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South Florida Mayors ask Governor to lift ban on cruise ships asking for vaccine proof

In:
03 Jun 2021

While the public is left wondering if Florida will allow cruise ships to ask passengers for proof of a Covid-19 vaccine, Mayors of three South Florida cities are now publicly urging the Governor to change his mind.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) championed and signed into law a new bill that prohibts any company in Florida, including cruise lines, from asking customers to provide documentation certifying vaccination against or recovery from Covid-19.

Such a law makes it apparently impossible for cruise lines to restart cruises, since most are requiring its passengers to be fully vaccinated.

Over the last few weeks, everyone has been wondering if a special exemption would be provided for the beleaguered cruise industry, whom Governor DeSantis has been a major supporter.

Thus far, the Governor has not budged and insisted the law will remain in place.

Now, the Mayors of Broward County, Fort Lauderdale, and Hollywood are publicly asking the Governor to reconsider.

In a letter first shared by Miami Herald reporter Aaron Leibowitz, the Mayors sent a letter to allow cruise ships to "come up with a solution" so that cruise lines can operate.

The letters were sent by Broward Mayor Steve Geller, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis, and Hollywood Mayor Josh Levy.

The Mayors believe because cruise ships are either interstate or international commerce, they do have the right under to be regulated by the federal government.

Like the Governor, the Mayors want the cruise industry to come back so that the jobs and revenue they produce can help the Florida economy.

Governor DeSantis believes requiring the vaccine is unnecessary, and put the law into place to prevent many businesses from now prohibiting people based on their vaccination status.

Last month, the Governor explained his position on the matter of cruise ships, "What we want is the cruise lines to be open. And we want them to be able to make decisions about how they're going to how they're going to handle a lot of this stuff. That obviously is within the context of a Florida policy that respects the medical privacy of all Floridians."

"I'll hear is most people don't like the idea that if they show up at a ballgame, they got to whip out vaccination records or some things like that. But some say, well, maybe on a cruise, maybe we could do that a little different. Trust me, it will not stop at that. The minute that they start doing this, they're going to continue to do it. It will expand."

The changes predicted for cruise ships after the pandemic that never happened

In:
01 Jun 2021

The cruise industry in the United States has been shutdown for over 15 months, and in that time a lot of predictions were made of what a cruise might be like whenever they resumed.

The good news is the cruise industry is on its way back, and as we are on the precipice of ships sailing again, there are certainly a few "doom and gloom" predictions that turned out not to be accurate

One constant throughout the shutdown has been change, and what we know one month versus another month may be completely different. Some of these predictions or anticipated changes might have been accurate for the time, but were rolled back or abandoned due to many factors changing in the world around us.

I thought it might be fun to look back on the more memorable things we thought would happen to cruise ships that looks like it will not end up occurring.

Many more ships sold or scrapped

Early on in the shutdown when it appeared cruise lines would not be operating for far longer than anticipated, selling cruise ships to generate cash seemed like something many lines would do.

While there were plenty of cruise ships sold or scrapped, Royal Caribbean came out of the shutdown with far fewer ships disposed of than I think many expected.]

Some other cruise lines were forced to sell off older ships rapidly at the beginning of the cruise industry shutdown in order to generate cash flow and curb spending.

Royal Caribbean said goodbye to two of its ships: Majesty of the Seas and Empress of the Seas.  The ship formerly known as Sovereign of the Seas was scrapped as well.

But Carnival and other lines sold off more ships, and many people thought many more ships would meet their demise sooner than later.

Elimination of the buffet

Last summer, the big question was if the cruise ship buffet would ever be offered again.

The rumor that cruise ship buffets might be axed came out of the uncertainty of new protocols, health recommendations, and a better understanding of Covid-19.

In May 2020, it looked like Royal Caribbean might completely redeveop the Windjammer buffet space and abandon the classic buffet. A couple of months later, we got confirmation the buffet was not going anywhere.

Since then, cruise ships have been able to restart cruises with the buffet in place, albeit in a full service manner, where crew members serve you the food instead of you serving yourself.

