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Michael Bayley addresses concerns of requiring Covid-19 vaccine on Royal Caribbean ships


Royal Caribbean has proudly announced the restart of some ships this summer outside of the United States, but the role of the Covid-19 vaccine for those sailings has some cruisers concerned.

Based on comments across social media, there is a vocal contingent of cruisers who are unwilling or unable to get the Covid-19 vaccine at this time.

As part of the March 2021 newsletter to Crown and Anchor Society members, Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley addressed the undetermined role of a Covid-19 vaccine in the cruise line's overall plans.

Mr. Bayley acknowledged the issue in his message to guests, "I know there are questions when it comes to our future plans, health and safety re measures, vaccines and more. The current vaccine requirements for our new sailings this summer, in particular, have raised concerns."

"I want you to know that we understand. This environment we are in is one we're navigating as best we can with the ever-evolving information that tells us what will help reduce the chances of COVID-19 impacting any cruise."

He added that changes in protocols and the approach to the virus may change this summer, "There's nothing more we would like than to welcome everyone back on board and for today's needed measures, like vaccinations, to become unnecessary in the near future."

"We believe that much will change leading up to summer, and we're working through it all with the Healthy Sail Panel, public health experts and governments around the world."

"One thing is tor sure: Delivering memorable vacations is still what we do, and you, our crew and the communities we visit matter most."

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

Despite the fact all of the recently announced ships that will resume cruises this summer will require the Covid-19 vaccine, Royal Caribbean has been adimant no decision has been made if they will or will not require the vaccine across the fleet.

Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain has said on a few occasions that nothing firm has been established, and things could very well change as the science evolves.

Most recently, Mr. Fain talked about the role of vaccines this summer during a webinar last week, "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. And so we're starting on this basis that they will require vaccines, but that could change tomorrow."

"We do respond to the facts and the evidence, and so we started out on the new cruises that we've announced and they are going to require initially vaccines. But we don't know how long that will be a feature."

Royal Caribbean is not alone in its indecision. 

None of the major cruise lines have announced if they will or will not require the Covid-19 vaccine when they resume cruises.

Royal Caribbean will provide a Covid test for cruisers returning to the United States


If you are headed on a Royal Caribbean cruise this summer from Bermuda, The Bahamas, or somewhere else, you can expect to get a negative Covid test before your cruise ends so you can go home.

One of the many extra steps required to cruise in 2021 is upon returning to the United States on an international flight, you need a negative Covid test result.  

Current U.S. requirements stipulate that returning international travelers must get tested no more than 3 days before re-entering the United States. 

Disembarkation day is difficult enough with everything going on, so how would cruise passengers find time to get a negative test before heading to the airport for a flight home?

It appears Royal Caribbean will take care of this for guests.

Read moreHere's what you need to do before going on your Adventure of the Seas cruise from The Bahamas

A new update to the cruise line's website indicates guests will undergo an antigen test onboard the ship at no additional cost so that its results can be used to re-enter the United States.

This test would only benefit someone flying home within 24 hours of departing the ship, for the test result to be within the valid window. 

Royal Caribbean says guests staying after their cruise will need to get their own test at their own expense.

The new printed policy follows up on a verbal promise to travel agents last week by Royal Caribbean's Senior Vice President, Sales, Trade Support and Service, Vicki Freed.

Ms. Freed said, "We will be providing those tests on board the ship at no cost to the guests so that they can re-enter the U.S."

The CDC requires anyone must have a negative COVID-19 test result before they board a flight to the United States and get a COVID-19 test 3 to 5 days after returning from international travel.

CDC issues first technical instructions to cruise lines for moving towards resuming cruises


The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has issued one part of its new technical instructions for cruise lines to move towards cruise ships sailing again from the United States.

Five months after the CDC issued its Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO), there has been no additional information provided for cruise lines to progress further.

An update to Technical Instructions for Mitigation of COVID-19 Among Cruise Ship Crew now includes, "CSO Phase 2A Routine COVID-19 Screening Testing of All Crew."

Essentially, the new instructions address crew members currently onboard ships sailing with more stringent and quicker pace of reporting to the CDC.

This will allow the CDC to more closely monitor ships and assign the proper color code to signify the ship's health status. 

In order to do this, the CDC requires daily submission of the “Enhanced Data Collection (EDC) During COVID-19 Pandemic Form”. This form is used by the CDC to monitor reports and outbreaks of Covid-19 on a ship.

