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Cruising with vaccinated kids: What to expect on Royal Caribbean

In:
28 Jan 2022

We recently took a Christmas cruise on Enchantment of the Seas out of Baltimore.  This was the first sailing of Enchantment out of Baltimore after their preliminary test cruise.  We had been hoping that a Covid vaccine would be approved for 5-11 years old age group as it would greatly simplify our trip.

Enchantment of the Seas | Royal Caribbean Blog

The CDC did approve a COVID vaccine for the age group in early November, making mid-December the earliest a child could be fully vaccinated with the 14 day post vaccination period. This made our trip one of the first sailings where there be COVID vaccinated children ages 5-11 on board.  

As this age group was just approved for the vaccine, there was not the option to upload their vaccine card into the Royal Caribbean App prior to boarding.  We took a photo and had physical copies of everyone’s vaccine cards with us.  This was our first cruise since January 2020, so this was our first experience with the new COVID protocols as well.

Vaccinated people need to have a COVID test 1-2 days prior to boarding.  Unvaccinated children need a PCR test no more than 3 days prior to departure and an antigen test at the port.  Having everyone in the group vaccinated did simplify which test was needed and when it had to be done.  We had plans to arrive in Baltimore a few days prior to the cruise, so we brought our pre-purchased approved home tests to do in the hotel.  

We also made appointments at a CVS near our hotel for testing the day prior to our cruise leaving as a back-up plan, ensuring we wouldn’t have to scramble if there were any issues with the home test.  On various Facebook groups, people have reported that their test kit was missing the dropper bottle or it was empty.  Other people had reported that they couldn’t get a proctor when they needed to for the home test.  Another variable out of our control was the reliability and speed of the hotel Wi-Fi.  

As the home tests come in packs of three or six and we are a family of 4, we ordered the six pack, giving us two back up kits if needed for an indeterminate or defective test kit.  Thankfully the all test kits worked well for us and the hotel Wi-Fi was adequate. We were able to do two tests at a time using two phones. This cut down the time away from our vacation fun by half the time.  Major and I did our tests first and then we helped the kids with their tests when ours were done.  

As soon as we had confirmed negative test results in the Navica App, we cancelled the CVS appointments so they would be available for other people.  It was nice to have that backup, and not need to worry about getting a “Plan B” if there were any issues with the home test.  We have also heard about people having their CVS and Walgreen’s appointments cancelled last minute as well, so I’m glad that we didn’t need to find a “Plan C”.  

Once we arrived at port there was a mild bit of confusion with staff to find the correct line for us.  Staff immediately wanted to place us in the unvaccinated children line to be tested prior to boarding.  We had to explain that our children were fully vaccinated; this seemed to confuse them at first.  After several staff determined that we could be in the vaccinated line, we then had to find the correct vaccinated line as there was one for general boarding and the other for suite guests.  

Once through security, the check in person needed to take pictures of the kid’s vaccine cards and upload them to the Royal Caribbean system, since there was not an option to do this at home.  As they were using a new computer system, this took a bit longer than usual for check in.  However, with a bit of patience and help from one of the computer system trainers, we were on board in no time. 

When we arrived at our room there were two white Royal Caribbean logoed adult masks and two kids cloth masks with rainbow fish.  I thought that the kids’ masks were super cute.  There was also a small bottle of hand sanitizer in the room for us.  The kids muster station bracelets were already in the room as well, rather than us having to go to a check in station for them.  

All vaccinated guests receive fabric bands that indicate their status as vaccinated.  This is a “one size fits all” band and cinches up like a zip tie, so once it is on it can’t be loosened.  This leaves some annoying tails.  One strategy to deal with them is to place the band on the same side as your watch and tuck the tails under your watch band.  For the kids, we trimmed the tails, but learned you need to seal the raw ends as the bracelet will soon begin to unravel. 

After replacing a couple unraveled bands we tried fingernail polish which did the trick.  If you do need a new one because it broke or it is too tight, a quick stop at guest services (or the concierge if you are in a suite or Diamond and above) will fix that.  My daughter went through 3 bands during the course of the cruise.  

Vaccination status did not appear to affect the use of Adventure Ocean, however since we did not sign our kids up, I cannot comment on this.  As my son turned 11 on this cruise and my daughter is 9, they are starting to lose interest in Adventure Ocean and are enjoying the evening shows with us more.  We did not want to take a spot from someone else who would need it or want it more than we did.  

As the kids were vaccinated, they were free to roam the ship with us, we could sit in the main level of the theater and they could enjoy trivia in the Schooner bar with us. Unvaccinated families had to sit in the balcony of the theater and had different dining room floor as well.