Fans of the Windjammer will be happy to know their beloved quick meal location is not going anywhere.

Bankruptcy

After a few rounds of cruise cancellations in 2020, there were more than a few cruise fans who thought cruise lines would have to fold and declare bankruptcy.

There were even some people that cancelled all of their bookings rather than take future cruise credits because they thought once the line went under, their money would disappear.

A few small lines did call it quits, such as Pullmantur Cruises, but the major and even mid-size brands are still in operation and looking to restart.

Granted, most lines took out substantial loans to stay afloat that will take years to pay back. But with new bookings on the rise, and future bookings strong, it looks like cruise lines will be around a while longer.

Back to back cruises banned

I am really not sure where this rumor got started, but right around the time the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) moved from the No Sail Order to the Conditional Sail Order, there were rumors floating around that back to back cruises would not be allowed.

I think the notion for this rumor was based on one of the CDC's rules, which said cruises could not exceed 7 nights under the Conditional Sail Order.  Therefore, some thought a back to back cruise would not be permitted.

As it turns out, this was never a rule and speculation at best.  

2021 Alaska cruise season cancelled

Up until a few weeks ago, the Alaska cruise season being cancelled again this year seemed like a foregone conclusion.

Alaska's cruise season was entirely cancelled in 2020, and with Canada extending its cruise ship ban again through all of 2021, it seemed like it would be another lost year for cruises.

Thanks to the hard work of Alaska's congressional delegation, a bill to temporarily waive the cabotage laws that requires foreign-flagged ships to visit a foreign port when sailing from the United States was passed by Congress and signed into law by the President.

Not only are cruises legally able to sail to Alaska this year, Royal Caribbean and other lines announced new itineraries for sale.

Where and when we will have to wear masks on a ship

To be fair, this one is still in flux, but it looks like cruise ship passengers will not have to wear a face mask onboard a ship nearly as often as it looked like we would have to.

Thanks to declining Covid-19 cases, and an incredible proliferation of vaccines among the public, requirements by the CDC on face mask use have been scaled back.

Royal Caribbean has not released its health protocols for cruise ships sailing this summer yet, but there is no question mask use onboard will be required far less than if those rules had been posted a few months ago.

Just last week, Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain said masks would not be needed for the fully vaccinated, "We're optimistic that masks won't be required anywhere if you're vaccinated and since most people will be."

Cozumel homeport

Right around the time cruise lines were considering basing their ships outside the United States to get around the CDC, Cozumel really wanted to get in on the action.

The Mayor of Cozumel spoke on a radio show about the idea of basing ships from Cozumel.

It seemed like a good idea, until you realized the Mayor was speaking about a pier that did not exist yet, and the fact flights to the island of Cozumel are nearly impossible to find.

Despite the wishful thinking on behalf of the Mayor, no cruise line ever announced plans to go through with basing a ship in Cozumel.

Did I miss something we all thought was going to happen but it appears will not? Share your observations in the comments!

CDC gives cruise lines relaxed face mask guidelines and issues new rules for vaccinated passengers

In:
26 May 2021

The CDC has relaxed a few rules for fully vaccinated cruise passengers.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued updates its Operations Manual for Simulated and Restricted Voyages that primarily talk about what cruise lines are required to do as it pertains to guests onboard.

The new update covers a few changes in policies that either relax protocols, or give the cruise lines the choice to be less stringent.

In this round of updates, many of the rules focus on face masks for fully vaccinated passengers.

The first change is a cruise line can allow all passengers and crew they do not have to wear a mask outdoors.

Cruise ship operators, at their discretion, may advise all passengers and crew that they do not have to wear a mask if outdoors. CDC still recommends that people wear a mask if they are not fully vaccinated and in a crowded area.

Second, the CDC has removed the suggestion to wear a mask outdoors in crowded settings.  Previously it said fully vaccinated passengers could gather outdoors or engage in outdoor activities, but would need to wear a mask if there was a "crowded situation".

Cruise ship operators, at their discretion, may advise crew who are fully vaccinated that they do not have to wear a mask or maintain physical distance in areas of the ship that are inaccessible to passengers.

