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Time running out to send your comments to the CDC on cruises restarting


There are just three days left for the public to share their ideas with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control about how cruise lines should be allowed to restart cruises.

The CDC Public Comment period ends this weekend on September 21, which means now is the time to send comments before it expires.

Since July 29, the CDC issued a Request for Information on the resumption of cruising, which is open to anyone to comment on, including cruise fans.

You are free to write anything you like, or respond to any one of the  59 different topics and subtopics about cruise that the CDC would like feedback on. These topics include questions about who should be denied boarding, what cruise lines should be prepared to offer, and more.

Why should I send a comment?

If you are wondering if it is worth your time to send a comment, the cruise industry believes the answer is a definite "yes".

The CDC has said they will use these comments in formulating a new policy for cruise ships. According to their website, "This information may be used to inform future public health guidance and preventative measures relating to travel on cruise ships."

The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has been encouraging all travel agents the importance of responding.

Cruise fans are keenly aware of the ins and outs of cruising, as well as the lengths cruise lines go to maintain a safe cruising environment.  Moreover, cruise fans certainly have a better handle on their favorite cruise line than the CDC does.

How to submit a comment

Submitting a comment on how cruises should restart to the CDC is pretty simple and you can do it all online.

To complete it online, visit the Federal Register's E-Rulemaking Portal by going to the U.S. Federal Register's website.

Be sure to use the Document ID to search for this page: CDC-2020-0087-0001.

Your comment can be up to 5,000 words, or you can instead write as long a response as you like in another document, and attach it to the submission form via the "Attach Files" box.

You are allowed to keep your submission anonymous, or include your name with the submission.

Royal Caribbean cancels remaining 2020 Australia & New Zealand cruises


Royal Caribbean announced on Tuesday morning in Australia that it has cancelled all of its scheduled sailings through the end of 2020.

The new set of cancellations applies only to sailings out of Australia and New Zealand through December 31, 2020.

A statement by Royal Caribbean indicated the cruise line made the announcement now so that guests could make alternate holiday arrangements.

"The health and safety of our guests, crew, and the communities we visit is our top priority and we are working closely with local health and government authorities towards this shared goal. Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises have extended our suspension of sailings, beyond that of the Australian government’s, to include sailings departing Australia and New Zealand on or before 31 December, 2020. This is to allow guests booked on Christmas and New Year sailings to make alternative holiday arrangements."

Guests who were booked on affected sailings will receive emails with compensation offers and choices of what to do.

Why the cruises were cancelled

The decision by Royal Caribbean International to cancel its November and December 2020 cruises comes days after the Australian government extended its ban of cruise ships entering Australian waters until mid December.

The order encompasses restrictions on overseas travel, the entry of cruise ships into Australia, the supply and sale of certain essential goods and retail stores at international airports.

At one point, Australia looked like it might be a place in the world where Royal Caribbean could start cruises again first, but that hope has quickly disappated.

The 3 most important upcoming dates for Royal Caribbean


If you are one of the many cruise fans waiting anxiously for when cruises might resume, there are three important dates to keep an eye on over the next few weeks and months.

It seems like every day something is changing related to government or corporate policy, and the situation is so fluid that it is difficult to keep an eye on exactly what will happen and when.

Just this week, Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain said in a video that he feels, more positive that we may be within sight of the end."

So if you are waiting for more news on cruises starting up, here are three important dates to monitor.

No Sail Order expiration: September 30

The U.S. Center for Disease Control "No Sail" Order is set to expire on September 30 (unless rescinded earlier), and that is a critical date for the cruise industry.

This is one of the major reasons cruises have not restarted in the United States, and it may even be a major reason why there has not really been any kind of firm talk of a timetable for cruises to start.

At the risk of jinxing things, we are just a couple weeks away from the order being lifted, which would be a major obstacle lifted for the cruise industry.

Similar to Groundhog Day, an extension means many weeks more of no cruising, but a lifting of the order would open the door for cruise lines.

Healthy Sail Panel recommendations submission: End of September

By the end of this month, two important things should occur: the conclusion of the CDC's open comment opportunity and the Healthy Sail Panel's subsequent recommendations for new policies.

In late July, the CDC began accepting comments from the public on cruise lines resuming passenger operations. The public has until September 21 to send in comments.

The Royal Caribbean Group assembled a blue ribbon panel of health experts, known as the Healthy Sail Panel, which are tasked with guiding Royal Caribbean with new recommendations on how to start cruising again safely.

The Healthy Sail Panel is waiting for the CDC comment period to end, before taking into account any new recommendations or policies that come out of that exercise.

"The Healthy Sail Panel is working diligently on recommendations for cruise health and safety," Royal Caribbean said in a recent statement. "The CDC’s open comment period ends on September 21 and the panel is taking that additional time to do its work."