The CDC also told cruise lines to "explore options to vaccinate crew for Covid-19", which is something Royal Caribbean and other lines have already committed themselves to doing.

A great deal of the instructions in Phase 2A deal with what cruise lines need to do when bringing new crew members onboard, as well as visitors or overnight contractors.

The color codes the CDC uses to categorize ships based on their health status has also changed, expanding their color code system include a new orange level that is between green and yellow.

Orange ship status in the absence of pre-existing Red ship status or a case report on the same day that would change the ship’s status to Red.

What about test cruises?

The new update only mentions simulated voyages once in the document, noting that in order for a cruise ship to get permission to board "non-essential crew", the CDC must verify that the cruise ship operator has documented the approval of all U.S. port and local health authorities where the ship intends to dock or make port during one or more simulated voyages or restricted passenger voyages. 

What this means is a cruise line must have an agreement with the U.S. port it will sail from that it has the capability for screening & testing of embarking crew and the quarantine and isolation of crew.

However, the CDC did include in its press release that the next phase of the CSO will include test cruises.

"The next phase of the CSO will include simulated (trial) voyages that will allow crew and port personnel to practice new COVID-19 operational procedures with volunteers before sailing with passengers."

Read moreEverything you need to know about Royal Caribbean test cruises

New changes after public pressure

It is hard to ignore the fact these changes come after a whirlwind week of government officials and industry leaders calling on the CDC to act and allow ships to sail again.

A variety of public statements, as well as the cruise industry calling on the public to tell elected officials to allow ships to sail again has come leading up to today's new instructions.

Most notably, Florida's Governor threatened to sue the CDC if things did not change, and the cruise industry organization set up a way for cruisers to contact legislators to ask for action.

The serious double standard remains

While today's action is a step forward in the academic sense of the word, cruise lines remain hopelessly shutdown for more than a year while every other facet of travel remains unhindered.

Airlines, theme parks, casinos, trains and more are allowed to operate as they see fit, with minimal Federal requirements to basic needs.

In fact, the airlines have rebuffed every attempt to institute testing of passengers onboard domestic flights, which is something cruise lines have committed to do since October 2020.

The CDC even acknowledged earlier today that fully vaccinated people have a low risk in terms of travel.

Meanwhile, cruises that have been able to restart sailings in Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific have carried  almost 400,000 passengers and had fewer than 50 based on public reports. 

CDC says travel for fully vaccinated people has "low risk"


Could this be a major step towards getting cruise ships sailing again?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued new guidance on Friday that people that are fully vaccinated can safely travel at "low risk".

The new advice comes after months of the CDC urging all Americans to avoid any kind of non-essential travel.

The CDC’s new guidance says fully vaccinated people do not need Covid-19 tests before international travel unless it is required by the international destination and vaccinated people returning from foreign travel do not need to self-quarantine after returning to the United States, unless required by state or local authorities.

Grandparents that have been fully vaccinated can fly to visit grandkids without getting a Covid-19 test or self-quarantining as long as they follow CDC advice for traveling safely.

Specifically, the CDC provided the following guidance:

  • Fully vaccinated people can travel internationally without getting a COVID-19 test before travel unless it is required by the international destination.
  • Fully vaccinated people do not need to self-quarantine after returning to the United States, unless required by a state or local jurisdiction.
  • Fully vaccinated people should still have a negative COVID-19 test result before they board a flight to the United States and get a COVID-19 test 3 to 5 days after returning from international travel.
  • Fully vaccinated people should continue to take COVID-19 precautions while traveling internationally.

Why the change? Studies show the "real-world'' effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines.

There is no change on guidance for people that are not fully vaccinated. The CDC discourages non-essential domestic travel by those who are not fully vaccinated.

This announcement comes on the heels that the CDC will be issuing new guidance to cruise lines very soon so that they can resume service.

Apart from cruise lines, no other sector of travel has been subject to actually adhering to the CDC's guidance. Airlines, theme parks, casinos and hotels have all been able to do whatever they want in regard to their operations.

Meanwhile, the cruise industry remains shutdown in the United States due to CDC regulations.

Cruise lines have already committed themselves to 100% testing for all passengers and crewenhanced HVAC and air circulation, and a multi-faceted approach to mitigate the risk of spread on a cruise ship.