Another new option for cruise lines is there can be areas of the ship reserved for fully vaccinated passengers and crew that have no social distancing requirements.

The CDC even would allow self-serve buffets in an area reserved only for fully vaccinated passengers.

Cruise ship operators, at their discretion, may designate areas as only accessible to fully vaccinated passengers and crew where masks and physical distancing are not required (e.g., casinos; bars; spas; entertainment venues; and dining areas, including self-serve buffets).

For ships with at least 95% of crew and 95% of passengers fully vaccinated, cruise ship operators, at their discretion, may advise passengers and crew that they do not have to wear a mask or maintain physical distance in any areas.

Another big change is if cruise ships can attain at least 95% fully vaccinated passengers and 98% fully vaccinated crew members, a number of rules will become suggestions instead.

This includes many of the onerous rules that added a great deal of friction to the cruise experience, including:

  • 6-foot social distancing at restaurants and bars
  • Limiting seating capacity 
  • Eliminate self-service buffets
  • Install sneeze guards

Royal Caribbean International currently has no plans to meet the 95/98 mandate due to the amount of families on their ships.

Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain said earlier this week because Royal Caribbean is so family oriented and there are often large numbers of children, he does not think reaching 95% is possible.

The CDC also removed  the rule for fully vaccinated passengers on independent shore excursions have to wear a mask while indoors (unless local laws require it).

The changes are posted on the CDC's website.

This is the latest round of rule changes by the CDC over the last few weeks. Each time, the CDC has relaxed, adjusted, or otherwise removed rules. Many of the changes seem to be occurring following tight-knit conversations with the CDC.

Mr. Fain said the discussions between Royal Caribbean and the CDC has been fruitful as of late, "over the past weeks, that level of dialogue has improved one thousand percent and that dialogue has allowed us to understand their concerns. But in addition to that, dialogue has enabled the CDC to understand our concerns."

Royal Caribbean changes Covid-19 vaccine requirements for cruise ships

In:
22 May 2021

It looks like Royal Caribbean will be requiring a Covid-19 vaccine for passengers on its cruises.

Royal Caribbean updated its vaccine requirements page with new information that not only requires the Covid-19 vaccine, but also changed the minimum age for guest to be vaccinated in order to sail.

On Royal Caribbean's website, there are now rules for cruises departing from the United States or Bahamas, and rules for cruises sailing from other international ports.

Vaccine requirements for U.S. or Bahamas cruises

On U.S. or Bahamas sailings departing on or before August 1, Royal Caribbean will require all guests guests age 16 and older must complete all doses of their Covid-19 vaccine at least 14 days before their sailing. 

On U.S. or Bahamas sailings departing after August 1, the age requirement for vaccination will change from 16 to 12 years of age. 

This means Royal Caribbean has dropped the minimum age for guests to be fully vaccinated on the Adventure of the Seas sailings from Nassau, Bahamas from 18 to 16, and eventually 12.

Guests booked on Adventure of the Seas this summer received an email from the cruise line confirming the change.

For anyone booked on a U.S. or Bahamas sailing that are younger than the minimum age to be vaccinated (i.e. children), will receive a SARS-Cov-2 test before boarding. If a guest younger than the age requirement happens to be fully vaccinated, they should bring their original vaccination record card to board, will not require a test, and should follow all vaccinated guest protocols throughout their vacation.

Royal Caribbean will also require proof of vaccination in addition to the usual travel documents to board the ship.

Acceptable proof of vaccination must be in the form of the original vaccination record document issued by the country’s health authority or healthcare provider that administered the vaccination (e.g., U.S. CDC's Vaccination Record Card).

The vaccination record submitted must show that the guest is fully vaccinated. This means that the guest has completed the full cycle of required doses for the vaccine administered (e.g., received the second dose in a two-dose series) and that the guest has received the final dose at least 14 days before arriving in The Bahamas or at their cruise departure terminal in the U.S.

International Cruises

Royal Caribbean will also require the Covid-19 vaccine of guests age 18 and older sailing from any other port, and they must have received all doses of the vaccine at least 14 days before the sailing.

