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Cruises Resuming

Alaska Senators asked White House to get CDC to moving on cruise ship restart plans

In:
27Mar2021

A Congressional delegation from Alaska has once again sent a letter on behalf of the cruise industry in order to get cruise ships sailing again.

U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, and Congressman Don Young, all R-Alaska, sent a letter with colleagues to the White House COVID Response Coordinator, urging the Biden administration to be more transparent and timely in their efforts to develop guidance for the resumption of operations for the cruise ship industry.

In the letter, the Senators and Representative also pressed the White House for answers to a number of clarifying questions on current U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.

In the letter, the CDC's inaction is squarely at the heart of the concern.

  • When will the CDC provide more details related to the phases of its Framework for Conditional Sailing?
  • What criteria does the CDC use to determine the next phase of reopening? What is the timeline?
  • What more does the cruise industry need to do to assure the CDC it is ready for the safe resumption of operations?
  • Does the CDC understand the economic impact its lack of communication and transparency has on the cruise industry and associated businesses and local communities? What is the Administration’s plan to create more open lines of communication between government and the private sector?
  • Who is the official that has responsibility for the decisions about when and how the cruise industry can restart under the restrictions put in place by the CDC?
  • What is the process, either within the CDC, or within the Administration to make and implement these decisions, and what other agencies are involved in the decision
    making process?
  • When the Conditional Sailing Order was issued last October, there were no vaccines and the disease was on an upward trajectory. Today, we are in completely different
    public health environment. What is the CDC planning to do to address this very different set of circumstances?

The Alaska delegation has been vocal in recent weeks trying to get cruise ships sailing again, so that the 2021 Alaska cruise season can be salvaged.

The letter urged swift action, "The cruise industry has faced unique challenges amid this pandemic, and is one of the only industries that is completely precluded from resuming normal operations. This has created a dramatic negative ripple effect on the Florida and Alaskan families, businesses, ports and communities that rely on the cruise industry"

"If the CDC does not quickly commit to start communicating timely and effective guidance, as well as hold frequent and productive meetings with cruise industry stakeholders, it will have harmful impacts on another peak season for the cruise industry."

Alaska is especially vulnerable to another season of no cruise ships because of how much their economy relies on ships.

The entire cruise season was abandoned last year, and this year looks to be equally dire.

"The future of the cruise industry and thousands of good paying jobs at our states’ ports and supporting businesses are now at stake," they wrote in the letter.

Alaska's representatives to Congress have done the most to get cruises started again.

In February, they asked Canada to re-evaluate their ban on cruise ships. Then in March, they introduced a new bill to allow cruise ships to sail without having to stop in Canada.

Senator Murkowski grilled CDC Director Rochelle Walensky last week after the Director failed to provide any kind of timeline for cruises to restart and was unsure how that would even proceed.

Senator Murkowski says Alaska is one of the most vaccinated states in the country, with 18.9% of its population full vaccinated, and  28% having at least their first shot.

Florida Governor calls for cruises to be able to restart from Florida

In:
Category: 
26Mar2021

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL) held a press conference at Port Canaveral to show support for the cruise industry to move forward with restarting from Florida.

As the top cruise departure port in the country, Florida's economy has a direct connection to the cruise industry.

Gov. Ron DeSantis called for "a way forward" in getting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to lift the ban on cruise ships.

DeSantis criticized how long cruises have been shutdown without any end in sight, "I don't think you can just indefinitely shutter major, major businesses and cost all these jobs. So we want a way forward."

"We have people flying on airplanes, they're on buses, hotels, restaurants, theme parks, casinos, bars, you name it. But somehow the cruise is viewed as differently."

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody went as far to suggest considering legal action to fight back against the CDC's Framework for Conditional Sail Order (CSO).  She did not spell out any plan, but did indicate it was an option.

"We are asking that there be technical guidance that is given that would allow these ships to resume. And it's important that we start examining how we can push for a sooner rather than later resumption of this incredible, important industry," Ms. Moody said during the press conference.

"It's incredibly important as we examine all options and determine what our legal avenues are to push back against this government overreach to an end, to an industry that is so vitally important to the success of the state."

