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Coronavirus

Miami-Dade Mayor asks CDC to allow cruise ships to restart

In:
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22Mar2021

Another politician has reached out to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) to get an answer on when cruises will be able to restart.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava sent a letter to CDC Director, Rochelle Walensky, looking for a way for cruises to restart in July.

In the letter, Mayor Cava explained the critical role cruise ships play in the economy of South Florida, as well as the stringent protocols cruise lines have adopted to ensure they can operate in a safe manner.

In addition, Miami-Dade County pledged its support in working with the CDC, "to establish a plan to safely re-open the cruising industry."

"Restarting cruising is critically important to saving hundreds of thousands of good-paying American jobs, including thousands of unionized longshore (ILA and ILWU) positions. In Miami-Dade County alone, cruise activity generates approximately $7 billion and 40,000 jobs annually. It supports multiple sectors of the economy from ground to air transportation, food and beverage, lodging, manufacturing, agriculture, travel agencies, hotels, port services, and a broad range of industries that stretch across the U.S."

As stated in the executive summary from the last No Sail Order, one of the concerns the CDC has had is the spread of Covid by cruise ships among port personnel, and communities.

The Mayor said they are seeking to establish the first of its kind in the country on-site COVID testing lab in PortMiami.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava

"Our County is already operating under the health and safety protocols established by the CDC, with continued communication between PortMiami, the cruise industry, and the CDC Miami Quarantine Station."

Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley thanked Mayor Cava on Facebook for her initiative, "Thankful for Mayor Daniella Levine Cava’s partnership as we find our way back to service."

The Mayor of Miami-Dade County is one of many political leaders who has reached out to the CDC for answers on what is happening with regard to cruise ships getting approval to open back up again.

In December 2020, the Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Chair of the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) sent a lettter to the CDC and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) asking why they have not received records related to decisions made surrounding the cruise industry.

Mayor Cava's predecessor Carlos A. Gimenez called on the CDC back in September to open up cruises.

Also in September, the Miami-Dade Tourism and the Ports Committee slammed the CDC openly for its slow response to cruise lines.

Everything we know about if Royal Caribbean will require a vaccine

In:
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18Mar2021

Ever since Covid-19 vaccines were announced, there has been rampant speculation if cruise lines will require passengers to get the vaccine or not.

Over the last few months, there has been plenty of sound bites, quotes, and interviews by various Royal Caribbean executives on the issue of vaccines, but what is the answer right now?

In an effort to make it clearer for everyone to more easily understand what Royal Caribbean's stance is on a Covid-19 vaccine, here is a summary of where things are right now.

This information was updated April 11, 2021.

Crew members will be vaccinated

It is clear that Royal Caribbean intend to have its crew members get the vaccine before sailings restart.

Royal Caribbean informed its crew members that it expects vaccinations will be required for crew as part of the plan for cruises to start back up.

Prior to making that decision, Royal Caribbean sent out a survey to all of their crew members and got back 32,000 responses, with 98% of the responses being in favor being required to get the Covid vaccine in order to work.

It is not clear yet when or how this will occur, but the intention is certainly there.

No decision yet if passengers will be required to get a vaccine

Royal Caribbean has not made a fleetwide decision if it will require guests to have received a vaccine and/or prove antibodies in order to cruise.

Thus far, two ships will require adults to be fully vaccinated adults (kids under 18 will be tested):

Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain said in a March 2021 video update that no decision has been made, but they are looking into the possibility.

"Whether we will require vaccines of all of our guests on all of our ships hasn't been decided yet, but we are prepared to go where the science leads us."

A statement by the cruise line to RoyalCaribbeanBlog echoed Mr. Fain's words that there has been no decision made yet.

"We have been working in collaboration with government authorities, medical professionals and experts to continue to develop our plan to keep our guests, crew and communities we visit safe. The new COVID-19 vaccines present a new opportunity to do just that. The vaccines are a way to build protection for everyone involved and we continue to look into all options that will assist in keeping people safe. "

For what it is worth, Royal Caribbean sent an email survey in March 2021 asking a number of passengers if they have received a Covid-19 vaccine and if they intend to get one.