Like the U.S. sailings, proof of being vaccinated must be provided in one of two forms:

  1. the country's health authority that administered the vaccination (e.g., U.S. CDC's Vaccination Record Card) 
  2. the guest's medical provider that administered the vaccination

Electronic vaccination records will only be accepted for residents of those countries where electronic documentation is the standard issued form (e.g., a unique QR code). 

Crew members

Royal Caribbean will continue its policy of requiring all of its crew members to be fully vaccinated.

In February 2021, Royal Caribbean announced it would pursue a policy of requiring its crew members to be vaccinated.

Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean has been bringing its ships systematically into ports in Texas and Florida to get crew members vaccinated.

Other cruise lines requiring the vaccine

Royal Caribbean is the latest cruise line to move towards requiring its passengers to be vaccinated in order to cruise.

Norwegian Cruise Line made the decision to require 100% of its guests and crew to be vaccinated back in April 2021. Carnival just announced for its cruises to Alaska this year, guests will need to be fully vaccinated.

Many other lines have announced similar policies, including Virgin Voyages, Celebrity Cruises, Princess Cruises and more.

A look at the CDC's "preposterous" requirements for cruise ships test sailings

In:
11 May 2021

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a new set of instructions for cruise lines to engage in test cruises, but some of the requirements are truly bizarre.

From the start of the agency's mandated industry-wide shutdown, the cruise lines have been held to a completely different double standard.

While the new instructions for test cruises are an important step forward for cruises to resume in the United States, there are quite a few restrictions and rules included which seem odd considering nearly everyone will be fully vaccinated. And then there is the double standard cruise lines face compared to other aspect of life in the U.S. right now.  

Norwegian Cruise Line Holding's CEO Frank Del Rio recently lambasted the rules as "unfair" and "never consistent."

"If there was science-fact information, we would accept it," Del Rio said. "They never shared any data with us, any scientific data or any data, period, and so, look, it seems to me they make this stuff up as they go along."

The CDC released its "COVID-19 Operations Manual for Simulated and Restricted Voyages under the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order", which stipulates rules and  recommendations for test cruises and possibly revenue sailings under the Conditional Sail Order (CSO).

Here is a look at few of the rules for test cruises that may very well have to scratch your head after reading.

You have to wear a face mask outside on a cruise line private island

Making a stop at a private island is part of the test cruise instructions, and if passengers get off the ship there, the CDC says they must wear a mask.

Listed under the Technical Instructions for the simulated voyages, the CDC says "Mask use and social distancing must be observed on the island" in reference to cruise line's private islands.

Keep in mind test sailings will be at a reduced capacity, with no more than one ship in port at a time and as few as 10% of a ship's capacity passenger load.

The New York Times reported this week that the share of transmission that has occurred outdoors seems to be below 1 percent and may be below 0.1 percent, according to multiple epidemiologists.

The CDC says that unvaccinated people should wear masks in most outdoor settings and vaccinated people should wear them at “large public venues”; summer camps should require children to wear masks virtually “at all times.”

Interestingly, the CDC also issued similar guidance for summer camps: Masks must be worn at all times, even outdoors, by everyone, including vaccinated adults and children as young as 2 years old.  The exceptions are for eating and swimming. 

Of course, summer camps do not have to apply to the CDC for permission to operate.

According to the New York Times article, there is not a single documented Covid infection anywhere in the world from casual outdoor interactions, such as walking past someone on a street or eating at a nearby table.

"I wouldn’t call [the guidelines] excessive, Savannah, but they certainly are conservative," Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, told TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie.

"I think what you're going to start to see is really in real-time continually reevaluating that for its practicality. Because you’re right, people look at that and they say, 'Well is that being a little bit too far right now."

Wear masks by the pool

Another place outside you will have to wear a mask on a test cruise is at the pool when not swimming.

The CDC says cruise lines operating out of U.S. ports will be required to “ensure bathers wear masks while congregating outside of recreational water facilities (RWFs) and while seated on the pool deck area.”

Masks will not be required when swimming in a shipboard pool, but bathers must maintain a social distance of at least 6 feet while in a pool with anyone who is not a traveling companion.

