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What it's like to be a on cruise ship with no guests

In:
30Sep2020
By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean may not be offering cruises, but its ships are still operational albeit without any guests.

While Royal Caribbean cruises are currently shutdown due to the current health crisis, its ships remain ready for when cruises resume. So what is happening onboard while there are no cruises?

Captain Johnny Faevelen is on Harmony of the Seas, and recently told travel advisors what life is like onboard these days.

How many crew members are onboard?

Captain Johnny said Harmony of the Seas is currently at minimum manning, which is about 100 crew members.

The majority of crew members onboard are working in the marine division, which means crew assigned to navigation, deck engineers, engine engineers, electricians, etc.

There are a few hotel division, including a few in housekeeping and food and beverage.

Where is Harmony of the Seas right now?

Harmony of the Seas is currently located near Barbados, which is one of five or six Royal Caribbean ships that are stationed near the island.

Royal Caribbean uses Bridgetown, Barbados for periodic supply stops, crew changeouts and mail service.

What do the crew do onboard with no guests onboard?

Captain Johnny said the crew's primary responsibility is to maintain the vessel.

"What we do onboard a ship is actually maintaining make sure it's safe, maintenance where we can with this limited amount of crew members, taking the integrity of the ship into place and security, of course, and painting a bit of washing a little bit there."

To really get the ship operational for guests, they would need a lot more crew members.

Captain Johnny mentioned that roughly half the crew on Harmony of the Seas right now are originally from the Philippines.

For dining, Captain Johnny said every day the staff tries to arrange social gatherings, "We try to arrange social gatherings, always keeping in mind the social distance that two meters or six feet."

"And occasionally we show a movie back in the AquaTheater and have a variety of food and places to eat. So we might have a barbecue or the chefs arrange for a nice dinner out there in the fresh air in the evenings.

"We do what we can in order to to maintain the morale of the crew, which is extremely important during these times."

How does the crew stay healthy while onboard?

Without a doubt, there is a lot of concern for the welfare of the crew members onboard to remain healthy and safe.

Captain Johnny indicated the crew is stringently following social distancing guidelines onboard, with maintaining a certain distance apart and wearing face masks.

When a crew member signs onto the ship, they are quarantined for 15 days in a cabin.

In fact, all the crew members are staying in balcony staterooms across decks 11 and 12, which means the crew have access to fresh air and private space on their balcony.

"It's a lot of work, but it's still not stressful... the crew are are in good spirits."

Follow Captain Johnny on Twitter at @HarleyCaptain!

Report: White House overrides CDC on extending No Sail order

In:
29Sep2020
By: Matt Hochberg

It looks like the White House has overruled the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) to only allow the No Sail Order to be extended through the end of October.

A report by Axios claims CDC Director Robert Redfield, "was overruled when he pushed to extend a "no-sail order" on passenger cruises into next year."

The article goes on to say that Redfield wanted to push the No Sail order out to February 2021, but the Trump administration would only allow an extension through the end of October 2020.

It is important to note that the CDC's website has not been updated yet to confirm any extension.

Axios cites the news following two sources who had "direct knowledge" of what happened in the White House Situation Room.

According to the two task force members, Vice President Mike Pence informed the CDC Director of a different plan than what the agency had in mind.

Axios also reports that cruise industry represenatives will meet with White House officials on Friday in order to, "describe their transformation and dozens of ways that they will mitigate risk and ensure public health," according to a White House official.

The current No Sail order is set to expire on September 30, and an extension by another month would have no affect on cruise ships since the industry had already volunteered to cancel all October cruises.

For its part, Royal Caribbean has not given up yet on offering cruises in 2020.  Armed with a new set of in-depth health protocols, it feels under the right circumstances, it could still offer cruises in 2020.

The No Sail order has been a legislative, as well as symbolic, barrier to the cruise industry restarting. Royal Caribbean has been shutdown since mid-March, and the No Sail order has been a major obstacle to any restart plan.

If Royal Caribbean follows the Healthy Sail Panel recommendations for resuming cruises, the cruise line would begin with a series of test cruises, where Royal Caribbean employees act as guests and the cruise experience is simulated in order to test and adjust the new policies.