Whether or not guests will have to be vaccinated is a decision that Royal Caribbean will look to the Healthy Sail Panel to make.

Mr. Fain's response put the decision on if requiring the vaccine is a good idea on the panel of experts so that the cruise line can make the best decision based on the panel's guidance.

"We have the experts and we'll let them guide us."

Adults on five cruise ships will require a vaccine

There are four exceptions so far, and that is anyone over the age of 16 years old sailing on Odyssey of the Seas from Israel, and anyone over 18 years old on Anthem of the Seas, Adventure of the Seas, Vision of the Seas, and Jewel of the Seas will be required to get the vaccine.

As part of the agreement between Royal Caribbean and the State of Israel, sailings on Odyssey from Haifa, Israel in 2021 are restricted to only residents of Israel.

Anthem of the Seas, Adventure of the Seas, Vision of the Seas, and Jewel of the Seas will be available to adult guests who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and those under the age of 18 with negative test results.

Royal Caribbean's plans for Israel are independent of the rest of the fleet, as it was developed specifically for that market and ship.

What about other cruise lines?

If you want to peek over the fence and see what other cruise lines are thinking, there is an equal amount of indecision there as well among Royal Caribbean's peers.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. (NCLH) announced on April 5, 2021 a plan to restart cruises with requiring 100% of its guests and crew members to be vaccinated in order to sail.

Carnival Cruise Line has not made a decision if their passengers will be required to get a Covid vaccine or not.

Some other smaller and/or luxury cruise lines have said they will require their guests to get a vaccine including:

  • Virgin Voyages
  • SilverSea
  • P & O Cruises
  • Crystal Cruises
  • Saga Cruises

Stuck at sea: One year since Covid-19 shutdown cruise ships

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13Mar2021

Exactly one year ago today, Royal Caribbean announced it would shut down its cruise ships for the next 30 days. Neither that announcement, nor what would transpire over the next 12 months, seemed possible to last, and yet that is exactly what happened.

In fact, the entire cruise industry voluntarily announced it would shut itself down the next day due to the rapid spread of Covid-19 around the world.

One year later, we are still as uncertain about when cruises might actually restart en masse as we were one year ago.

The lost year

The decision to cancel every cruise ship sailing was not the first tactic employed by cruise lines to bolster confidence in consumers while still operating cruises during the early days of Covid.

Two months earlier, Royal Caribbean cancelled its first cruises due to Covid, with a series of Spectrum of the Seas sailings cancelled on January 27, 2020.

At the end of January 2020, Royal Caribbean announced new screening procedures for its cruise ships that denied entry to guests of certain countries (mainland China and Hong Kong). New protocols were added onboard, such as professional medical treatment; quarantine of unwell individuals from the general ship population; and intensified ship cleaning, air filtration, and sanitization procedures.

Moving into February, a total of 18 sailings had been cancelled by February 14, 2020.

In early March, mandatory temperature screenings were added to the cruise check-in process.

By this time, the government started to get more involved in what was happening with cruise ships. On March 8, United States State Department issued a travel warning to US citizens against going on a cruise ship because of Coronavirus fears.

However, the reality of the rapid spread of the virus was becoming all too clear, and Royal Caribbean pulled the plug for 30 days beginning at midnight on March 14.

One month turned into two, which turned into three, and then cancellations became a monthly routine. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease control moved to prohibit cruise lines from restarting service with its "No Sail Order", which dominated much of 2020.  The order was extended a few times, and effectively banned cruise ships from operating from U.S. waters.

The rest of the spring, summer, and fall, saw no cruise ships sailing and just speculation regarding if or when the CDC would relent and allow cruise ships to restart.

The first good news came in the summer when Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings announced a joint-effort to craft health protocols meant to keep passengers safe through a variety of new health protocols.

The Healthy Sail Panel was comprised of scientists, public health officials, and epidemiologists. Their job was to look at how they could make going on a cruise as safe as possible during a global health crisis.