CDC still thinks cruises have more in common with a prison than a resort

Once again, the CDC has repeated its believe that cruise ships are considered "residential, non-healthcare, congregate settings representing a global population."

The CDC defines a congregate setting as "a setting in which a group of usually unrelated persons reside, meet, or gather either for a limited or extended period of time in close physical proximity."

Some examples of a congregate setting include:

  • Schools
  • Nursing homes
  • Correctional facilities
  • Places of worship
  • Hospitals
  • Shelters
  • Social settings
  • Workplace settings

Since the CDC said it is residential and non-healthcare, the options that match somewhere you would stay overnight (hence residential) and not a hospital, would be correctional facilities or a nursing home.

Wristbands recommended to alert you that you are too close to someone else

Another "no one else does this, but cruise ships should do it" recommendation by the CDC is for ships to have passengers consider the use of wearable proximity alerting technology.

This would mean a passenger would be alerted by a sound when veering too close to someone else in an effort to promote social distancing protocols.

You cannot remove your mask for an entire meal

The CDC says you can remove your mask while eating or drinking, but not for the entire meal.

While the Order permits temporarily removing a mask for brief periods of time while eating or drinking, removal of the mask for extended meal service or beverage consumption would constitute a violation of this Order.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio called that notion "preposterous".

"As we read yesterday's pronouncements, even though everyone onboard would be vaccinated, in between bites of your meal and in between sips of your beverage, you have to put on your mask, take off your mask. Nobody should order soup because your mask might get sloppy. That to me is just preposterous."

For ships that are going to be sailing with fully vaccinated guests, Mr. Del Rio called it "incredibly stupid".

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, co-chair of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings′ and Royal Caribbean’s Healthy Sail Panel, said over the weekend he believes the CDC can start to consider lifting indoor mask mandates now, as more and more Americans are vaccinated. 

"I think we should start lifting these restrictions as aggressively as we put them in," said Gottlieb. "We need to preserve the credibility of public health officials to perhaps re-implement some of these provisions as we get into next winter, if we do start seeing outbreaks again."

Royal Caribbean will begin hiring crew members from India again later this month

In:
08 May 2021

Royal Caribbean will once again start hiring crew members from India.

Less than two weeks after announcing the cruise line would temporarily halt hiring crew members from India, later this month the policy will revert back.

Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley posted on Facebook that the hirings will once again commence, beginning on May 21st.

"We are starting crewing from India on May 21st," Mr. Bayley announced in his post, and said "enhanced protocols" will be used for these crew members.

Crew coming from India will undergo a rigorous set of testing and quarantine procedures to ensure they can safely join a ship:

  1. PCR Test
  2. 14 day quarantine
  3. PCR Test
  4. Charter flight
  5. PCR Test
  6. Given a Covid-19 vaccine
  7. Quarantine
  8. PCR Test

Mr. Bayley said these protocols will be in place at least for a "short time", although these sort of enhanced protocols will be used for crew members coming from other countries where new Covid-19 case counts are surging.

Since the additional quarantine requirements will take up more time than the usual onboarding process, crew contracts will be extended by 2 months.

Large scale vaccinations for crew

In addition to vaccinating crew members coming from India, Royal Caribbean has been systematically bringing ships to PortMiami to get crew members vaccinated there.

In less than a week, crew members from Explorer, Liberty, Navigator, Freedom, Independence and Mariner of the Seas have all received their first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine.

Reports are more ships are to arrive soon as well for their jabs.

Mr. Bayley also celebrated the World Health Organization approving Sinopharm vaccine, which is China's vaccine option that is more easily available in China and other nearby countries.

A WHO emergency listing is a signal to national regulators that a product is safe and effective. It also allows it to be included in COVAX, a global program to provide vaccines mainly for poor countries, which has hit supply problems.

The WHO had already given emergency approval to COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and, last week, Moderna.

Florida Governor signs bill banning vaccine passports possibly affecting cruise ship restart

In:
03 May 2021

Will cruise ships scheduled to sail from Florida ports be forced to redeploy to other states because of new Florida law signed by Governor Ron DeSantis?