The Park Café is in the Solarium, which was vaccinated only, so our children were able to go there.  That was their favorite place to grab a slice of pizza when they needed a midday snack after swimming.  

Speaking of food, we were also able to have our regular early dining time at the main dining room reserved for vaccinated guests.  We were able to be seated with our friends who also had vaccinated children the same ages as ours. 

Despite being a Christmas cruise, there were not as many children as I anticipated seeing.  Finding a table in the Windjammer could still be a challenge as several tables were not in use due to social distancing.  You would need to look for the card on the table to see if it was able to be used.  Sometimes that could take a bit of searching even with the smaller number of guests on board.  

Having everyone vaccinated allowed us to leave the ship at Nassau without a Royal Caribbean excursion scheduled.  We all needed to wear masks off the ship, per Bahamian rules.  We took our vaccine cards with us at Grand Island and Nassau. 

One thing that changed with COVID and was a nice addition was the ability to scan a QR code and order pool towels to be delivered to the room the morning of port rather than standing in a line to check in or check out towels when getting on or off the ship.  

As my kids spent a great majority of time either in our room (the Royal Suite) or at the pool, there was not much time where they really needed to wear masks. 

The lifeguards enforced a limit of 10 people in the pool at one time.  They were also very good at not letting anyone hog the pool the entire time it was open.  At regular intervals the lifeguards asked guests who had been in the pool the longest to allow others who were waiting to have a turn swimming. 

Our lanyards served double duty holding our sea pass cards as well as our masks when we were at the pool or eating.  With the breeze on the pool deck, it was important to keep the masks secured to something.

When we left our room, we would do a quick “mask check” with everyone.  More than once we had to turn around to get a mask that someone forgot.  By the end of the cruise it was second nature for all of us. 

All in all, this cruising experience was very similar to previous cruises.  Very little has changed as wearing masks is part of our daily routine. 

There was better mask compliance and vaccination rate here than at my local grocery store.  With the staff quarantined prior to our sailing, we had a full crew available to serve.  We did not have any issues going to any of our ports and the weather was beautiful. 

Everything that I could have asked for in a cruise vacation happened.  We had a perfect, almost COVID-free vacation.  

Royal Caribbean updates: adults-only beach update, new Covid testing partner & more

In:
26 Jan 2022

There's a smattering of Royal Caribbean news to share from this week of interest to most cruise fans.

Harmony of the Seas 2017 Live Blog - Matt's Cruise Preview | Royal Caribbean Blog

Just halfway through the week, and I have news tidbits to share.

New partnerships, construction updates, and deployment changes are all changes that can easily be summed up in this post as a quick way to catch you up on what's happening.

If you ever have a news tip, feel free to email it to [email protected] for possible inclusion in a future update!

New Covid testing partner

Royal Caribbean has a new Covid-19 testing partner in Quest Diagnostics.

Royal Caribbean has incorporated Quest Diagnostics as a pre-cruise and return home testing option. Quest Diagnostics is a lab with over 1,800 locations throughout the United States available to support testing needs.

You can visit QuestCOVID19.com for information on testing options.

The cruise line says guests can expect Quest to provide test results for most Royal Caribbean guests electronically (via email or through Quest’s secure patient portal, MyQuest) in 48 hours or less.

Hideaway Beach construction update

Construction is continuing at Perfect Day at CocoCay on a new adults-only beach.

Hideaway Beach is a new expansion on Royal Caribbean's private island that is scheduled to open at the end of 2022.

RoyalCaribbeanBlog reader twangster shared photos while Odyssey of the Seas visited CocoCay on January 24.

Wonder of the Seas is scheduled to begin sailings on March 4, 2022 from Fort Lauderdale.

Singapore cruises to expand to regional ports

Royal Caribbean announces new Singapore sailings on two cruise ships | Royal Caribbean Blog

Singapore was the first place Royal Caribbean was able to restart cruises after the shutdown of 2020, but they've only been short sailings to nowhere.

The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) said yesterday that Singapore is working with various governments of countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to allow cruises to visit ports.

Up until now, cruises on Quantum of the Seas from Singapore have been limited to "cruises to nowhere" that have no port stops.

First look: Royal Caribbean cruise ship begins sailing again in Singapore | Royal Caribbean Blog

Royal Caribbean has cruises on sale for sailings from Singapore to Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam on board Spectrum of the Seas. 

The Spectrum of the Seas cruises are scheduled to sail beginning on October 21, 2022, with the voyages between three and nine nights, subject to receiving the relevant governmental approvals.

Royal Caribbean returns to Jamaica

Good news to share that Harmony of the Seas docked in Falmouth, Jamaica today.