They came up with 74 recommendations, which have since become the cornerstone of the entire cruise industry's approach to restarting cruises safely.

At the end of October, the CDC allowed the No Sail Order to come to an end, and replaced with the a phased approach to resuming cruise ship operations in U.S. waters.

The Conditional Sailing Order for Cruise Ships outlined phases that would allow ships to resume service.

Unfortunately, all cruise lines have not received the full extent of instructions yet from the CDC on what they need to do in order to prepare for simulated voyages.

Four months after the No Sail Order was lifted, cruise lines are stil waiting for the list of things needed for test sailings to commence, and subsequently revenue cruises.

Small victories

Once cruises shutdown in March 2020, Royal Caribbean had very little good news to offer, and next to no progress on ships returning to service.

The first major accomplishment was when Quantum of the Seas began sailing from Singapore in December 2020.

Some other cruise lines had been able to restart a ship or two in Europe under tight restrictions over the summer, but Royal Caribbean did not.  Instead, the first ship to return to the water was Quantum of the Seas under a pilot program with the government of Singapore.

An array of 3- and 4-night cruises were open only to Singapore residents and had no port stops. Moreover, guests onboard would need to adhere to the comprehensive health and safety requirements developed by the Singapore government.

Since December, Quantum has sailed successfully without a single positive case onboard (although there was one false positive report).

Following the success of Quantum, Royal Caribbean said it would deploy Grandeur of the Seas to Barbados in December 2021 to offer cruises from that new homeport.

Just a few weeks ago, Royal Caribbean announced a second ship would be able to restart sailing. Its newest cruise ship, Odyssey of the Seas, would sail from Israel in May 2021 with fully vaccinated crew and guests over the age of 16.

Hope on the horizon

While there has been no indication the CDC has budged yet on getting cruise ships to move towards restarting, the world has made some rapid improvements lately.

The advent of a few different Covid-19 vaccines, coupled with a rapid distribution to the public, has many health officials (and cruise fans) optimistic about the future.

With new cases falling and more and more people becoming vaccinated, Covid is no longer the forever problem that it felt like recently.

Cruise lines have not given any kind of a schedule as to when simulated or revenue cruises might be able to restart, but the tone of the comments from cruise executives seems to be much more hopeful.

In his March video message, Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain shared his optimism with travel advisors.

"These are the most hopeful days we have had in a long time. But as we get closer to our goal, we inevitably also get more impatient to reach it."

Despite the fact cruises were the first travel industry to voluntarily shutdown due to Covid, and are the last industry to restart meaningfully, there is good (yet cautious) optimism for ships to resume sailing at some point this year.

Royal Caribbean cancels nearly all of its May 2021 cruises

In:
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09Mar2021

Royal Caribbean has officially cancelled its May cruises, further extending its voluntary shutdown until at least June.

Royal Caribbean made the announcement that none of its May cruises will be able to sail in order to provide more time to prepare to restart cruise operations.

This means its voluntary cruise shutdown extends through May 31, 2021.

There are few exceptions:

  • Quantum of the Seas from Singapore
  • Odyssey of the Seas sailings from Israel
  • China Spectrum of the Seas and Voyager of the Seas sailings from April 30 through May and beyond

The decision to cancel cruises by Royal Caribbean matches other cruise lines that have cancelled their May sailings already, including Carnival Cruise Line,  Norwegian Cruise Line and Disney Cruise Line.

Cruise operations had been suspended through the end of April 2021, but will now be extended an additional month.

Read moreWhat you should do now that Royal Caribbean cancelled your cruise

Compensation

Guests affected by the cancelled cruises between May 1 - 31,  2021, have three options for compensation.

Lift & Shift: On or before March 23, 2021, move to a qualifying 2022 sailing on the same itinerary, sailing length, embarkation port, stateroom category and departing within 2-weeks of the original sail date and your client's cruise fare/promotion is protected.

125% Future Cruise Credit: To account for the inconvenience this has caused, guests are eligible for a 125% Future Cruise Credit (FCC) that is based on the total cruise fare paid at the guest-level if neither of the other options is selected. This will be automatically issued on or before April 16, 2021 if no other option is selected.