On Monday, Governor DeSantis signed SB-2006 that among other things, bans Covid-19 vaccine passports in the state.

The ban prohibits businesses, schools, and government agencies from requiring people to show documentation certifying COVID-19 vaccinations or post-infection recovery before gaining entry.

The bill takes effect on July 1, 2021.

This new law will replace the executive order he signed in mid-April that does the same thing in the interim.

The Governor is a strong proponent of cruise ships being able to restart, but also feels private businesses should not be able to require customers get a vaccine.

In a recent interview, he shared this sentiment, "I'm very supportive of getting our cruise lines back up and running.

"We think they should be able to sail. But we also don't think that they should be able to require your personal health information in that regard."

Royal Caribbean has not officially decided if it will require its cruise ship passengers to get a vaccine as a matter of fleet wide policy, although it is requiring the vaccine for select ships that will be restarting cruises outside the United States this summer.

Moreover, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control announced last week it would allow cruise ships to restart sailings sooner if they have at least 95% vaccinated cruise passengers.

Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley indicated it would be possible for some ships to start cruising under the vaccinated approach, while others could pursue restart under the Conditional Sail Order rules without a vaccine requirement.

Last week, Mr. Bayley spoke about these options, "There'll be really two pathways, one pathway for vaccinated crew and largely vaccinated guests that meet the threshold that they've defined. And that would mean that there wouldn't be a requirement for a simulated voyage etc, and there would be a different expectation on protocols and planning. So it's a faster route."

"And then for ships that wouldn't wouldn't meet that threshold for whatever reason, there would be a different timeline and a different set of protocols and requirements."

"So fundamentally that there's two pathways. It's not that simple, but that's a way of simplifying."

On March 1, 2021, Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain reitterated no decision has been made yet on if Royal Caribbean will require its guests to be vaccinated in order to cruise.

Mr. Fain is a major support of the vaccines, and believes they are the fastest and best method to get Covid-19 under control.

"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."

Rival cruise line Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. (NCLH) believes by requiring vaccines of every single person onboard its ships initially, in addition to comprehensive protocols including universal COVID-19 testing, is the key to way to get its ships back into service faster with approval from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

U.S ports begin vaccinating cruise ship crew members

In:
01 May 2021

Two ports in the United States are helping get cruise ship crew members vaccinated to facilitate the cruise industry getting back to service faster.

On Friday, Port Canaveral became the first U.S. port to offer crew members a Covid-19 vaccine.

Port Canaveral's option to give crew members the vaccine came a day after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees approved an expansion to vaccine eligibility in Florida to include individuals who are in the state for purpose of providing good or services for the benefit of residents and visitors of Florida.

Port Canaveral Chief Executive Officer John Murray released a statement celebrating the start tof this new program, "We have been working closely with our cruise partners, the Florida Department of Health and our port community to come up with a plan and timeline of vaccinating cruise ship crews that could begin the process for a safe return to cruising."

"This expanded eligibility is significantly important for our cruise tourism business, and we’re proud of our efforts to help get this industry up and running."

It is not clear which ship was the first to receive the doses.

Up to 1,000 COVID-19 vaccination shots per day can be provided to vessel crew members, shoreside and waterside support personnel, which aligns with recommendations released this week by the federal Centers for Disease Control for a return to cruising in the U.S.

Port Canaveral officials consulted with the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and cruise line operators, as well as the CDC to develop its vaccination model to efficiently and expeditiously get vaccines disbursed to crew members and shoreside personnel. 

The Port of Galveston also plans to offer the vaccine to crew members next week, when the Carnival Breeze and Carnival Vista visit.

The Port of Galveston Board of Trustees announced during a meeting on Tuesday the new plan.

Through a partnership with the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), the Pfizer vaccine will be made available to crew members.

Crew vaccination part of restart plan

Getting crew members vaccinated is part of the cruise industry's plan to return to service.

Royal Caribbean has already committed itself to vaccinating all of its crew members, as of February 2021.  At the time, there was not a plan in place to do so, but vaccine eligibility in the United States is beginning to open up widely.