Photos by Wayland Hostetler

This is significant because Harmony is the first Royal Caribbean cruise ship to visit the island since 2020.

Omicron variant forces Royal Caribbean to extend stricter face mask rules again

In:
20 Jan 2022

Royal Caribbean will keep its Omicron variant-induced face mask rules for its cruise ships through at least mid-February.

5 recommendations for wearing masks on cruise ships by the Healthy Sail Panel | Royal Caribbean Blog

The cruise line informed passengers with cruises coming up that the new mask rules will remain in effect through February 14, 2022.

Since mid-December 2021, Royal Caribbean tightened its face mask rules due to the Omicron variant.

What it's like to go on a cruise with Royal Caribbean's stricter mask rules | Royal Caribbean Blog

In an email, Royal Caribbean once again attributed the extension of the mask rules to Omicron, "With the recent uptick of COVID-19 in the world and added Omicron variant concerns, we feel it prudent to temporarily tighten our onboard health protocols to require masks indoors at all times, unless actively eating or drinking while seated."

Read moreWhat it's like to go on a cruise with Royal Caribbean's stricter mask rules

The policy requires cruise ship passengers to wear face masks while indoors, regardless of vaccination status except while eating or drinking. 

In addition to the stricter mask rules, smoking in the casino will also remain prohibited through February 14, 2022.

Would you cruise if wearing a mask is mandatory? | Royal Caribbean Blog

"We're sorry for any disappointment that this may cause," Royal Caribbean told passengers with a cruise coming up, "but hope you understand that health and safety come first.

"Despite the new requirement, we know you will still have a great time onboard."

At the end of the email, Royal Caribbean said, " If you prefer to not sail as a result of this change or would like to reschedule your cruise, we are glad to assist. Looking forward to seeing you onboard!"

This is the second time Royal Caribbean has extended the stricter mask rules since it was first implemented.

Masks are NOT required to be worn:

  • In open-air areas of the ship, unless you are in a crowded setting.
  • In the pool or any activity where they may become wet.
  • In your stateroom when you are with your traveling party.
  • While visiting our private destination, Perfect Day at CocoCay, unless you are in a crowded setting.
  • By any guest under the age of 2.

Coast Guard wont fine you for not wearing a mask on a cruise ship, but you will get kicked off | Royal Caribbean Blog

Masks ARE required to be worn:

  • While indoors in public areas of the ship, unless seated and actively eating or drinking.
  • While visiting public ports of call, where local regulations may require them.

Read moreFace masks on Royal Caribbean: What you need to know

Mask rule matches other lines

Carnival announces agreements with Port Canaveral, Miami & Galveston to restart cruises | Royal Caribbean Blog

Other cruise lines have added similar rules to combat the rise in Omicron variant Covid cases.

Carnival Cruise Line requires its passengers to use masks on all sailings until at least the end of January 2022. Carnival also banned smoking in its casinos until further notice.

Holland America matched Carnival's stricter mask rules and indoor smoking policy.

Norwegian Cruise Line also added a face mask rule for sailings through the end of January.

Do the free Covid tests the U.S. government is giving away work for a Royal Caribbean cruise?

In:
18 Jan 2022

Beginning today, the U.S. government is giving away free Covid-19 tests, so naturally people want to know if these tests are acceptable for a Royal Caribbean cruise.

Beginning on Tuesday, the Biden administration soft launched the free at-home Covid tests that you can order directly from the U.S. Postal service

People can order four at-home tests per residential address, and they represent an easy and very affordable way to get a Covid test.

Royal Caribbean requires all passengers to take a pre-cruise Covid-19 test to bring with them to the cruise terminal.

  • Vaccinated guests must show a negative COVID-19 test result for a PCR or antigen test taken no more than 2 days before boarding day. NOTE: Kids age 5 to 11 who have been vaccinated may present proof of full vaccination and follow the testing protocols for vaccinated guests.
  • Unvaccinated kids age 2 to 11 must show a negative test result for a PCR test (not antigen) taken no more than 3 days before boarding day.
  • Unvaccinated kids’ pre-cruise test cannot be taken on boarding day, because that may affect the sample taken during the kids’ test at the terminal.

Royal Caribbean does accept an at-home test, which can be conducted pretty much anywhere that you have a good Wi-Fi connection - hotel room, airport, vacation home - as long as it meets this criteria:

  • You are fully vaccinated
  • The test must have Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. FDA.
  • The self-test process must happen under live supervision on a video call with a telehealth representative.
  • The telehealth provider must issue you a result document that includes all the necessary information.
  • International guests sailing from the U.S. are able to complete their testing using telehealth test kits, providing the kit has been authorized for use by the U.S. FDA.
    • Telehealth test kits obtained internationally that do not meet this requirement will not be accepted. 