Taxes and fees, as well as any pre-purchased amenities or onboard packages, will be automatically refunded to the original form of payment within 45 days from the cancelation date.

Additionally, if you redeemed your Cruise with Confidence Future Cruise Credit on a sailing that is now cancelled, their original FCC will be reinstated, plus 125% of any amount paid by the guest on the cancelled reservation.

Refund: If you prefer a cash refund, you can do so by requesting this option on-or-before June 30, 2021.

You can expect their refund to the original form of payment within 45 days from the cancellation date. 

If you redeemed a Cruise with Confidence Future Cruise Credit on an impacted sailing and would now prefer a refund instead, Royal Caribbean will process this request in the amount of any new funds paid above the original certificate and, in turn, will reinstate the Cruise with Confidence FCC for future use.

Cruise Planner Purchases: If you had purchased any cruise add-ons, such as shore excursions, drink packages, wifi and more, you could opt to convert your Cruise Planner purchases  to an Onboard Credit valued at 125% of the total amount paid. This offer expires on March 23, 2021.

Still more time needed

Why are cruises being cancelled still?

There are a few reasons, but the most visible rationale is cruise lines are still waiting to begin test sailings.

Before Royal Caribbean can start offering cruises again, it needs to hit all of the steps outlined by the CDC.

The CDC added all of these requirements to allow the cruise lines to test out its proposed new protocols, while protecting the health of the public in the interim period.

The three phases of getting permission to restart passenger cruises are:

  1. Testing crew members
  2. Simulated cruises to test out new protocols
  3. Apply for a Conditional Sailing Certificate

It is unknown how long it will take Royal Caribbean to complete all of the necessary steps and subsequently obtain permission to cruise again.

On February 22, Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley told investors that Royal Caribbean has been in "regular communication" with the CDC and expects to get technical instructions on what each ship needs to do in order to prepare itself for test cruises.

He also added that they were expecting instructions from the CDC soon, "We're literally expecting the technical specifications any day soon."

RoyalCaribbeanBlog has reached out to the CDC for an update on technical instructions but has not received any response.

Hope for the future

While May cruises seemed like an inevitably they would be cancelled, there is a lot of optimism among cruise fans that we are closer to cruises restarting that not.

Mr. Bayley's comments about the CDC provided a boost to many that the cruise lines are not getting the "cold shoulder" from the CDC.  While "any day" did not specify exactly when technical instructions might arrive, the sentiment echoed by him points to a fruitful relationship.

Moreover, the rollout of the vaccine to Americans has been impressive, and case numbers are down across the board. With the global health crisis heading in the right direction, this adds more clout to the notion that perhaps the public's appetite for things to open back up is increasing.

Just yesterday, Royal Caribbean sent an email survey to many guests asking about their comfort level with going on a cruise given the current situation.

Royal Caribbean now surveying guests about comfort level with booking a cruise

In:
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08Mar2021

Royal Caribbean sent out a survey to a large collection of guests with a cruise booked in the future to get a better sense of their comfort level given the current global health crisis.

Throughout Monday, many Royal Caribbean cruise fans reported receiving a survey in via email that asked many questions about a specific upcoming cruise they have booked, and their thoughts on why they booked, as well as expectations for the cruise.

Many of the questions asked guests about their feelings on if they will be vaccinated, why they booked, protocols onboard and more.

Royal Caribbean uses guest surveys quite a lot to get feedback from guests.  This particular survey seemed to be sent to a very wide range of guests, as opposed to many surveys in the past which were far more targeted.

There were many questions, but here is a look at the ones that were specific to the Covid-19.

First, they wanted to know what compelled you to book a particular cruise.

The survey also asked what level of Covid-19 protocols do you feel will be in place on the cruise.

Then the survey went into greater detail to determine which health protocols you expect to find onboard.

The role of the vaccine came up in the survery, asking if you plan to get the vaccine.

As well as if you plan to get the vaccine as soon as you can.

Lastly, the survey wanted to know if you expect to be vaccinated by the time the cruise sails.