Report: CDC will issue new guidance for cruise ships "shortly"


Believe it or not, it looks like perhaps the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) may be giving cruise lines instructions on how to resume sailings.

Miami-Dade mayor Daniella Levine Cava posted on social media that she had a conversation with the CDC Director, who informed her the agency will be providing cruise lines "shortly" with new guidance.

"We are excited that the CDC will shortly be issuing new guidelines for a restart of cruising," Mayor Cava said in a statement.

It does not appear the CDC will go as far as to scrap the Framework for Conditional Sail Order(CSO) all together, as the cruise industry as hoped. Rather, guidance for the next phases, including how Covid-19 vaccines will be accounted for, will be issued in the next few days.

"We are excited that the CDC will shortly be issuing new guidelines for a restart to cruising, taking into consideration the advancements made possible by the vaccine, and we are eager to work with the CDC and cruise industry as a positive partner and a resource. Some may want to sue, but we want to sail, and we are ready to collaborate to make sure the Cruise Capital of the World can lead the way to rebuild this critical industry. "

More than a week ago, Mayor Cava sent a letter to the CDC in order to get an answer about when cruises might restart

Her letter, along with a flurry of statements and letters from other politicians and cruise industry officials, have been a vocal show of support for cruise lines that remain shutdown for well over a year due to CDC regulation.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava

The issue many, including Mayor Cava, have pointed out is the fact cruise lines were given a four phase plan to restart cruises in October 2020, and are still stuck in phase one.

Cruise industry organization Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has been leading the charge lately to get cruise ships going again by imploring the public to reach out to elected officials to compel the CDC to open things up.

CLIA's goal was to get the CSO lifted so that cruises could resume in July.

Update: The CDC has updated the Conditional Sail Order with new instructions

Cautious optimism

Mayor Cava's statement is refreshing, but cruise lines are far from able to announce a restart of sailings from the U.S. yet.

Ever since the CDC replaced the No Sail Order with the CSO in October, there have been many points along the way that seemed to indicate cruise ships might get the green light, only for those hopes to be dashed when nothing happened.

A very public example of this was back in February 2021 when Royal Caribbean President and CEO Michael Bayley told investors he was expecting technical instructions from the CDC for the next phase of operations "any day".

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

While Mayor Cava's statement is encouraging, there has been no official statement by the CDC regarding anything related to cruise ships.

Cruise industry calls on CDC to let cruise ships sail again


A cruise industry association has called on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to let cruise ships restart.

CLIA officially called on the CDC to lift the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO), citing it being "outdated" and not reflective of current conditions.

Specifically, CLIA wants the CSO lifted so that cruise ships can restart sailings form the United States at the beginning of July, to match President Biden’s forecast for when the United States will be “closer to normal.” 

By lifting the CSO, cruise lines would not have to conduct test sailings, or any of the other requirements outlined by the CSO. Instead, cruise lines would implement new health protocols and rule changes aimed at making ships as safe as possible.

CLIA cites statistics of extremely low Covid-19 rates on cruise ships sailing elsewhere in the world as proof cruises can operate safely. Ships sailing in Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific have carried almost 400,000 passengers and had fewer than 50 based on public reports. This is "dramatically lower than the rate on land or in any other transportation mode."

Moreover, CLIA says the CDC has failed to follow through with the spirit of the CSO when it was implemented back in October 2020. Since then, the CDC has not released any further guidance, as called for in the CSO, to support the resumption of U.S. cruise operations.

"The lack of any action by the CDC has effectively banned all sailings in the largest cruise market in the world," CLIA said in a press release. "Cruising is the only sector of the U.S. economy that remains prohibited, even as most others have opened or continued to operate throughout the pandemic. "

"The outdated CSO, which was issued almost five months ago, does not reflect the industry’s proven advancements and success operating in other parts of the world, nor the advent of vaccines, and unfairly treats cruises differently. Cruise lines should be treated the same as other travel, tourism, hospitality, and entertainment sectors, " said Kelly Craighead, CLIA’s President and CEO.  

Proving CLIA's point, Carnival Cruise Line's CEO recently pointed out they are still waiting for instructions from the CDC on how to proceed.

By keeping cruise lines shutdown, CLIA says it has cost jobs and revenue to the U.S. economy.

CLIA estimates restarting cruises as part of the broader travel industry will provide a much-needed boost to the U.S. economy—with the cruise industry supporting nearly 450,000 American jobs and contributing over $55.5 billion annually, prior to the pandemic.  