So can you use these tests for your pre-cruise test? Probably not.

The third bullet point is the key factor, because the free rapid tests the government is distributing are generally not the type that are proctored.

As of right now, the only at-home test Royal Caribbean accepts is Abbott's BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card Home Test (not to be confused with the Abbott’s BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Self Test).

Read moreI tried the at-home Covid-19 test that Royal Caribbean accepts

I tried the at-home Covid-19 test that Royal Caribbean accepts | Royal Caribbean Blog

When ordering the free tests from COVIDTests.gov, there is no indication which test you will actually receive.

For now, your best bet is to order the tests anyway because they are free and sooner or later having access to rapid Covid-19 tests is going to be something you will likely benefit from having around.  If they are the BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card Home Test, you're set, but if not, you can plan to buy those seperately.

You can purchase the BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card Home Test from eMed.com or Optum. eMed sells a six pack for $150 for six Covid tests, or $25 apiece.

The good news is part of the initiative by the Biden administration to provide easier testing accessibility is you can save the receipt to get reimbursed by your health insurance company later.

We asked our readers what they're most concerned about going on a cruise right now

In:
17 Jan 2022

There are plenty of challenges when traveling right now, so which of these are the top concern for cruisers?

Why do cruise ships float? | Royal Caribbean Blog

Royal Caribbean, and other cruise lines, have had to adjust their health protocols and plans due to the Omicron variant. Some ships had to cancel cruises, itineraries changed, activity schedules altered and more.

I wanted to know which concern is the top one for most cruisers to get a sense of what potential issues are at the top of everyone's mind.

The point of running this poll was to really see which issues cruise fans thought about, and which concerns were less important.

Royal Caribbean's plan to avoid a ship getting quarantined | Royal Caribbean Blog

I posted a Facebook poll with the question which of these options is your number one concern you have about going on a cruise ship right now?

  • Missed ports of call
  • Government restrictions coming home
  • Getting sick
  • Cruise being cancelled
  • Having to wear a mask onboard
  • Less activities/entertainment onboard
  • Getting quarantined
  • Getting (and passing) a Covid-19 test prior to the cruise
  • Other

In less than 24 hours, 2,893 people participated in this unscientific poll and the results were a bit surprising in some cases.

Quarantine

How Royal Caribbean provides medical care at sea | Royal Caribbean Blog

The number one concern among the respondents was having to quarantine onboard the ship because they, or someone in their family, tested positive for Covid-19 onboard the ship.

Passengers that test positive for Covid-19 are brought to an area of the ship with rooms dedicated for quarantining guests while they recover.

Jane Allen summed up the quarantine issue for many, "We could even live with quarantine if we could keep our balcony room, but to be locked in a room where we could not have doors open would be too much."

CDC drops 14-day quarantine requirement after international travel | Royal Caribbean Blog

Dru Mason wrote, "I understand the reasoning behind moving positive cases to a deck specific to quarantine, however, I would be disappointed to lose my cabin."

Blanche Bryant wishes the quarantine process could allow for them to be in their own cabin, "I wouldn't mind the quarantine so much - if I could stay in my original cabin."

Read moreWhat happens after testing positive for Covid on Royal Caribbean cruise ship

Getting sick not high on the list

What happens when you test positive for Covid on Royal Caribbean | Royal Caribbean Blog

Actually catching Covid-19 as a concern ranked number 6 in the poll, which may be reflection of a cruise audience that is vaccinated (and possibly boosted), as well as perhaps the less-serious nature of the Omicron variant.

The surprising result in this poll for me was the fact having to get and pass a Covid-19 test before the cruise came in a close second in the results.

Pre-cruise test

You need to get a Covid test before your Royal Caribbean cruise 2 days, not 48 hours, before your cruise | Royal Caribbean Blog

Anxiety among people that have a cruise and need to find somewhere to get a test done, and then hope no one tests positive, ranked high because that would put their entire cruise in jeopardy.

Tracie Rohner found getting a test for her unvaccinated child is a major challenge, "Getting my two year old a PCR test 3 days prior to boarding. It is so hard to get a child tested if they aren’t over the age of three. Local pharmacy will not test two year olds. "

Charleen Rader shared it's been difficult to get tests done with regularity, "We ran into problems getting tested, places are changing their policies almost daily about who they will or won't test, make an appointment and hope they follow through."