All cruise lines need to submit a set of new policies and procedures to the CDC that will keep guests and crew safe once sailings resume, and you can argue that this is among the most important milestones for Royal Caribbean to hit, since it has such a deep impact.

Operational restart: November 1

You might say the November 1st date of cruises resuming that Royal Caribbean has stated is a pipe dream or a moving target, but for all intents and purposes, it is the de facto date we have to work with in terms of cruises starting.

Since cruises shutdown in March, we have seen lots of date targets come and go for when Royal Caribbean aims to start cruising again, but in a "best case scenario" of the two big dates mentioned earlier in this article being on-time, the November 1st date maybe/could/should/might be the proverbial "light at the end of the tunnel".

There are a lot of logistics that have to come into play for this to occur, but no one can deny that November 1st is still the line in the sand of when something might occur.

Essentially, we cannot ignore it, even if it is likely to change.

Miami-Dade officials slam CDC for slow response to cruise lines to restarting


The Miami-Dade Tourism and the Ports Committee met on Thursday to discuss the opening plan for cruise lines, and placed much of the blame on cruises not restarting on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The Board of Commissioners met in a virtual meeting, along with representatives from Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Norwegian and MSC cruise lines.

Vice Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa opened the meeting by pointing out the double standard of other industries being able to reopen while the cruise industry has not due to the CDC.

"While other industries have been allowed to reopen in phases, the cruise industry remains totally shut down. In April, the CDC gave the cruise industry seven days to come up with a lay-up plan, and the cruise industry worked tirelessly and gave them the plan in seven days. The CDC took 14 weeks to somewhat respond to the plan that was presented."

"They cannot wait another 14 weeks to get some feedback from the CDC. The cruise lines will need immediate engagement and action from the CDC in order to reopen."

Ms. Sosa spoke about the fact the cruise lines have been diligently working on plans, with no response or feedback from the CDC.

"The problem is that's not fair, that the CDC is not paying attention and communicating with the cruise industry on the plans that they are created so they can tell them this is right, this needs more work, so they can be prepared."

Royal Caribbean: "We're ready"

Royal Caribbean International President & CEO Michael Bayley also addressed the meeting, praising Miami officials for the support they have provided.

"If it hadn't been for the assistance that Juan and the Port of Miami provided Royal Caribbean, we would have struggled enormously with all of our guest and crew repatriations and the ongoing provisioning of our ships, which are all over the Caribbean."

Mr. Bailey spoke about how much the cruise industry contributes to the local economy, and the work Royal Caribbean is doing to get back to sailing.

"As the previous speakers have recognized, the cruise industry is truly vital to the Florida economy, contributing over eight and a half billion dollars in direct spending.

"We have been working over the past several months on the creation of a universal set of guidelines that dovetail and fit into the work that's being created by our panel, and ultimately our collective submission to the CDC.

"So we're very optimistic that we will be able to return to service. We're certainly better prepared today than we were yesterday, and we believe we will be better prepared for tomorrow."

Mr. Bailey summed up his comments with this statement, "It's time that the cruise industry returned to service and we're ready."

Royal Caribbean waiting to submit cruise restart plan

Mr. Bailey did clarify for the panel that Royal Caribbean had not yet submitted their plan for restarting cruises to the CDC. He said it would it submitted in the coming weeks.

"That plan has not been submitted to the CDC as of today. Our intention is to have that plan submitted in the coming weeks. And it corresponds with the request for information that the CDC opened up for public comment, which concludes on September the twenty first."

Ms. Sosa reiterated the need for the CDC to act quickly once the plan is submitted, and not to take a long time to respond, as they did in the spring.

"I'm going to speak from my heart. It's impossible to understand why they don't respond to at least work together to make sure that the last plan that is presented is the right one and to make sure that they don't do what they did before that they waited 14 weeks to respond to a plan."

Royal Caribbean Group CEO: "We may be within sight of the end"


Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain spoke to travel partners in a new video, offering optimism and insight during the continued cruise shutdown.

Sporting a new haircut, Mr. Fain started out by saying he feels "more positive" that the end of this period of no cruises may finally be coming to an end.

"Today, I'm beginning to feel more positive that we may be within sight of the end," Mr. Fain stated. "We're certainly not at the end, and we certainly have quite a ways to go...ut the pace of change has accelerated. Many positive developments are really beginning to bear fruit."

Later in the video, he added, "We are in sight of the downward slope. Like everything about this disease, it's a rocky slope. But we're getting closer to the other side of this crisis every day, and I'm excited about that."

Mr. Fain emphasized that while the virus cannot be eliminated, the goal now is to "control the spread to a manageable limit". He sees three tools for achieving this: better treatments, better testing and a vaccine.