"We will take all legal action as necessary."

Executives from all the major cruise lines were present at the event, including Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley.

Mr. Bayley spoke about the frustration in dealing with getting any kind of information related to getting approval to sail again from the CDC, "We can't get any reliable information from the entity that's closed is that it's an intergovernmental agency review. Month after month after month, it's devastating."

"So we're in this bizarre situation where we're all Americans, we've got huge workforces in America, we buy all of our products in America, we supply our ships from America. Most of our customers are from America, and yet we cannot get any guidance."

Gov. DeSantis' press conference follows up on a series of public statements from the cruise industry to ask the CDC to restart cruises.

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) sent a letter to the CDC to ask the CSO to be lifted by July so that cruises can sail again by then.  In addition, CLIA asked travel agents, cruise fans, and anyone in the industry to contact their government representatives to compel the CDC to change their direction.

Royal Caribbean Group Chairman Richard Fain called the CSO "unworkable" earlier this week.

In speaking about the CSO during a webinar, he said it is now out of date, "It calls for a four-phased process but four-and-a-half months into that, we are still in phase one and we still don’t know what will be required for phase two."

"You can see that's pretty unworkable for us and for the CDC.

Cruise industry wants you to tell your elected officials to let cruise ships restart

In:
Category: 
25Mar2021

A day after the cruise industry called on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to lift its cruise ship ban, they now want you to to help out too.

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) is imploring U.S. residents to email, call, and/or tweet elected officials in the House and Senate and tell them to urge the Biden Administration to lift the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO).

The new message is the strongest action yet by the group representing most of the cruise industry, including Royal Caribbean.

CLIA's goal is simple: have the CDC lift the CSO by July so that cruise ships can restart sailing from the United States.

Their argument to lift the order is based on data from almost 400,000 passengers that have sailed during the global health crisis with fewer than 50 confirmed cases of COVID-19 onboard CLIA member cruise line ships since resumption started last summer, based on public reporting. 

Moreover, the economic impact of the cruise industry being shutdown is claimed to be responsible for more than 300,000 jobs lost in the U.S. CLIA says the majority of those impacted are independent business owners or individuals employed by small- to medium-sized businesses. 

Cruise ships have been shutdown in the United States since March 2020, when the cruise industry volunteered to stop cruising in the early days of the global health crisis.  Since then, the CDC instituted a ban on cruise ships.

Since then, many other aspects of travel have either not been halted, or been allowed to restart, including airlines, hotels, theme parks, and casinos.

With the public's help, CLIA hopes to get an early-July restart in action that would be in line with President Biden’s forecast for when the US will be “closer to normal.” 

To make it easier, CLIA has set up a page where you can easily write an email or tweet, or call your government representative.

The cruise industry's stronger tone has come in the last few days.

Even Royal Caribbean Group Chairman Richard Fain has talked differently about the CDC, calling the CSO "unworkable".

In speaking about the CSO during a webinar, he said it is now out of date, "It calls for a four-phased process but four-and-a-half months into that, we are still in phase one and we still don’t know what will be required for phase two."

"You can see that's pretty unworkable for us and for the CDC.

CLIA President and CEO Kelly Craighead also spoke out this week to lead the charge in asking the CDC to lift its ban.

Craighead believes strict health protocols and the rapid pace of vaccination are what is needed for cruise ships to safely return to service, " the successful resumption of cruising in other parts of the world demonstrates that a return to cruising can and should occur here as well."

Royal Caribbean announces Vision of the Seas will sail from Bermuda

In:
23Mar2021

Royal Caribbean announced its second cruise ship to restart North American cruises will be Vision of the Seas from Bermuda.

Similar to the cruise line's announcement last week that Adventure of the Seas would restart cruises from The Bahamas, Vision of the Seas will sail from outside the United States so that it can offer cruises sooner and without approval from the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC).

Building on the cruise line's slow and calculated return to service, Vision of the Seas will begin sailing from Bermuda and offer cruises that visit Perfect Day at CocoCay.

Just like Adventure of the Seas, sailings on Vision of the Seas will require all adults above the age of 18 to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19.