Royal Caribbean Post Round-Up: September 5, 2021 | Royal Caribbean Blog

Melissa Chin thinks the test coming back without feeling sick gives her concern, "Passing the test prior to boarding simply because of the potential of being asymptomatic. "

Mark Greenwald also thinks the potential for a last-minute cancellation because someone tests positive give him pause, "The pre-test is the most stressful."

"Knowing that all the excitement, anticipation, planning could be tossed out the winner 2 days prior, especially when there are flights, hotels, pet boarding involved, really ruins the excitement of the countdown. It's like a dark cloud."

Poll results

The poll was an interesting look in the different opinions on what worries cruisers the most. 

It seems the vast majority of respondents are planning to sail, but they certain think about potential pitfalls that could interrupt their vacation plans.

It's understandable why the answers were so widespread because how much of a risk there is will always subjective.

Royal Caribbean cancels sailing on Independence of the Seas due to Covid-19

In:
14 Jan 2022

One sailing of Independence of the Seas has been cancelled due to Covid-19.

Guests sailing on the January 22, 2022 2-night cruise were informed today about the cancellation.

In the email, Royal Caribbean says the cruise was cancelled, "as a result of ongoing Covid-related circumstances."

If you're wondering why one two-night cruise was cancelled, it may have to do with two chartered sailings that were scheduled to sail before and after it.

An 8-night charter cruise on Independence of the Seas was supposed to set sail on January 22 was cancelled as well.

The January 14 sailing of Independence of the Seas had been a chartered 8-night sailing, known as "The Super Cruise XIV", put on by Capital Jazz.

On the charter website, the group said their charter was cancelled on January 7, "The supercruise program scheduled for January 14-22, 2022 has been canceled due to the recently issued CDC level 4 alert for cruise ships."

It also appears the January 24 cruise was a charter that was cancelled. This was the K-Love charter cruise, scheduled for January 24 - 29, 2022.

According to the K-Love website, it was cancelled due to Covid concerns, "Unfortunately, the current health and wellness challenges make it impossible to deliver the K-LOVE Cruise experience at this time."

In the case of both charters, it appears the group organizing the cruises cancelled the sailing.

Independence is the latest cruise ship to be cancelled due to Covid-19.

Royal Caribbean cancelled sailings on 4 ships last week due to Covid-19 cases among the crew.

8 things to love about Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas | Royal Caribbean Blog

Crew members that test positive for Covid-19 are isolated and quarantined.

If a cruise ship has too many crew members that test positive, the cruise line pulls the ship out of service so that it can give the crew time to recuperate before restarting cruises again.

All cruise lines are working around the issues caused by Covid, as the Omicron surge has seen cases rise everywhere. Almost 900,000 people testes positive for Covid-19 in the United States on Thursday, which is almost 10 times the amount that tested positive a few weeks ago.

Royal Caribbean gets CDC approval for Independence of the Seas to sail | Royal Caribbean Blog

Unlike land-based businesses that have barely any health protocols, cruise lines have the most stringent and most scrutinized industry of all, reporting directly to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with their testing protocols and numbers.

Royal Caribbean, and other lines, require mask wearing, pre-cruise tests, and social distancing. All crew members are fully vaccinated, and all passengers 12 years old and older are required to be fully vaccinated.

Will my cruise be cancelled?

Independence of the Seas Live Blog - Day 3 | Royal Caribbean Blog

Royal Caribbean intends to sail as many of its ships as possible going forward, so you should plan on your booked cruise to happen until something changes.

Covid-19 is impacting all businesses in a way that it can wreak havoc on having proper staffing levels.

The bottom line is any scheduled cruises you have scheduled now are still planned to happen.

'They sensationalize it for a cheap headline': NCL CEO talks Covid impact with Dr. Gottlieb

In:
13 Jan 2022

In a press conference today, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, Chairman of the Council for Norwegian Cruise Line’s SailSafe program, & Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings President and CEO Frank Del Rio, provided an update and answered questions from travel agents relating to Omicron and the future of cruising.

This briefing comes just days before the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) expires on January 15. With this new phase, cruise lines will move from mandatory to voluntary protocols.

Noting the success of the cruise lines, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky expressed her approval of cruise ship performance under the CSO, saying "the industry has stepped up".

In a decidedly optimistic tone, Dr. Gottlieb, who is also co-chair of Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line’s joint Healthy Sail Panel, discussed a number of cruising topics especially as it relates to the spring and summer season. Here are some of the key points from the discussion.

Why is the cruise industry being singled out?

Carnival CEO: "By the end of this year, most, if not all, of our fleet will be in action" | Royal Caribbean Blog

An important part of the discussion today related to why the cruise industry is being held to a higher standard than other recreational activities such as theme parks, hotels or airlines.  