"It's important to remember that the vaccine won't be an instantaneous fix. However, when we look at all these things, all these developments holistically, they combine to give us a very good hope for a normal future relatively soon."

Healthy Sail Panel update

Mr. Fain touched on the work the Healthy Sail Panel is doing, which is a combined effort between the Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Holdings.

Chaired by Governor Mike Leavitt and Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the panel is working on coming up with policies and procedures for both cruise companies to employ to keep guests safe.

Mr. Fain characterized the work being done thus far as being "pleased", especially with the work being done by the panel members.

"They have been thorough, they have been focused, and they have been engaged. They've devoted an amazing amount of time and effort to the project, and I've been blown away by their commitment."

In an example of the work, Mr. Fain explained how the panel tackled how ventilation systems work on a cruise ship. 

The panel engaged experts in conducting testing. where they developed testing protocols, set up the equipment and evaluated the results over a few weeks.

In the end, the panel was able to provide a scientific answer to Royal Caribbean's HVAC system.

Australia extends its ban on cruise ships until December


Australia has extended its ban on cruise ships entering Australian waters until mid December.

The ban, which includes overseas travel, was announced on Thursday by Australia's Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt.

An emergency period of the Biosecurity Act of 2016 will be extended until December 17, 2020. It was previously set to expire on September 17.

The order encompasses restrictions on overseas travel, the entry of cruise ships into Australia, the supply and sale of certain essential goods and retail stores at international airports.

"The extension of the emergency period was informed by specialist medical and epidemiological advice provided by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC)," according to a statement from Mr. Hunt.

"The AHPPC has advised that the international and domestic COVID-19 situation continues to pose an unacceptable public health risk," he said.

The announcement by the Australian government follows Royal Caribbean's decision a week ago to cancel all of its cruises departing from Australia and New Zealand on or before October 31, 2020.

New Royal Caribbean health policies expected no earlier than end of September


Royal Caribbean's new list of health recommendations for keeping guests and crew members safe onboard was expected by the end of August, but the new policies will not be released until some time after the CDC open comment period ends.

The Royal Caribbean Group assembled a blue ribbon panel of health experts, known as the Healthy Sail Panel, which are tasked with guiding Royal Caribbean with new recommendations on how to start cruising again safely.

When the Healthy Sail Panel was announced in early July, the timeline for the getting the first set of recommendations to Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings was by the end of August 2020.

"The panel hopes to provide initial recommendations to the cruise operators by the end of August."

RoyalCaribbeanBlog reached out to Royal Caribbean for clarification on when the new policies might be released, and a statement provided by Royal Caribbean International's Public Relations department said they are now waiting for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) open comment period to conclude.

“The Healthy Sail Panel is working diligently on recommendations for cruise health and safety. The CDC’s open comment period ends on September 21 and the panel is taking that additional time to do its work.”

In late July, the CDC began taking comments from the public that it says it will be used to inform future public health guidance and preventative measures relating to travel on cruise ships.

The CDC has been steadily sharing comments it has received on its website that include a wide array of responses, ideas, and commentary.

Who is the Healthy Sail Panel?

The joint venture between Royal Caribbean and Norwegian has assembled health experts that come from many different backgrounds and experiences working with or for the U.S. government.

Serving at the head of the new panel will be Governor Mike Leavitt, former Secretary of the U.S. Department Health and Human Services (HHS), and Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Nine other experts serve on the panel, with expertise in public health, biosecurity, epidemiology, hospitality and maritime operations.

The panel will work alongside Royal Caribbean's new Public Health & Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Calvin Johnson, who will lead the company’s public health initiatives and oversee our response to health crises. 

Read more:All the health policies Royal Caribbean has confirmed or hinted once cruises resumes

New fast and easy COVID-19 test drives Royal Caribbean stock up


Royal Caribbean Group stockholders have seen a nice bump this week in the cruise giant stock price, thanks in part to good news of a new COVID-19 test.

Abbott Laboratories announced on Thursday a "fast, $5, 15-minute, easy-to-use COVID-19 test" that has resulted in a two-day rally for cruise line stocks.

Royal Caribbean Group ($RCL) closed on Friday up 5.30%, at a closing price of $70.13. Share prices have been rocketing up since Thursday morning's announcement.

Fast and cheap testing

On Wednesday, the FDA issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) to Abbott for its BinaxNow COVID-19 Ag Card. 

The test costs $5, involves just a nasal swab, and results can be delivered in 15 minutes without any special equipment.

In addition to being cheap and fast, it is easy to use since the BinaxNow COVID-19 Ag Card works in concert with NAVICA, a new application for iPhone and Android devices that gives people with negative tests an encrypted digital health pass.

Theoretically, a cruise line like Royal Caribbean could insist guests take the test before admitted on a cruise by using the app.