The cruise line also said current health and safety measure, like others, may evolve as they are evaluated on an ongoing basis.

In addition, travelers must meet the travel requirements of Bermuda. This currently includes receiving a negative PCR test result before traveling, testing upon arrival into the country and filling out appropriate entry forms. The most up-to-date policies can be found on Bermuda’s website.

Guests under the age of 18 will need to provide a negative RT-PCR test result.

The itinerary will be:

  • Bermuda
  • Sea day
  • Sea day
  • Perfect Day at CocoCay
  • Sea Day
  • Bermuda
  • Bermuda

Vision will begin sailings from Bermuda as soon as June 26, 2021. Vision will be offering a summer season between June through August 2021.

The new sailings open for booking on March 29.

As a result of this redeployment, previously scheduled Vision of the Seas sailings departing from San Juan, Puerto Rico are cancelled.

Those guests currently confirmed on impacted sailings departing June 6 — August 29, 2021 can choose from one of the following compensation options:

  • A refund of all funds paid
  • An elevated 125% Future Cruise Credit to sail with Royal Caribbean at a later date

All impacted guests and associated travel agencies will soon receive an email notification to present a more detailed version of these compensation options.

In the meantime, cruises lines continue to wrestle with the CDC for progress at a glacial pace that will hopefully allow cruise ships to begin offering test sailings.

Right now, Royal Caribbean is waiting for technical instructions from the CDC on what ships need to do in order to be ready for the simulated voyages need to prove cruises can restart safely.

Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain said earlier this week that he still doesn't know when cruises will restart in the US.

"As most of you know, the order called for several phases and for the CDC to issue detailed technical rules for each phase. The first of such technical rules was scheduled to be released in December, and many of you was asked when we expect to receive them. In fact, I would answer that the pace of science has simply overcome that process."

"We don't know what the CDC is contemplating to address this very different set of circumstances. But just as they and other public health officials are doing elsewhere, we expect they will all adjust to the changes that have been and are taking place today."

"The Conditional Sail Order was a very positive step at the time, but that time has passed. We look forward to a constructive dialogue with health officials in the United States and elsewhere for the path forward under these new circumstances."

You will only be able to book cruise line shore excursions on Adventure of the Seas cruises

In:
22Mar2021

Royal Caribbean has not released all the health protocols and changes for Adventure of the Seas restarted sailings from The Bahamas, but expect to only be able to go on cruise line shore excursions.

Other cruise lines around the world that have been able to restart cruises have done so with the limitation that guests may only go on cruise line sponsored tours in order to ensure guests are safeguarded from undue risk of exposure to Covid-19.

On the same day Royal Caribbean announced Adventure of the Seas would restart cruises in June from Nassau, Bahamas, the line also confirmed guests will only be able to disembark the ship if on a ship tour.

 Royal Caribbean's Senior Vice President, Sales, Trade Support and Service, Vicki Freed, told Cruise Industry News guests will be limited to Royal Caribbean excursions in Cozumel and Grand Bahama Island.

"With our own little bubble, we can really make sure the health and safety protocols are being followed."

Royal Caribbean's own Shore Excursions Health Acknowledgement confirms that only cruise line tours will be permitted, "guests are currently only permitted to book and participate in Shore Excursions which are selected and approved by Royal Caribbean Group."

In addition, guests booked on Odyssey of the Seas sailings from Israel received a list of terms and conditions for their sailings which also allude to the limitation of shore excursion options you can book.

Read moreHow to book a Royal Caribbean shore excursion

Why limit shore excursions?

The origin of limiting shore excursion options goes back to the first cruise ships to restart sailings.

In an effort to create a travel bubble, MSC Cruises restarted sailings in August 2020 with the rule in place. They even refused to let a family back onboard that broke the rule.

In September 2020, the Healthy Sail Panel addressed shore excursions in their 74 recommendations for how to operate a cruise ship safely during the global health crisis.

The number 59 recommendation recommended limiting shore excursion options.

"During the initial return to sailing, cruise operators should only allow guests debarking from a ship at a destination port to participate in cruise line-sponsored or verified excursions as a way of limiting potential exposures in the destinations they visit."