Moreover, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) informed cruise lines this week that if they can get 98% crew members vaccinated, they can get cruise ships back into service sooner (along with 95% vaccinated passengers).

Getting crew members to get the vaccine appears not to be a problem for Royal Caribbean.

During a call with Wall Street analysts this week, Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley said crew were overwhelmingly in favor of getting vaccinated.

In a recent survey of crew members conducted by the cruise line, Mr. Bayley said, "we had over 98 percent positive response from our crew saying, yeah, we're going to get vaccinated."

CDC says fully vaccinated Americans don’t need masks outside in most cases

In:
27 Apr 2021

Recommendations for wearing face masks among the full vaccinated just changed, which may have an impact on cruise line protocols.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced on Tuesday it has adjusted its guidelines for wearing of masks outdoors.

Specifically, if you are fully vaccinated, you do not need to wear a face mask outdoors unless in crowded settings.

CDC data showed as of this week, nearly 30% of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated and more than 42% have received at least one dose.

Under the new guidance, fully vaccinated individuals can unmask while walking, running, hiking or biking outdoors alone or with members of their household.

The CDC says people who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear masks during outdoor activities, such as walking, biking, running alone or with members of their household. Masks are not needed in small outdoor gatherings among fully vaccinated people.

As for unvaccinated people, the CDC says vaccinated people should wear masks at outdoor gatherings that include other unvaccinated people. 

There is also no need for fully vaccinated individuals to wear a mask at outdoor restaurants with friends from multiple households.

However, vaccinated people should  wear masks at indoor public places, such as hair salons, restaurants, shopping centers, museums and movie theaters.

What about masks on cruise ships?

Royal Caribbean has not announced its health protocols for cruises sailing from North America or Europe this summer outside of the United States, but face masks are almost certainly going to be required to be worn.

Onboard Quantum of the Seas in Singapore, wearing a face mask is mandatory.

On Quantum, guests are required to wear masks outdoors on the pool deck, unless they are in the pool, drinking, eating, or actively engaging in a designated activity (i.e. the Flowrider surf simulator).

Whether or not the CDC's updated guidance will change Royal Caribbean's health protocols in the short term remain to be seen.

Royal Caribbean's health protocols during the global health crisis have been shaped by the Healthy Sail Panel, a joint venture between the Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings.

The panel is made up of of scientists and public health experts, chaired by Governor Mike Leavitt and Dr. Scott Gottlieb.

Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain said cruise line protocols will change with the science, "As the science continues to progress, I think we will change and we will adjust to that. And I think we're now trying to predict the future. Remember, these cruises don't start till June."

5 reasons why what happened to cruise ships in 2020 will never happen again

In:
27 Apr 2021

Whether it is the CDC, a lawmaker, or family member, people will bring up what happened to cruise ships in early 2020 as a reason why cruises should not restart now.

Similar to how some people still bring up what happened to the Titanic as all they need to know about not taking a cruise, the events at the beginning of the global health crisis involving a couple of cruise ships in Asia led to sensational headlines and those memories still dominate the discussion related to why cruise ships cannot sail again now.

Perhaps no one has been more focused on what happened in January 2020 than the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), who still cite events that occurred on the Diamond Princess and Grand Princess cruise ships in January 2020 as proof unrestricted cruise ship travel would be dangerous.

Pages 8 through 11 of the CDC's Conditional Sail Order go into great detail to document what happened on those ships more than 15 months ago.

What happened on cruise ships in January 2020, just like all around the world, were reflections of a naive society beginning to learn about how this new virus functioned and spread.

While the cruise industry struggles to prove it can safely sail from the United States, here is why what happened on cruise ships at the very start of the global health crisis will all but certainly never happen again.

Our knowledge of Covid is much different now

The principal problem with comparing what happened to a ship like the Diamond Princess or Grand Princess to a ship sailing today is that our knowledge of the virus is completely different.

In January 2020, very little was known about Covid, and the Japanese government simply isolated the ship and let the people and crew onboard sit there until the virus "burnt itself out", similar to how firefighters might let a fire burn to prevent it spreading elsewhere.

