan for protecting people on their cruise ships.

Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line are addressing this by the formation of the Healthy Sail Panel, which is actively working on creating new procedures to institute aboard cruise ships. Thus far, it sounds like the first set of recommendations by the panel will be shared by the end of August, with further revisions and additional recommendations coming later.

Once the full plan is in place, Royal Caribbean will submit it to the CDC for approval. 

Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain recently said, "We won't come back until we're absolutely sure that we've done everything we can to work to protect the safety of our guests and crew."

End of the No Sail Order

The next biggest hurdle for the cruise industry is the end of the "No Sail" order that formally prohibits cruise lines from operating with passengers onboard.

The CDC has extended the order two times already, and it is currently slated to end September 30, 2020. Of course, that could be extended again.

There is no clear indication of when the CDC will loosen the reigns on the cruise industry, but it stands to reason that two things need to likely occur:

  • The public health emergency needs to subside
  • The cruise line needs to have approval for a safe return to cruising with their submitted plan

There very well could be additional steps required for the prohibition to be rescinded, but as long as it stands, there will be no cruises regardless of anything else.

Outside the United States

The "No Sail" order is applied by a U.S. agency, and that mandate does not apply outside the United States. Therefore, cruises could return sooner in other parts of the world.

Currently, China cruises are only cancelled through the end of July. European cruises have been cancelled at the same time as North American cruises, but perhaps that would change going forward.

Ports need to reopen

Some countries have started to re-open their borders to international travel, and a few have already closed back down. Regardless, cruise ships need somewhere to go for cruises to start back up.

More than likely, if the CDC were to allow cruises to start back up again, there would be a few ports of call that would be open by that point, but it is still anyone's guess as to which would open when.

Cruises to Canada are a foregone conclusion that were will be nothing offered there, and other countries that have traditionally seen cruise traffic area also shut down.

These countries rely heavily on tourism, and re-opening the ports are as important to them as the cruise lines, but the safety of their people is what is driving the current policies.

Start-up plan announced

One of the last major steps to look for is a plan of action of which cruise ships will begin sailing and when.

While the cruise line's plans are not completely certain, Royal Caribbean executives have commented they believe cruises will resume with just a handful of ships at first, with a phased approach to bringing the entire fleet back.

When will this happen?

The steps outlined in this post are merely the basics, and while you might be wondering how soon these could occur, it truly is anyone's guess.

What we know about the virus is changing on a near-daily basis, advances on a vaccine are moving long swiftly, and new announcements by the cruise lines and various governments provide a new outlook almost as quickly as the old ones they replaced.

While no one has a crystal ball that can predict when these steps will take place, these changes are a good way to measure progress towards getting back to life at sea.

The answer of when cruises will resume may be better determined by looking out your window and seeing when life begins to return to some kind of normalcy. The sooner daily life starts back up, the less impediments the cruise lines will have to face in starting up again.