The cruise industry has a history of conducting test sailings when they introduce a new product. These are normally several cruises of short duration with selected invited guests and limited itineraries, which gives the operator the opportunity to train the crew and refine its procedures. We believe that such a process could be helpful in the introduction of these protocols and procedures, giving the operators the opportunity to ensure that their programs are well understood and work appropriately.

In conjunction with succesful tests, it is likely the cruise line will announce some kind of start up plan where certain ships and sail dates are confirmed as ready to sail.

All of this work is centered around the question of can Royal Caribbean come back to a safe and healthy environment, which is what Mr. Fain asked the Panel.

"And their answer was, if you adopt all these protocols, you can."

"And obviously we are going to, and we believe that will greatly accelerate the time, so we're looking forward to coming back sooner."

Royal Caribbean extends ability to cancel cruise for a credit until November 30

In:
29Sep2020
By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean has extended its Cruise with Confidence cancellation policy to now include sailings through November 30, 2020.

The popular program allows guests to cancel a cruise for any reason up to 48 hours before a sailing is scheduled to depart in exchange for a future cruise credit.

It was scheduled to end on September 30, 2020 prior to the extension.

In addition, the Lift and Shift option will be extended to November 30, 2020.  Lift and Shift allows guests to defer their cruise by a year.

The Cruise with Confidence program was introduced at the beginning of the health crisis, and provides significantly relaxed rules concerning canceling a cruise if the situation changes for a guest.

Royal Caribbean Group chairman and CEO Richard Fain thinks this extension makes a lot of sense for guests, "We want our guests to feel they can safely keep their existing cruise bookings or schedule new sailings, because this policy gives them more freedom and flexibility."

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.

The extension applies to all cruises with sailing dates on or before April 2022, and applies to the company’s global brands Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, and Azamara.

Cruise with Confidence future cruise credits expire on December 31, 2021 or 12 months from the cancellation date, whichever is further out.

Royal Caribbean will offer Kids Sail Free during summer for first time

In:
29Sep2020
By: Matt Hochberg

In summer 2021, Royal Caribbean will offer a Kids Sail Free deal that includes nearly all of the summer 2021 cruises.

The Kids Sail Free deal has always been a popular option, where kids 12 years old and under in the same room as two adults are free to cruise, but there has always been a lot of blackout dates that usually coincide with when school is out of session.

The only blackout date is the week of July 4th (June 28 - July 6, 2021).

The new Fall For Adventure sale during the month of October will offer 60% off the second guest, up to $100 off instantly and kids sail free all summer.

The new deal begins October 1, 2020, so you will not see new pricing until that date.

Deal details

Kids Sail Free + Summer applies to new bookings made between October 1 — November 5, 2020. Kids Sail Free provides free cruise fare for 3rd guests and higher who are 12 years old or younger as of cruise departure date, booked in the same stateroom as the first two qualifying guests in a triple or quad-occupancy stateroom.

Kids Sail Free applies to select 3-night or longer Alaska, Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada, Caribbean, CaribNE, Coastal, Europe, Hawaii, and Repositioning sailings departing between November 1, 2020 — December 17, 2020 and January 8, 2021 — December 17, 2021.

Offer excludes 2020 Thanksgiving sailings (Sailings between November 21 — 28, 2020), 2021 President’s Day Sailings (Sailings between February 12 —ƒ 15, 2021), 2021 Spring Break and Easter sailings (Sailings between March 13 — April 4, 2021), Independence Day sailings (Sailings between June 28 — July 6, 2021) and 2021 Thanksgiving Sailings (Sailings between November 19 — 26, 2021).

Taxes, fees, and port expenses are additional and apply to all guests.

Is this a good deal?

Kids Sail Free deals definitely save money, but the issue has always been finding dates that were not blacked out. With Kids Sail Free being offered over the summer, there is ample opportunity for families to take advantage of the offer.

Your best value with Kids Sail Free will be in the higher category rooms, especially balcony and suite rooms, where the savings on the third and fourth passenger are more substantial.

Of course, Kids Sail Free deal requires the kids to be in the same stateroom as the parents, so you cannot split across multiple rooms and use the offer.

Using a good travel agent, you can easily compare and contrast prices between sailings.

Should you use the porters to take your luggage on your cruise ship?

In:
29Sep2020
By: Matt Hochberg

When you arrive at the cruise terminal for the first day of your cruise, there are porters waiting to take your luggage so that it can be delivered to your stateroom on the ship.