The survey also asked questions about general travel plans coming up in the next year, as well as what someone looks for in a cruise.

The survey did not ask any questions that hinted at protocol changes. Rather, it seemed to be geared towards "taking the temperature of the room".

The survey comes after it was revealed the Healthy Sail Panel is re-evaluating its health protocol recommendations.

Royal Caribbean re-evaluating its cruise ship health protocols following stellar vaccine results

In:
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08Mar2021

Perhaps no single change has provided as much optimism that cruise ships might be able to sail again than the rapid roll out of the Covid-19 vaccine, and it looks like the rules might be changing as quickly as the vaccine gets into the public.

It now appears the group of public health experts assembled by Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings may be re-thinking their protocols.

According to an article by CruiseCritic, Royal Caribbean's vice president EMEA, Ben Bouldin, said the impact the vaccine has had prompted the cruise line to ask the Healthy Sail Panel to go over their recommendations.

"We have asked the Healthy Sail Panel to go back and revisit their findings in light of the improvements and the encouraging news vaccines provide."

"I think for all of us we'd like to get to a world where we don't have to wear masks, and for sure, on a cruise vacation, I think everyone would feel the same."

RoyalCaribbeanBlog reached out to the Royal Caribbean Group for clarification on what, if any, revisions are being made to the Healthy Sail Panel recommendations but have not received a response yet.

The Healthy Sail Panel crafted its protocols back in the summer of 2020 and they did not take into account the impact of vaccines, because at that time no one really knew what to expect.

When the Healthy Sail Panel released its 74 recommendations, it acknowledged their protocols were meant to provide guidance at that time, rather than wait for the vaccine later.

Read moreRoyal Caribbean new cruise ship health protocols include masks, social distancing, testing and more

"The Panel acknowledges that its recommendations regarding testing may change over the coming months as the testing landscape evolves, and particularly once an effective vaccine is widely available. However, given the uncertainties around the timing, availability, and performance of a vaccine, the Panel recommends waiting until there is more certainty about these issues before recommending changes to the testing protocols based on vaccine availability."

Just last week, Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain said no decision has been made yet if passengers will be required to get the Covid-19 vaccine to sail.

"Whether we will require vaccines of all of our guests on all of our ships hasn't been decided yet, but we are prepared to go where the science leads us."

Read more5 things you've probably overlooked with the new cruise protocols

Meanwhile, at least one Royal Caribbean cruise ship will require the vaccine for its adults.  Odyssey of the Seas will begin sailing from Israel in May 2021, and everyone above the age of 16 will be required to be vaccinated from Covid-19 in order to sail.

The vaccine requirement comes from the State of Israel, as opposed to a new policy crafted by Royal Caribbean.

In conjunction with Israel’s health and tourism authorities, Royal Caribbean will be the first to offer fully vaccinated sailings. Details on the additional health and safety measures to be implemented by Israel and Royal Caribbean will be announced at a later date.

Royal Caribbean UK Boss: UK only cruises have "limited appeal"

In:
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04Mar2021

Earlier this week, two cruise lines announced they would scale back their European cruises to only offer sailings from the United Kingdom, which prompts the question if Royal Caribbean would do the same.

Both Princess Cruises and P&O Cruises announced instead of sailing to destinations around Europe, they would offer sailings around the UK due to the global health crisis.

The Sky Princess, Regal Princess, and Island Princess will sail from Southampton and offer short sailings, with more details later.

P&O Cruises also announced new sailings around the British Isles for UK residents only.

Could Royal Caribbean follow suit and offer cruises from Southampton this summer to on the UK?

Royal Caribbean's vice president EMEA, Ben Bouldin, was interviewed by Travel Weekly about this very topic.

Mr. Bouldin says cruises around the UK could be done, but, "it's probably got limited appeal".

"Domestic cruising is probably looks and feels like the most likely opportunity in the short term based on the rhetoric we've had."

"I don't think Royal Caribbean for sure, is not a cruise line that wants to do that for too long."