According to Abbott, around 2.9% of patients taking the test receive a false negative when they're actually infected. About 1.5% of people who are not infected will receive a false positive. 

Abbott is manufacturing BinaxNow COVID-19 Ag Cards at scale in two new U.S. facilities. The company will begin shipping the test cards in September and expects to deliver at a rate of 50 million tests per month by October. 

Testing part of the strategy

While full details have not yet been released, Royal Caribbean has said COVID-19 testing is likely to occur.

Royal Caribbean International CEO Michael Bayley recently commented that testing is going to be one aspect of the protocols to expect onboard.

"Testing is part of the thinking that we have not yet reached a point in our protocols where we're ready to publish and release for for discussion," Mr. Bailey started, "But it's very likely that testing will occur."

The winning combination

Taking into account Abbott's testing, along with a slew of new vaccine news, Wall Street seems to think the dual-pronged approach that addresses developing a vaccine as well as preventing infection is a good sign for the cruise lines.

A pair of new vaccine candidates from VBI Vaccines was also announced on Thursday, joining a field of other vaccines in various stages of testing.

In short, the more news about promising and effective testing and vaccines, the more positivity the market is showing cruise lines might get back to business sooner than later.

Note: Matt Hochberg has no position in any of the stocks mentioned, nor does he own any cruise line stock.

Royal Caribbean cancels all Australia & New Zealand cruises until November due to Coronavirus


Royal Caribbean Group announced it will cancel all sailings departing from Australia and New Zealand on or before October 31, 2020.

In addition, Royal Caribbean suspended China itineraries on Spectrum of the Seas through the end of September and Quantum of the Seas through October 1, 2020.  

The announcement made on Thursday morning in Australia matches the cancelled cruise status in North America and Europe.

Royal Caribbean issued a statement that the decision to cancel cruises in Australia was made out of a necessity for safety.

The health and safety of our guests, crew, and the communities we visit is our top priority. As we work with health and government authorities toward this shared goal, Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises will be extending the suspension of sailings to include those departing from Australia and New Zealand on or before October 31, 2020. We will be reaching out to our guests and travel partners to share further details and address any questions or concerns they may have.

The announcement comes weeks after Royal Caribbean Group executives hinted there was a chance cruises could resume first in Australia.

Royal Caribbean International CEO Michael Bayley noted that while cruise operations are suspended until November, Australia and China are the exceptions.

"It may well be possible that we'll resume operations in China and potentially Australia before the end of October."

Mr. Bayley was quick to add that "there's some possibility" of it happening, but far from a certainty.

Royal Caribbean Group Chief Medical Officer talks vaccines, testing and cruise ship safety


Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain shared a new video where he spoke with the cruise giant's new Global Head, Public Health and Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Calvin Johnson about Royal Caribbean is doing to tackle the challenges ahead with COVID-19.

Dr. Johnson was introduced in late July as the first Chief Medical Officer for Royal Caribbean Group, where he will be responsible for will tackling the needs of the global health and wellness policy, manage its public health and clinical practice, and determine the strategic plans and operations of its global healthcare organization.

Dr. Johnson started off by giving an update on what is new in testing, therapies, and vaccines.

"While vaccines are not an overnight bullet, they certainly are a game changer in terms of protecting us and protecting the individual," Dr. Johnson explained. "There are a number of vaccine candidates that are in what's called clinical trials."

"And those are the the scientific studies and tests of safety and their effectiveness that go through a few different phases to see and make sure that, one, they won't hurt people when they're taking their effectiveness."

"And two, that they'll be effective in getting our body to to generate an immune response to protect against, in this case, the coronavirus. "

Advances in testing

In addition, the important of testing was emphasized by Dr. Johnson, "testing is actually a very important tool in terms of coronavirus, both in terms of diagnosing it and in terms of helping us to contain the spread."

Mr. Fain specifically mentioned a new saliva test, which he feels will be a "game changer" for enabling fast and easy testing.

"This new test we're hearing about this ability to do it based on saliva, that will really be a game changer because it's fast, it's easy, and allowed to do so many tests that we can really get this thing under control. Some people calling it a suitable vaccine"

Dr. Johnson also seemed excited about this new test, "This saliva... test is one where it's not very invasive to to get it....And we expect it to be increasingly accurate over time."

Cruises starting up again

Dr. Johnson also spoke about the efforts Royal Caribbean is making to get back to cruising, while keeping things as safe as possible for guests and crew.

Under his leadership, Dr. Johnson will be in charge of keeping 75,000 crew members and 4-5 million guests per year.

He believes technology will be an important tool to assess health status, and gather data.

"Another area, Richard, is analytics and using that that data in a way that really informs us about how we can improve and be more efficient, whether it's our public health inspections or whether it is again delivering direct care, all focused on preventing illness primarily, but certainly recognizing it early and preventing those negative outcomes."