Should you use their services, and if so, what is the "catch"?

They're there to make things easier

Porters are a convenience meant to simplify the process of getting your belongings on a cruise ship.

Think of porters like curbside luggage check-in at the airport.  You drive up to them, drop off all of your checked luggage and they lug the bags to be delivered to the ship.

There is no fee for their services, but a tip is customary for their services.  Usually $1-2 per bag is what most people pay.

You will give them anything you will not need for the first few hours after getting onboard.  Luggage gets delivered onboard the ship in the afternoon and early evening, once it gets scanned by security and delivered to the appropriate deck.

Be sure that each piece of luggage is tagged with luggage tags. If not, a porter can provide one on the spot.

What if you don't use a porter?

If you opt not to use a porter, you will have to take your luggage by yourself through the cruise terminal and onto the ship.

Keep in mind your luggage must be able to fit through the security x-ray machine in the cruise terminal, so if it cannot, you will have to send your luggage with the porters.

After the cruise is over

Upon disembarking your cruise ship on the last morning of your cruise, there will be porters available to help you with your luggage.

Just like on embarkation day, there is no fee to use their services, but tipping is expected.

Not only will porters make things easier on you on that final morning, but in many cruise ports, porters have their own line for getting through customs which can greatly speed up exiting the terminal.

Should you use a porter?

I always use porters on embarkation day or on disembarkation for the convenience they provide at very reasonable cost.

For $1-2 per bag, it is a bargain to have someone else lift and drag my bags around. 

Plus, I have found porters to be invaluable on the final day to get through customs faster. In some terminals there are special lines for them, and even when there is not, porters often shave time off by knowing where to go and when to expedite the process.

All too often I see some family with all of their bags dragging them through the ship, into the elevators, and stacking them on the pool deck or in the Windjammer while they wait for the room to be ready. 

In short, the low cost of having to tip is worth using them.

Helpful tips for using porters

  • Make sure your luggage tags are affixed to every piece of luggage before you get to the terminal.
  • If you run out of luggage tags (or forget them), porters can provide ones for you.
  • Luggage may not be delivered until the evening, so keep anything important with you (medicine, sunscreen, swimsuits, anything you need for dinner).
  • Keep a few small bills for porters for easy tipping.

Royal Caribbean Post Round-Up: September 27, 2020

In:
27Sep2020
By: Matt Hochberg

Happy weekend! We have a look back at all the Royal Caribbean news from this week to share with all of you.

Royal Caribbean's Healthy Sail Panel released its initial recommendations this week, outlining a plan for cruises to safely return.

The detailed list of recommendations encompasses 74 steps and is 65 pages long, tackling a number of scenarios and approaches for ensuring guests and crew members are safe, while mitigating any infection onboard.

Here is a look at the most important health protocol changes to know about.

Royal Caribbean News

Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast

The 373rd episode of the Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast is now available, where Josh shares how a cruise on Adventure of the Seas changed how he cruises forever.

Josh took a cruise on Adventure of the Seas, unaware of all the new friends he would make onboard, and it completely changed how he would approach cruising.

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: Top myths people believe about cruises!

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 — Top myths people believe about cruises — and don’t forget to subscribe here.

5 things you've probably overlooked with the new cruise protocols

The Healthy Sail Panel announced sweeping changes in how cruise ships operate in order to keep them safe, so it is very easy to omit some important takeaways.

In looking over the 65 pages of information provided by this group of globally recognized medical and scientific experts, there is a lot of considerations and notes for the future included with the new rules.

I picked out five really important things to keep in mind when it comes to reviewing these new protocols.

Miami-Dade Mayor calls for CDC not to extend No Sail order

In:
26Sep2020
By: Matt Hochberg

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez issued a statement on Saturday to call for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to not extend or renew the No Sail order.

The the Miami-Dade County Commission passed a resolution "to expedite and conclude any analysis necessary for the establishment of the public health guidance and preventative measures required prior to the resumption of travel on cruise ships."

The No Sail order is scheduled to expire on September 30, unless it gets extended, and it is chiefly responsible for cruise lines from resuming sailings in the United States.

Mayor Gimenez simply stated, "Now that the cruise industry has adopted the mandatory core elements, I urge the CDC to not extend or renew the “No Sail Order."