Mr. Bouldin pointed out Royal Caribbean's cruise ships, namely Anthem of the Seas, is too large to go into many UK ports.

In terms of restarting cruises from the UK, Mr. Bouldin said they are "looking at a lot lots of options."

"I think all cruise lines are probably going to have to do some sort of test cruise. And we talked about the requirement for these test cruises previously, whether that's cruises to nowhere or whether it's cruises to a another U.K. port. I think there'll be some of those."

"It's not that we don't mind taking a bit of a punt and getting something up and running, but we need to know once we've started, there's so much cost involved in restarting that cruise program, we need to know we can continue it credibly. What we don't want to be in is this sort stop start pattern."

The topic of domestic cruising from the UK comes right after Royal Caribbean canceled its European cruise season for Odyssey of the Seas. Instead, Odyssey will sail from Israel during summer 2021.

Read moreWhy can't cruise ships sail from other countries instead?

In terms of cruises in Europe in 2021, Royal Caribbean executives spoke on this topic during their fourth quarter 2020 earnings call with investors.

Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley said that while cruises from the UK are not beholden to the jurisdiction of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the rules will likely be the same.

"We know that the operations in some of the European countries, particularly Germany, Italy, have been ongoing for the past couple of month... and those protocols that have government operations have basically been based on the Healthy Sail Panel or the CLIA member policies, and then overlaid with specific instructions by the National Health Authority."

"I think what we're going to see is very similar to what we're going to see in the United States, which is as we continue to see infections decline and vaccines increase, then we're going to move to protocols that probably are some kind of hybrid between vaccines and testing."

"We imagine that they'll be very similar to the guidelines that we'll get from the CDC."

Mailbag: Why can't cruise ships sail from other countries instead?

In:
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02Mar2021

This month marks exactly one year since Royal Caribbean, and the entire cruise industry, shut down due to the global health crisis. As things have not changed, many cruise fans are wondering why other embarkation ports are not being used.

Each week I highlight a question from a RoyalCaribbeanBlog reader that I hope will be helpful to others wondering the same thing.

Why don't the cruise lines use Nassau as a home base to "skirt the CDC"? Close, large harbor that can handle multiple large ships, and larger airport. Seems like a no brainer to me. Am I missing something? - Joe M.

Joe's question is something that has gotten a lot of attention over the last few months.  If cruises are not able to restart in the United States, why not move the ships to another embarkation port and start cruises there.

To some extent, Royal Caribbean has been doing that when the opportunity is just right. 

Most notably, Quantum of the Seas was able to restart operations in Singapore after the government there approved that ship for pilot sailings.  Since then, Royal Caribbean cancelled the entire Alaska cruise season in 2021 for Quantum so that it could remain in Singapore longer.  

In addition, Grandeur of the Seas will begin offering cruises from Barbados in December 2021, which will be a brand new homeport for the cruise line.

And just this week, Royal Caribbean announced Odyssey of the Seas will sail from Israel in May 2021 for the summer, replacing the European cruise season.

So why not expand that concept to other ships and, as Joe suggested, begin sailing from other ports?

There are a couple of good reasons why that idea is not as simple or easy as it sounds.

First and foremost, the United States is the biggest cruise market in the world, and offering cruises from the U.S. is the most lucrative option for Royal Caribbean. Domestic travel for passengers is always going to be cheaper, easier, and more readily available than traveling internationally.

No matter which port you pick outside of the country, you are forgoing a large percentage of potential customers because many are either unwilling or unable to travel outside the U.S.

Not to mention the fact that whenever cruises are able to restart in the United States, suddenly sailings from other countries will be instantly not as profitable.

Even if you disregard the logistics involved in getting passengers to other countries, offering cruises from a place like Nassau is not necessarily possible.

To offer a cruise from any port, you need more than a pier and a deep harbor.

There needs to be facilities to accommodate embarkation, check-in, and security. There needs to be facilities to bunker fuel, remove waste, replenish supplies and more.

In the case of Nassau, the cruise docks are set up for ships to visit, but embarkation and disembarkation is a different story.