Dr. Gottlieb noted that cruising, unlike many other leisure activities, has testing, protocols and vaccinations requirements. It is a tightly controlled environment. When you go to a hotel or restaurant, there is no way to measure risk.

The cruise industry is the only one that has rigorous testing and reporting for Covid. Consequently, the media and some politicians grab hold of this, sensationalizing the issue. The companies’ commitment to health and safety has paradoxically provided the data and information to create fear in some cruisers' minds.

When will Omicron Peak?

Royal Caribbean says Omicron variant fears have only had a short-term effect on bookings | Royal Caribbean Blog

Dr. Gottlieb expressed his opinion that Omicron is currently peaking, especially on the East coast and more specifically, in some areas like New York, which may already be starting their decline.

There are some regions of the country, such as the Midwest and Southwest that are a little farther behind in terms of their curve and will peak in another 2-3 weeks.

This latest wave was very quick to spread and should have a similarly rapid pace in decline, which would be good news for consumer confidence and the cruise industry.

Omicron’s Decline and Other Variants

Royal Caribbean says Omicron variant fears have only had a short-term effect on bookings | Royal Caribbean Blog

“Pandemics don’t last forever” Dr. Gottlieb noted. And, while it is hard to predict the future, he said that the broad consensus among experts is that this is the last major wave of infection.

With a combination of immunity from previous infections, effective vaccines, boosters, added to a growing number of therapeutics being produced, the future looks much better.  Additionally, scientists are working on variant specific boosters that will help to restore protection against infection and transmission.  

Looking to spring, Dr. Gottlieb feels like the numbers will decline significantly. And at this point, if we see another variant, it should not be serious like Omicron.

What will Covid will look like in the future?

As we look further out, Coronavirus will become endemic, perhaps by fall, and will begin to act more like the seasonal flu showing up in late winter. In fact, it should be less virulent than the flu, as it will mutate less.

Continued improvements in medicines and greater immunity will mean that the virus will have less of an impact over the long term.

Foretelling the end, Dr. Gottlieb says it won’t end in a “giant bang, but rather a whimper”.

It is safe to travel this summer?

As part of the discussion, Mr. Del Rio inquired about cruising this summer to Alaska and Europe, adding that travel agents have been getting a lot of inquiries about these destinations. Dr. Gottlieb is confident about cruising this summer, and he is planning a cruise, along with his young children.

In terms of sailings, a yes to Europe, especially Western Europe as they have been following a similar pattern to the United States in this last wave. The numbers should be much lower by summer, as should be the case in Alaska.

There are a few areas of concern though. He is more cautious as it relates to regions with less immunity, either through lower spread or less effective vaccines. He cited possible concerns with developing nations who have not had the same access to vaccines, as well as  China, which has had far less infection outside of the area of Wuhan.

CDC opens up option for cruise lines to opt-into voluntary Covid-19 protocol program

In:
12 Jan 2022

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the manner for cruise lines to transition away from the Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) once it expires.

The CDC promised its CSO will move to a voluntary program when it expires on January 15, 2022.  When it does, cruise lines can continue being part of the program if they so choose.

As reported first by Seatrade Cruise News, by volunteering to be a part of the program, cruise lines will follow all the CDC recommendations and guidance, and cruise ships will continue to receive a color status from the CDC.

Cruise lines that do not opt-in will have their color status to gray on the CDC website, which means the agency has neither reviewed nor confirmed their health and safety protocols. These gray-color coded ships will be subject to other CDC orders and regulations to the same extent as other vessels subject to US jurisdiction.

The CDC is asking cruise lines to opt in by January 21, 2022.

Changes to the voluntary program

Royal Caribbean will stop offering onboard Covid-19 tests for international passengers returning home | Royal Caribbean Blog

Under the voluntary program, the CDC is relaxing certain aspects of its monitoring.

The threshold for CDC investigation will go from 0.1% passenger cases or one or more crew cases to 0.3% of passengers and/or crew. The definition of yellow, orange, and red status will be updated to reflect the higher threshold.

The CDC will also eliminate the need to conduct test cruises (simulated voyages), along with the conditional sailing certificate application process.

Explorer of the Seas to begin her test cruise today | Royal Caribbean Blog

Other changes the CDC has made include:

  • Testing requirements will continue, and ships with at least 95% of fully vaccinated crew and passengers may continue to reduce or eliminate certain public health measures onboard, such as mask use and physical distancing.
  • Self-service beverage stations will continue to be allowed regardless of onboard vaccination status
  • Self-service food operations will begin to be allowed
  • Negative air pressure for quarantine cabins will not be required — these cabins must still be in a separate HVAC zone.
  • Isolation cabins must still have negative air pressure.
  • Port agreements between US port and local health authorities will still be needed.
  • CDC will continue to conduct routine unannounced inspections and announced outbreak investigations.