The statement highlighted the core elements of the new health protocols aimed at allowing cruise ships to resume passenger service.

The new health measures mentioned by the Mayor in his statement focus on the major changes proposed including:

  1. 100% testing of passengers and crew for COVID-19 prior to embarkation
  2. Mandatory wearing of masks by all passengers and crew onboard 
  3. Physical distancing in terminals, onboard ships, on private islands and during shore excursions.
  4. Air management and ventilation strategies to increase fresh air onboard and, where feasible, using enhanced filters and other technologies to mitigate risk.
  5. Dedicated cabin capacity for isolation and other operational measures, and arrangements with private providers for shoreside quarantine, medical facilities and transportation.

Royal Caribbean hasn't ruled out 2020 cruises yet

In:
26Sep2020
By: Matt Hochberg

After Royal Caribbean Group announced the initial recommendations of its Healthy Sail Panel, Royal Caribbean's top executives said that cruises in 2020 are not completely out of the question.

There is no doubt that every cruise line would love to salvage something of the 2020 season, but the question is how feasible is it to have cruises this year?

Speaking to a few different media outlets this past week, sailings from the United States at some point in 2020 have not been completely ruled out.

When Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain was asked by Cruise Critic if cruises starting in November was realistic, he stated, "I think the idea that we could be having cruising in November, under a very strict set of protocols, is absolutely in the cards."

Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley told The Points Guy that there is scenario he can envision where cruises begin in November, "If everything lined up, then we would be feeling good about starting in November."

Mr. Bayley also spoke to Seatrade Cruise News and said, "I feel like things are lining up. Everything's beginning to fall in place".

Both executives cautioned readers in every statement that any resumption of cruises in 2020 is dependent on a things falling into place, and there is ample examples in the past few months why caution is necessary.

Royal Caribbean has been shutdown since mid-March, and currently has sailings possibly restarting in November, but still has not released its cruise-line specific new health protocols derived from the Healthy Sail Panel recommendations, nor have they released a startup plan of which ships will begin sailing and where.

The other major factor is the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) No Sail Order, which is set to expire on September 30, but could still be extended.

Richard Fain told travel advisors his company has not yet heard back from the CDC officially on the Healthy Sail Panel protocols, nor if the No Sail Order will be extended or not.

"No, we only just gave it to them on Monday, and as you've seen, it is a extensive and comprehensive document, but we have not heard any comment back from them since we submitted it on Monday, nor would we have expected to do that quickly."

Mr. Fain indicated that its new cruise line policies will be issued "relatively soon".

Assuming Royal Caribbean follows the recommendations for restarting cruises that the Healthy Sail Panel outlined, they will begin with a series of test cruises, where Royal Caribbean employees act as guests and the cruise experience is simulated in order to test and adjust the new policies.

The cruise industry has a history of conducting test sailings when they introduce a new product. These are normally several cruises of short duration with selected invited guests and limited itineraries, which gives the operator the opportunity to train the crew and refine its procedures. We believe that such a process could be helpful in the introduction of these protocols and procedures, giving the operators the opportunity to ensure that their programs are well understood and work appropriately.

In conjunction with succesful tests, it is likely the cruise line will announce some kind of start up plan where certain ships and sail dates are confirmed as ready to sail.

All of this work is centered around the question of can Royal Caribbean come back to a safe and healthy environment, which is what Mr. Fain asked the Panel.

"And their answer was, if you adopt all these protocols, you can."

"And obviously we are going to, and we believe that will greatly accelerate the time, so we're looking forward to coming back sooner."

The best spot for sailaway on every Royal Caribbean cruise ship

In:
25Sep2020
By: Matt Hochberg

When your Royal Caribbean cruise ship begins to sail away from port and your cruise actually begins, you will probably want to have the best spot to enjoy the view as your ship departs.

There is plenty going on during sailaway on a Royal Caribbean ship, and if you want to find my recommendation for the best spot to enjoy sailaway, here is a list of the top spot on every ship in the fleet.

Keep in mind that this is a very subjective list, as there is no way to qualitatively determine the superior spot. I have chosen some good places that should fit most people's needs, but keep in mind you should scout out your own spot ahead of sailaway and determine what you want in a sailaway spot.

Some people prefer there to be music and a party, ample beverages available, or perhaps the best view possible.