While I do not claim to have intimate knowledge of the inner workings of Nassau's port facility, I have not seen check-in desks, security, and other necessary functionality for a cruise ship of thousands to be processed.

Recently, the Mayor of Cozumel proposed cruise lines using that port as a new homeport.  

Cozumel is building a new pier that could have the necessary facilities for a cruise ship embarkation, but details were light from the Mayor.

Moreover, Cozumel has its own logistical challenges, such as very few direct flights.

Considering the orchestration required to get a new port set up, arrange new cruises, and market them for booking, it is no simple task.

In addition, the global health crisis finally seems to be getting better, and there is real talk of the cruise lines being able to move towards test sailings resuming.

With momentum starting to shift back towards cruises resuming, it seems to me trying to get new homeports set up outside the United States just isn't practical.

In the case of Odyssey, Grandeur, and Quantum, these situations seem to be more unique than planned.  

Grandeur of the Seas was recalled after almost being sold to Pullmantur Cruises after they went out of business and literally had no where to go.

Quantum of the Seas began sailing from Singapore during her scheduled season, but extended her stay because staying there was a sure bet in terms of revenue.

Just like the other ships, the opportunity to sail from Israel provided another safe bet for Royal Caribbean rather than waiting and seeing if scheduled Mediterranean sailings would or would not be possible.

In the case of all three ships, none were planned as a means to circumvent U.S. regulations.  It just worked out for different reasons why they could offer cruises, and offering cruises from outside the United States is not logistically simple.

Working towards getting cruises back in the U.S. and Europe is still the best strategy from a long term business perspective.

More mailbag questions:

New study shows "exceptionally low" risk of airborne particles on cruise ships

In:
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26Feb2021

A recent study has debunked yet another stereotype about cruises, this time about the air circulation onboard.

An independent study conducted by University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) and the National Strategic Research Institute (NSRI) on Oasis of the Seas looked at air flow, and movement of particulate matter indoors.

The study was conducted in July 2020 right in the middle of the global health crisis to evaluate how a cruise ship's HVAC system worked and what risks were posed to guests and crew members.

The study found the risk associated with transmission of airborne particles between spaces, through the HVAC system, is exceptionally low and undetectable both in the air and on surfaces.

How they tested

The team of five medical scientists focused on the effectiveness and efficiency of ship air management strategies – ventilation, filtration and supply – and examined air flow across different areas of the ship, including guest staterooms, crew staterooms, lounges and other public spaces. 

They looked at guest staterooms, the casino, ice rink, comedy club, and crew quarters, and proposed to release billions of microspheres – simulating SARS-CoV-2 aerosols – to be released in separate locations across the ship.

The microspheres used in this study are spherical particles made of a plastic polymer that are coated with unique DNA barcodes so that they can be easily detected.

In this study, no exchange of aerosol particles was observed between spaces only connected by the ventilation system (such as adjacent staterooms, both crew and guest), indicating that the likelihood of aerosol exchange between adjacent rooms is very unlikely

In public spaces, the casino performed the best, since it has built-in filtering for tobacco smoke.  Nonetheless, all venues showed no evidence of aerosol or surface contamination. In general, particles released in the public areas were not observable after 15 minutes, likely due to dilution in the large spaces.

The conclusion was transmission of aerosol particles between spaces, through the ventilation system, to be undetectable on surfaces and in the air. 

Based on their findings, Royal Caribbean has adopted a few changes to add even more protection for anyone onboard.

  • Adjusting shipboard settings to allow for the maximum air changes per hour
    •  Incoming air is filtered twice when it comes into the ship, including through a MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) 13 filter
    • It then branches out across the ship through the system to be filtered again in local areas, say your stateroom or the theater
  • Upgrading to MERV 13 filters throughout the system
  • Equipped its medical facilities with an independent ventilation system and has added HEPA filters for additional precaution
  • Ocean air is continuously drawn in from one side of the ship for cooling and ventilation as the existing air is exhausted on the opposite side of the ship
    • This constant intake of fresh air, combined with the other robust components of the HVAC system, allows for up to 12 air changes an hour in staterooms and 15-20 changes in public venues
    • This frequency is twice more than what is recommended for land-based public venues by ASHRAE, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers. 