Seatrade reports the CDC will update their website on January 14 with the new program details.

Masks

The CDC will still require cruise ships to wear masks onboard ships, regardless of if the lines opt-into the voluntary program or not.

CDC Director: 'the industry has stepped up'

Allure of the Seas to begin her test cruise today | Royal Caribbean Blog

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told Congress yesterday she was pleased with what the cruise lines are doing under the CSO.

"I think the Conditional Sailing Order and the fact that the industry has stepped up and is now interested in doing and exceeding... the the compliance with the sail order without the order even necessarily needing to be in place, as is a real testimony to how well that has worked and how we've worked collaboratively with the industry."

Moreover, Dr. Walensky believes cruise lines will opt-into this voluntary program, "the cruise ship industries will continue to understand that this is a really safe practice for those industries."

Cruise industry reaction

Following the CDC's announcement, here is the official statement by the the Cruise Line Industry Association (CLIA):

Today’s announcement by the CDC regarding the planned transition of the Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) to a voluntary program recognizes the cruise industry’s unwavering commitment to providing some of the highest levels of COVID-19 mitigation found in any industry. Cruise is the only segment of travel and tourism that requires, prior to embarkation for both passengers and crew, exceedingly high levels of vaccination (approaching 100% compared to only 63% of the U.S. population) and 100% testing of every individual (21 times the rate of the U.S. on land).

When cases are identified as a result of the high-frequency of testing onboard, cruise ship protocols help to maximize onboard containment with rapid response procedures designed to safeguard all other guests and crew as well as the communities that the ships visit.

Further, cruise is the only sector that continuously monitors, collects, and reports case information directly to the CDC.

Given this oversight and the uniquely high vaccination rate required on board, the incidence of serious illness is dramatically lower than on land, and hospitalizations have been extraordinarily rare even during a time landside hospitalizations are peaking. CLIA ocean-going cruise line members will continue to be guided by the science and the principle of putting people first, with proven measures that are adapted as conditions warrant to protect the health of cruise passengers, crewmembers, and destinations.

'The industry has stepped up': CDC Director says Conditional Sailing Order will not be renewed

In:
11 Jan 2022

It looks like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will follow through on its promise to allow the Conditional Sailing Order to expire next week.

CDC extends ban on cruise ships until October 31 | Royal Caribbean Blog

At a U.S. Senate Hearing on Tuesday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told Congress the Covid-19 regulations will move from mandatory to voluntary on January 15.

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) asked the Dr. Walensky what the cruise industry can expect, citing the enormous lengths they have gone to in order to adhere to Covid-19 protocols.

Senator Murkowski wanted "assurance" that the CDC recognizes the work cruise lines have done to protect passengers, crew members, and the communities their ships visit, is what is necessary to allow the Conditional Sail Order to expire, "I understand the conditional sail order is is set to expire in a few days in recognition that the companies have practices that adhere to or even exceed the guidance in the order."

"I'd like some assurance from you that that they can count on that, that this is clear guidance and messaging to those within the industries and to those who are counting on being able to to have a season this coming summer."

Dr. Walensky confirmed the CSO will not be renewed, "We anticipate that this order will not be renewed and that the cruise ship industries will continue to understand that this is a really safe practice for those industries."

Dr. Walensky pointed out how impressive the cruise lines have been with their dedication to these protocols, "I think the Conditional Sailing Order and the fact that the industry has stepped up and is now interested in doing and exceeding, as you know, the the compliance with the sail order without the order even necessarily needing to be in place, as is a real testimony to how well that has worked and how we've worked collaboratively with the industry."

 

Senator Murkwoski wanted some insight into the summer, since it greatly affects Alaska cruises.  Dr. Walensky was not ready to make any predictions about what to expect in five to six months from now.

Walensky: "What I can't predict is what the summer will bring."

Murkowski: "I understand that, but for right now, you expect this guidance to stay in place."

Walensky: "That's my anticipation."

Florida vs CDC lawsuit will continue on Thursday | Royal Caribbean Blog

The Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) began as the No Sail order in March 2020, when the entire cruise industry shutdown due to Covid-19. 

Since then, the CDC and cruise lines worked together to craft new health protocols that would keep everyone onboard safe from spreading the disease unchecked.

All the cruise lines operating from the United States have since adopted this framework so that they can safely operate during the pandemic.