The World Health Organization (WHO) stated in January 2020 it was still trying to determine, "exact ways its spread and the incubation period."

Public health officials at the time said wearing masks were useful "but have a limited effect". 

Since then, everyone's knowledge of Covid and how it spreads and how to mitigate its spread has changed significantly.

Knowledge of how Covid works today makes the assumptions and treatment of it in January 2020 null and void.

New health protocols

Besides not really knowing much about Covid in early 2020, cruise ships back then had absolutely no protocols on place to mitigate the spread of the virus onboard.

Just like how airplanes, theme parks, and pretty much every facet of life had no safeguards in place, cruise ships were operating in early 2020 without the new strict protocols that any ship sailing today would absolutely mandate.

Royal Caribbean, and the entire cruise industry, has already committed to adopting sweeping new health protocols and changes onboard that would largely prevent the spread of Covid on a ship.

In just one ship sailing from Singapore, Royal Caribbean has committed to guests wearing face masks, universal testing of every single passenger and crew member, strict contact tracing, social distancing and more.

These, and other new protocols, will almost certainly be implemented on any ship sailing in 2021. This makes the conditions onboard ships from early 2020 completely uncharacteristic of what it will be like on a ship sailing today.

Moreover, these health protocols make cruise ships safer than many other forms of travel, where little to no testing is done of customers.

Read more5 ways the CDC proves it doesn't understand cruise ships

Agreements with ports

Just as important as the new health protocols, is the cruise lines are ensuring no ship can be isolated and left quarantined indefinitely by working with local governments for an emergency action plan.

Every cruise line is keenly aware the memory of those Princess cruise ships quarantined off the coast of Japan still resonates with many potential customers as cause for concern not to book.

As a result, Royal Caribbean has announced it has deals in place with local governments it sails from to ensure if there was a case onboard, the cruise line would get guests home safely.

For sailings on Quantum of the Seas from Singapore, Royal Caribbean partnered with Singapore's health authorities to ensure they can get guests home safely.  These transport agreements in Singapore are part of the plan to avoid being "stuck" on a cruise ship.

For sailings this summer from the Caribbean, Royal Caribbean has a "a robust, tiered response plan".

In the event that a guest or crew member tests positive for SARS-CoV-2 onboard, a robust, tiered response plan will be activated and is in accordance with guidance from local authorities and leading public health experts. The tiers increase protocols and vigilance onboard, while providing transparent correspondence to guests throughout the process. In partnership with local authorities, Royal Caribbean has developed transport protocols to ensure impacted guests get home safely. Thanks to rapid technology-enabled contact tracing, potential exposure to other guests and crew can be promptly identified and an action plan enabled.

Concerned this sounds like all talk, and if a case were to really happen onboard governments would balk? We already know that will not be the case.

In December 2020, there was a positive case on Quantum of the Seas sailing from Singapore.

It turned out to be a false positive, but the ship was allowed to immediately return to Singapore and all guests were able to disembark safely and in a timely fashion.

The vaccine

On top of all the protocols and agreements, vaccines are something that did not exist in early 2020.

While Royal Caribbean is still deciding if it will require the vaccine or not across the fleet, ships sailing this summer will definitely require it for adults onboard in the interim.

Moreover, vaccine requirements or not, a lot of people are getting the vaccine anyway, and that greatly mitigates the at risk population onboard.

At the very least, the first cruise ships sailing this summer will require adults onboard to be vaccinated, as well as every single crew member. 

Read moreEverything we know about if Royal Caribbean will require a vaccine

Real world proof ships can sail safely

Not only is everything listed here backed up by input from leading public health officials, this approach to safely cruising is already happening in parts of the world since summer 2020.

Based on public reporting, almost 400,000 passengers that have sailed during the global health crisis with fewer than 50 confirmed cases of COVID-19 onboard Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) member cruise line ships since resumption started last summer.

This has demonstrated the new health protocols work, and more importantly, no cruise ship has been left isolated in a manner like those ships in early 2020.

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