The MERV rating of a filter refers to how much it can filter particles in the air, with a higher number meaning a higher level of filtration.  The MERV ratings range between 1 and 20. A MERV rating of 13-16 is considered hospital level air quality.

A team of five medical scientists specializing in bioaerosols, led by Josh Santarpia, PhD. – associate professor, pathology and microbiology, UNMC; and research director, chemical and biological programs, NSRI – were called on to understand in detail the role of HVAC systems in spreading airborne particles on cruise ships. 

Mailbag: Should I book flights for my cruise if I'm not sure my cruise ships will sail?

In:
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25Feb2021

The uncertainty of when cruises might actually restart sailings again has a trickle down effect on second guessing a lot of other vacation decisions, including should you buy flights for a cruise that may or may not sail.

Every week I pull a popular question that RoyalCaribbeanBlog readers have been asking in case others are curious about the answer.

With the uncertainty of the Alaska cruise sailings this year, how close to our sail date should we have airline and hotel reservations? - Jamie H.

While Jamie asked about Alaska, this question can be applied to anyone with a cruise booked for later this year and trying to decide whether or not to make additional travel plans.

The issue with booking flights or hotels is laying out money for a cruise that may or may not happen, and getting a refund for it later.

Hotels are the easy answer, so let's begin there.

Most hotels allow for refundable deposits, so make sure you are only booking a refundable hotel rate.  In many cases, you many not have to put any money down in advance until either much closer to your check-in date or the day you check-in.

Your best bet is to keep tabs on hotel prices, because prices fluctuate constantly. Book only refundable rates, so you can easily cancel if the cruise ends up being cancelled.

Airfare is a bit more complicated and requires more money upfront compared to hotels.

Before the cruise industry shutdown, locking in flights for your cruise was a game of trying to time prices without risking the perfect flight times selling out.

Today, you have to balance price with flexibility.

Assuming you are willing to go on the cruise you have booked, yes, it is a good idea to book a flight to ensure you can make it to the cruise, but with a few caveats.

First and foremost, you want to book a flight that you will not be penalized for if you have to cancel.

Most airlines have pretty flexible cancellation terms these days, but make very certain there is no penalty for canceling the flight.

Unfortunately, most airlines will not refund you the money if you cancel.  Rather, you will get a credit for a future flight to use later.

Getting an airline credit is fine if it is an airline you fly regularly, but if your flight is on a different airline, this complicates the issue.  Getting a credit for an airline you will never fly is essentially throwing money away.

You could get a full refundable airfare, but refundable airfares tend to be extremely expensive.

An alternative is to book your flight directly with Royal Caribbean through their Air2Sea program.

Air2Sea is Royal Caribbean's airfare option for guests to purchase flights in conjunction with their cruise.

The nice thing about Air2Seas is because you are booking through Royal Caribbean, if the cruise line cancels the sailing, your airfare is fully refundable and the cruise line takes care of the cancellation process.

The cost of airfare will be added onto the cruise amount and payment will follow cruise payment guidelines (90 days prior to sailing).

The downside of using Air2Sea is there is an extra cost for going through the airline, but if you are considering booking international air travel and/or a flight on an airline you never fly, this might still be your best option.

Maximum flexibility is king right now, and the last thing you want to do is spend money on any aspect of your vacation that you have a good chance of never using. 

Whatever you book, be sure to consider the worst case scenario to ensure you don't regret it later.

Waiting to book

Another option is to wait a little bit longer until your cruise is closer.

Air travel is still depressed, and that means less people are flying than before the global health crisis began. 

There is a good argument to be made that waiting a few more weeks or months and perhaps paying a bit more for the flight is worth it to get a better sense of if your cruise will happen or not.

If your flight options are limited because of where you live, or where your cruise is sailing from, then you may not have a choice in waiting things out.  But if you live in a place where flights are plentiful, you might want to give it a little bit more time before pulling the trigger on a flight.

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