The Panel did classify this recommendation as a temporary one, and something that could be modified or removed later when health conditions permit.

Read moreAre Cruise Ship-Sponsored Shore Excursions Really Safer?

Royal Caribbean updates on test cruises, June cancellations, & Alaska 2021

In:
18Mar2021

Wondering what is the latest on where things stand with test cruises, June sailings, or Alaska cruises this year?

Many travel agents wanted to get the latest on these topics as well, and these questions were brought up during a webinar with Royal Caribbean on Wednesday.

Royal Caribbean's senior vice president of sales and trade support & service, Vicki Freed (and her team), provided the latest updates on where things stand.

Test cruises

First, the question was asked if the U.S. Center for Disease Control had provided technical guidance to the cruise lines for test cruises to start.

"Conversations are happening every week, multiple times during the week," Ms. Freed said in response to the question.

"We don't have the actual dates yet for the sample cruises... but we're getting closer."

Read moreEverything you need to know about Royal Caribbean test cruises

The question comes almost a month after Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley told investors that he was expecting to get technical instructions on what each ship needs to do in order to prepare itself for test cruises.

"We're literally expecting the technical specifications any day soon," Mr. Bayley told investors.

Will Royal Caribbean cancel June cruises?

Norwegian Cruise Line cancelled its June 2021 cruises this week, and that has prompted many to speculate if Royal Caribbean will follow suit.

Royal Caribbean Director of Revenue Strategy, Brittany Briggs, indicated nothing has changed yet, "It's a question that we get often when other cruise lines do make announcements and the best we can say is that, trust us, that we're continually evaluating the current environment.

"We're trying to do all that we can as well from our side. But currently we're only canceled through May of this year, which we've gone out with an announcement on."

Any update on Alaska cruises?

Another hot topic surrounds the fate of Alaska cruises for this year, which Royal Caribbean has placed on hold until further notice.

The entire Alaska cruise season this year is in jeopardy due to Canada's one-year ban of ships (along with the CDC's general ban of ships around the United States).

Ms. Briggs also answered this question, and told travel agents there is no change in the Alaska cruises yet.

"Currently that environment hasn't changed, we're continuously having those conversations and we are hopeful."

Earlier this month, a new bill was introduced to to alleviate the Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA) restrictions for cruise ships transporting passengers between the State of Washington and the State of Alaska.

Research firm forecasts Royal Caribbean's gradual cruise ship restart plan

In:
Category: 
18Dec2020

The question everyone wants to know is when cruise ships will restart sailings, and in what capacity.

Royal Caribbean has provided no firm restart plan in the United States, but Wall Street is just as eager as cruise fans to know when cruises might restart.

The Cleveland Research Company (CRC) is independent research firm that released the results of a study of expectations for gradual cruise ship restart in 2021.

CRC did its own research of conversations with travel agents and commentary from the cruise lines to determine what can be expected going forward.

The research firm concluded that across the Royal Caribbean Group brands, 44% of the fleet will be operating by December 2021 for an average of 20% sailing for the full year.

They also think 100% of the fleet will be in operation by mid-2022 and will finish fiscal year 2022 with 84% capacity.

CRC noted that it is not certain which ships Royal Caribbean Group will target for restart first in the United States, but it expects Quantum of the Seas to continue to sail from Singapore.

They did note Royal Caribbean Group's comments from the Third Quarter 2020 call with investors that stated initial revenue sailings will focus on short cruises in key drive-to markets in the U.S. and APAC. Trips out of the U.S. will likely start slowly and focus on stopping at private destinations, such as CocoCay.

Another prediction made was the influx of new cruise ships across the brand of companies that make up Royal Caribbean Group.

Delivery of Odyssey of the Seas in 2021 and Wonder of the Seas in 2022 are part of the plan, and CRC expects one new ship for Royal Caribbean International in 2023. They believe the first Icon Class ship is likely that vessel and is probable for 2023.

Royal Caribbean still has a number of government restrictions it needs to address before they can restart cruises.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outlined a series of steps that need to be completed before a cruise ship can receive approval to restart sailings.