Based on economic modeling by research firm BREA, more than 300,000 jobs have been lost in the United States due to the suspension of cruises. 

While the U.S. remains on the sidelines of cruising, Royal Caribbean and other lines have begun plans to sail from other countries in order to bypass the CDC.

Royal Caribbean will offer Adventure of the Seas and Vision of the Seas this summer from the Bahamas and Bermuda, respectively. Celebrity Cruises will sail from St. Maarten on the Celebrity Millennium.

The rationale for the No Sail Order and the CSO has been a fear that cruise ships are inherently unsafe because Covid-19 can more easily spread there.

In the CDC's Executive Summary of the No Sail Order, they cite data on COVID-19 cases aboard cruise ships from early 2020 as impetus for the rule.

Royal Caribbean Group CEO answers common questions about cruises restarting


Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain posted a new video celebrating the restart of sailings on Adventure of the Seas, as well as answering the most common questions he is seeing.

Every few weeks, Mr. Fain has been producing videos for travel agents that seek to offer insight into where things are while the cruise industry remains shutdown.

The enthusiasm in Mr. Fain's voice and expressions was evident as he heralded the return of Adventure of the Seas and Celebrity Millennium to sailing in June.

In fact, Mr. Fain teased that more sailings from places outside the United States will be coming soon.

"It all reinforces the view that there's an enormous amount of pent up demand eager to cruise again. I expect that we will soon be announcing more such itineraries."

In addition, Mr. Fain highlighted the fact across the Royal Caribbean Group of brands, over 100,000 people have sailed with just ten positive cases.

"This is really our objective: few infections and certainly lower than would be expected in the surrounding community, all handled smoothly without ruining everybody's vacation, protection of guests and the surrounding community from a big spread of the virus."

"In essence, we've just had a hundred thousand test cruisers and demonstrated that the process works."

Addressing the hot topics

The bulk of the video is dedicated to hitting some of the common questions he has been asked.  

Here is a breakdown of these questions, and his responses.

When will cruises restart?

"The answer is, as I said before, we already have. Hundreds of thousands of happy cruises in various parts of the world. And it's fast growing with recent announcements of more such cruises, including the Caribbean."

"By the way, on average, our ratings on these cruises are seven points higher than our ratings were pre pandemic. Clearly, our guests are loving the experience."

Will vaccines be required to cruise?

"The answer to that is we don't know. We have announced three cruises that will require inoculations for all adults, and there are likely to be more."

"But each circumstance is different. And I would note that the cruises we are currently operating are operating without requiring vaccines. But the vaccines set the stage for whatever we do. And all of our efforts are designed to make our cruises safer than walking down Main Street, USA."

"The situation changes every day and we will be guided throughout by the science as it evolves and gets better and more accurate."

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

What about the CDC's Conditional Sail Order and when will their next technical rules be issued?

"That's more complicated, but it's still very important."

"The CDC issued the Conditional Sail Order last October in an effort to provide a path for cruising to reopen in the United States. The CDC has an amazing responsibility throughout the United States, and we all know they're working incredibly hard to balance the risks of the disease while limiting the pain and suffering to society."

"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."

"When the Conditional Sail Order was written, there were no vaccines. The disease was on an upward trajectory and headed towards a terrible peak. Testing was less available and more costly and therapeutics were limited. In general, the situation looked very bleak back then."

"What a difference five months makes."

"Today, the vaccines and other measures have changed the trajectory from a steep climb to a dramatic fall. The pandemic isn't under control, but it is getting there and society is beginning to open up."

"I was thrilled when the CDC said that now that I'm vaccinated, I could play with my extraordinary grandchildren without a mask. I was over the moon when they said it was safe for schoolchildren to sit three feet apart instead of six. So we're making important and impressive progress."

"Last October, preparing for resumption of service based on extensive protocols made good sense. But today, a vaccine approach makes much more sense than this old protocol based approach."

"The vaccines are bringing down the incidence of Covid-19 in society. The testing enables us to catch cases early, and the preparation we're doing allows us to handle individual cases safely and simply."

"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."

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything we know about if Royal Caribbean will require a vaccine


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

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

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

This information was updated April 11, 2021.

Crew members will be vaccinated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adults on five cruise ships will require a vaccine

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

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

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

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

What about other cruise lines?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

The lost year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small victories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope on the horizon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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