Top sailaway spots for every ship

Spectrum of the Seas: Bridge wings near Solarium, or anywhere on top deck

Symphony of the Seas: Bridge wings on deck 14

Ovation of the Seas: Bridge wings near Solarium, or anywhere on top deck

Harmony of the Seas: Bridge wings on deck 14

Anthem of the Seas: Bridge wings near Solarium, or anywhere on top deck

Quantum of the Seas: Bridge wings near Solarium, or anywhere on top deck

Allure of the Seas: Bridge wings on deck 14

Oasis of the Seas: Bridge wings on deck 14

Independence of the Seas: Helipad on deck 4

Liberty of the Seas: Helipad on deck 4

Freedom of the Seas: Helipad on deck 4

Jewel of the Seas: Helipad on deck 5

Serenade of the Seas: Helipad on deck 5

Mariner of the Seas: Helipad on deck 4

Brilliance of the Seas: Helipad on deck 5

Navigator of the Seas: Helipad on deck 4

Radiance of the Seas: Helipad on deck 5

Adventure of the Seas: Helipad on deck 4

Explorer of the Seas: Helipad on deck 4

Voyager of the Seas: Helipad on deck 4

Vision of the Seas: Solarium or anywhere on top deck

Enchantment of the Seas: Solarium or anywhere on top deck

Rhapsody of the Seas: Solarium or anywhere on top deck

Grandeur of the Seas: Solarium or anywhere on top deck

Majesty of the Seas: Viking Crown Lounge

Empress of the Seas: Anywhere on top deck

Other great spots for sailaway on any ship

Your balcony

If you are staying in a balcony or suite cabin, you have access to your own private spot to enjoy sailaway.

Having a balcony is a quieter experience than sailaway on other decks of the ship, and it allows you to see the scenery going by from the comfort of your balcony, or even from inside the room with the blinds open.

Families with young children may find sailaway from their balcony room a great choice, since the child can nap or play quietly while you still get to see everything going by.

Pool deck party

Weather permitting, there will be a party somewhere on the ship that coincides with sailaway. 

You can expect a DJ playing fun music and crew members leading everyone in dancing.  In addition, the nearby bars are open and waiters taking drink orders as well.

The sailaway party is usually a safe bet if you are new to cruising, or looking for where to go where most others will congregate.

Spa

If you are looking for an alternative way to enjoy sailaway, how about from the massage table at the Vitality Spa?

The spa is open on embarkation day, and some of the best deals are offered to anyone who wants to book a treatment on the first day of the cruise, especially during sailaway. Since there are less people willing to skip sailaway, the deals can be quite lucrative.

Plus, getting a massage is a fun and relaxing way to kick off your cruise vacation.

What is your favorite sailaway spot?

Which sailaway spot do you love to go to? Share the ship and place you love to go for sailaway in the comments!

Royal Caribbean's option to defer your cruise until next year expires in less than a week

In:
25Sep2020
By: Matt Hochberg

One of Royal Caribbean's most popular ways to move a booked cruise during the shutdown is about to expire.

The Lift and Shift program allows guests to take a booking they have and move to next year, while keeping the price they have locked in from this year.

Lift and Shift is set to expire as an option to use at the end of this month, and RoyalCaribbeanBlog has learned there are no plans to extend it.

An email from a Royal Caribbean Strategic Account Manager confirmed the program is set to expire, "Currently we do not have a plan to extend the Lift & Shift past this end of the month.  Should anything change with the Global suspension, dates will be adjusted accordingly. "

Since being offered as an option during the global cruise shutdown, Lift and Shift has proven to be a practical and lucrative option for guests who simply wish to push off their cruise until the same time next year.

Not only does it avoid having to cancel a reservation, get a refund, and then re-book and re-pay for everything, it also allows the guest to keep their current price, which is often lower than the price of a cruise next year.

Until September 30, guests can protect their original cruise fare and promotional offer by shifting to a future sailing on the same itinerary type, length, stateroom category and within the same four-week period of their original cruise date same time next year.

Guests are eligible to rebook under the Lift & Shift guidelines between now and September 30, 2020. After this point, Lift & Shift expires and is no longer eligible.

Note that while Lift & Shift is set to expire, the Cruise with Confidence program still allows customers to cancel their cruise up to 48 hours before their cruise and recieve a Future Cruise Credit for sailings that set sail on or before April 30th, 2022.

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