Essentially, the Conditional Sail Order requires any cruise line to complete a few key steps:

  • Protect crew members from any health issues
  • Conduct a series of test sailings with volunteer passengers
  • Obtain a "Conditional Sailing Certificate" from the CDC

The research firm did not directly address the CDC's restrictions, but did allude to it in predictions for other cruise line's announced plans.

Royal Caribbean says so many volunteers for test cruise is 'incredibly motivating'

In:
Category: 
08Dec2020

Ever since Royal Caribbean started taking volunteer sign ups for test cruises, there has been an incredible amount of interest from guests.

Numbers from different sources point to somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 people that have signed up as a volunteer.

"The participation in and sentiment of the comments and conversations on the Volunteers of the Seas group has been incredibly motivating," Royal Caribbean said in a statement to Travel Weekly.

"It's refreshing to be reminded of all the people out there who are excited about the possibility of sailing and eager to come onboard a Royal Caribbean International ship again."

The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has tasked the cruise lines with conducting an unspecified amount of test cruises to demonstrate new health protocols can work effectively.

The CDC also stipulated that test cruises must include volunteers who are not paying to be onboard.

In November 2020, Royal Caribbean set up a form for guests to sign up if they were interested in being a volunteer for a test cruise.

Read moreTop 14 things the CDC requires cruise ships do on test sailings

From the moment the form went live, interest spiked almost immediately. There has been a great deal of interest from cruising die hards who lament the loss of cruises this year and are eager to get back onboard.

Royal Caribbean has not announced how or when it will pick volunteers, or if any of the volunteers will be used at all.

Initially, Royal Caribbean said it would primarily use cruise line employees as volunteers for its test cruises, in a similar manner to how the cruise line has tested out new ships prior to their official debut.

There was so much interest from guests in being a volunteer that Royal Caribbean President and CEO Michael Bayley had a sign up form set up.

Last week, Mr. Bayley hinted that Pinnacle members in Crown and Anchor Society and other high tier members might get the first shot at being a volunteer.

"Our top tier has the name of Pinnacle and they've cruised with us a gazillion times … they'll be amongst the first to receive the invitation."

"We haven't figured out our protocols yet for the volunteers but certainly loyalty status will be a key selector."

Read moreHere's how to sign up to be a volunteer for a Royal Caribbean test cruise

Royal Caribbean has set up a Facebook group for anyone interested in being a volunteer, but has conveyed very little information about how volunteers would be used, if at all.

In addition to there not being any information about how volunteers will be picked, when test sailings might actually occur is equally unknown.

There is speculation they could begin as soon as December or January, but there has been no official timeline released by the cruise line.

Short cruises to private island will be first

Regardless of if there are test cruises or the first revenue sailings, expect the first cruises back in North America to be short sailings to Perfect Day at CocoCay.

Royal Caribbean has mentioned that early sailings will start slowly, and include a stop at a private island where guest movements are more easily controlled.

Jason T. Liberty, executive vice president and Chief Financial Officer talked about this scenario recently, "Deployment of spring is expected to be highly focused on short sailings from key drive markets in both the U.S. and Asia-Pacific regions."

"We will also make the most out of our incredible private destination in the Bahamas. Perfect Day at CocoCay."

Will Royal Caribbean pick volunteers for its test cruises based on loyalty status?

In:
Category: 
05Dec2020

Ever since Royal Caribbean announced it would take sign ups for its test cruises, everyone has been wondering how they would pick volunteers.

It looks like the elite of Royal Caribbean's customer loyalty program might get the first chance.

According to a report by unofficial cruise reporting site CruiseCritic, Royal Caribbean International CEO Michael Bayley seemed to confirm the higher your status in Crown and Anchor Society, the better your chances.

Mr. Bayley spoke at the International Cruise Summit and said its Pinnacle members would be first.

"Our top tier has the name of Pinnacle and they've cruised with us a gazillion times … they'll be amongst the first to receive the invitation."

"We haven't figured out our protocols yet for the volunteers but certainly loyalty status will be a key selector."