Royal Caribbean gets CDC approval for Oasis of the Seas to sail | Royal Caribbean Blog

The CSO was extended on October 25, 2021 with the understanding it would expire on January 15.  Cruise lines had said they intend to follow the CSO regardless of if it's required or not.

Since then, the Omicron variant shot up Covid numbers around the world, including cruise ships. There was concern that Omicron would change the CDC's minds.

Dr. Walensky pointed out the up tick in cases, "just over the last two weeks with Omicron, we've seen a 30 fold increase in cases on ships during this season because of Omicron."

Cruise industry met with CDC this week about cruises restarting this summer | Royal Caribbean Blog

Senator Murkowski pointed out the work cruise lines have put in over the last two years, "in fairness, the industry itself has undertaken extraordinary precautions as one industry, to make sure that people are protected from from this virus."

When the CSO ends on January 15th, it will transition to a voluntary program where the CDC will continue to oversee the industry as it always has in the past.

What does this mean for cruise ships?

The CSO transitioning to a recommendation may or may result in any noticeable changes in the short term.

Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines have already committed to follow the CSO regardless of if it's required or not. Cruise lines first indicated they would follow the CSO following Florida's legal victory against the CDC in summer 2021.

Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley said in July 2021, "We will continue to voluntarily follow all CDC guidelines and recommendations."

Some cruise fans were hoping the end of the CSO would mean a relaxing of certain health protocols, but there's been indication yet that is going to happen.  Certainly not while the Omicron variant is driving up case counts and capturing the attention of the world.

Royal Caribbean will use Serenade of the Seas as a quarantine ship for Covid positive crew members

In:
11 Jan 2022

Showing its dedication to assisting crew members, one of the Royal Caribbean cruise ships that was taken out of service will be used to house crew members from other ships that have tested positive for Covid-19.

Serenade of the Seas was one of the ships that had her cruises in January through April cancelled last week. Instead of operating cruises with paying passengers, she will join two other Royal Caribbean ships in a support role.

Almost since the onset of the Omicron variant, Royal Caribbean has done its best to care for crew members that are sick.

Unlike land-based companies that just send their workers home with little to no support, Royal Caribbean has taken the extraordinary step of taking two of its ships out of service to serve as Covid wards, where these crew members can rest and get the care they need in order to be healthy and return to work.

Serenade of the Seas is one of three ships operating in this role, alongside Rhapsody of the Seas and Vision of the Seas.

Assisting crew members across the fleet

A Royal Caribbean crew member, Martina, talked about Serenade's new role in a YouTube video she posted shortly after Serenade of the Seas stopped sailing with passengers.

"In order to relieve the pressures of the amount of Covid cases around the fleet, Serenade will perform a supporting role," Martina explained.

"We will be what they call a quarantine or a hospital ship for Royal Caribbean crew members that are Covid positive."

Royal Caribbean test cruise to Alaska should begin today | Royal Caribbean Blog

She said they would accept the non-serious cases among crew members, "They will be embarked on the Serenade of the Seas in order to get better, be well taken care off, be able to recuperate in a healthy and more isolated environment without putting pressure on the other ships still trying to sail."

Why move crew members off the ship? A Royal Caribbean spokesperson recently said the idea is to keep crew healthy crew members away from the sick ones, while simultaneously caring for all of them.

According to Royal Caribbean, transferred crew members, who are all fully vaccinated, are in isolation and are being monitored by an onboard medical team. After each crew member completes their 10-day quarantine, they return to their assigned ships.

Besides helping the crew, having less crew members on operational vessels means a better chance of cruise ships not being denied entry into a port of call due to exceeding the threshold of people onboard with Covid-19.

Martina sees this as an opportunity, and not bad news, "I don't see it as bad news. I see it as a role that I'm proud that the Serenade can take, because as you can see, it doesn't mean that cruises are stopping, not at all. We're just using our resources, I think, in a smarter way."

Why was Serenade picked to help?

Martina thinks perhaps the reason Serenade of the Seas had her cruises cancelled is because the timing works well for an upcoming refurbishment.

Serenade of the Seas is scheduled in a few months to take a break from cruises in order to undergo a multi-week refurbishment.  These refurbishments typically occur once every few years, and is a front to back maintenance visit to a shipyard.

Martina speculates that since Serenade had to leave the fleet anyway, taking her out of service a little earlier made more sense, "Since this date was coming up so soon and we were anyways just eight cruises away to stopping operations regardless for the dry dock, we're just pausing before."

Martina also points out that since Serenade started up in Alaska last summer, a lot of crew member contracts were about to expire around this time.

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