Royal Caribbean began taking sign ups for its test cruises about a month ago, but the cruise line has remained quiet about how it would determine which volunteers would actually be able to be among the first to get back onboard for a simulated voyage.

Read moreHere's how to sign up to be a volunteer for a Royal Caribbean test cruise

These test cruises are necessary in order to practice the new health protocols and demonstrate to the CDC that cruises can be conducted in a safe manner.

Thus far, only Royal Caribbean has opened up a public sign up for volunteers, and has netted at least 100,000 people to sign up for simulated cruises. Mr. Bayley said in his comments that number was now almost 200,000.

Royal Caribbean has set up a Facebook group for anyone interested in being a volunteer, but has conveyed very little information about how volunteers would be used, if at all.

Furthermore, there has been no announcement of when test cruises might actually begin.

Royal Caribbean's UK boss talks about plans to restart cruises

In:
30Nov2020

Royal Caribbean's vice president EMEA, Ben Bouldin, spoke to cruise fans during an online webinar about what Royal Caribbean is thinking in regards to cruises starting up again.

Mr. Bouldin answered questions during a CruiseCritic webinar about how Royal Caribbean will approach their return to service, and what is happening right now to get closer to cruises resuming.

Today's talk with Mr. Bouldin provided an updated look at the latest changes and news.

Extensive test sailings

One of the first topics tackled was test cruises, and what to expect from them.

Royal Caribbean received a tremendous amount of interest from the public to be a volunteer on test cruises, and the question remains what to expect from these test sailings.

Mr. Bouldin believes the test sailings will be "critical" to preparing the fleet to start again safely.

The exact specifics of these test sailings still need to be defined fully, "We might need some volunteers in some markets to do so and we'll see how that goes. But the team are planning what those tests eventually look like."

The opportunity to sign up for test cruises is limited to Americans currently, but European test sailings will also need to occur and volunteers could be a part of that too.

"There will definitely be trial cruises on the ship sailing out of Europe, so we've had that confirmed."

"What form those are going to take was still working on, but there will definitely be some trial cruises and whether or not we open those up to the public and still to be defined."

"But I suspect we may well need the help of some of our very loyal, Crown and Anchor guests to come and help put some of the ships and the crews through their paces."

First cruise back on Quantum

On the topic of test cruises, Royal Caribbean just wrapped up its first test sailing with Quantum of the Seas right before she will start sailing again tomorrow.

Mr. Bouldin noted Quantum completed its first test sailing in Singapore with "friends and family" onboard.

"We've worked very closely with the Singapore authorities to produce a program that's fit for purpose and helps us return to service safely. And we're delighted to get that back up and running tomorrow."

"I'm sure we're going to learn so much about our future plans on the basis of how these sailing's developed evolve."

Of course, these cruises on Quantum have been designed with safety of crew and passengers in conjunction with the Singaporean government.

"There are so many different protocols, many different aspects from hygiene and cleaning crew to how we serve in restaurants and buffets, how we socially distance and theaters."

"All of these things have to be thought through practiced and implemented ahead of guests coming on board."

Technology will be critical

When cruises restart, technology will play its most significant role yet on cruise ships.

Royal Caribbean has always invested in new ways to leverage tech, such as facial recognition and a new app, but more changes are coming.

Mr. Bouldin noted that the cruise line wants to create contactless environments around the ship, such as how people can order drinks from their phone or open their stateroom doors.

"That's all going to evolve and continue to evolve. So planning your trip and having everything in the palm of your hand is critical."

One of the signature new features coming to the Royal Caribbean app is Muster 2.0, which makes the muster drill a self-service and easier experience.

Buffet is not going away

And for anyone still concerned, the Windjammer buffet is not going anywhere.

There was concern earlier this year that the buffet might be going away, but Mr. Bouldin echoed follow up comments from Royal Caribbean that there will still be a buffet, albeit with some changes.

"The buffet is staying. The Windjammer Cafe is one of the most loved and best loved features of our product and is genuinely adored by our fans all over the world."

"In the short term, we may have to look at some changes around how food is served, but ultimately that restaurant and the brand has no intention of getting rid of the buffet that everyone loves."

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