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Royal Caribbean's Chief Medical Officer explains what needs be done to get approval to cruise again


Royal Caribbean's Public Health & Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Calvin Johnson, spoke to travel agents on Wednesday about what the cruise line has to do in order to obtain approval to start sailing again.

In a webinar, Dr. Johnson spoke about what the new “framework for conditional sailing” order by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) means, and what steps are required to be completed.

Dr. Johnson said the first phase of the framework is to establish a baseline for cruise lines and their ships to demonstrate that the ships are free of the virus onboard.

Another step is the requirement to have simulated voyages, that allow Royal Caribbean to test the new protocols that are going to be put into place.

Dr. Johnson and his team worked very hard in order to take the Healthy Sail Panel's 74 recommendations and turn them into cruise line specific rules for any sailing.

"The way that we at a Royal Caribbean group have moved to operationalize those has been through creating very, very specific and detailed operational protocols, how we will do things as a cruise line in order to make sure that we're focusing on those safe aspects and those elements that will help make cruising safer."

Dr. Johnson said these operational protocols fall into five large categories:

1. Prevention: What you do up front to make sure as best you can to keep the virus from ever even getting on the ship.

"Being one hundred percent in keeping virus out of anywhere is is a daunting task and may not happen. But what you can do is minimize the risk of a virus spreading it."

2. Mitigation efforts: What do you do if the wind virus is on board? How quickly can you identify it?

"How do you identify them? How do you identify those who they may have been in contact with? How do you contain them and then get them to the appropriate level of care, isolating them from being able to to spread or infect others and ultimately inappropriately getting them off the vessel and into the appropriate level of care, whether that is just quarantining or isolating at home or in a hotel or if they're sick and getting them to hospital and appropriate medical care."

3. Protecting the destinations: How do we ensure that we're protecting the destinations and those nations in those ports that we that we sail to?

"We don't want to bring any illness or disease or risk to our partners. That requires and working on on both on both ends, their responsibility and our responsibility to ensure that we're creating a safe environment for all involved."

4. Mobilization: How do you effective and appropriately then get folks to the care that they need?

5. Validation: How do you ensure that they're actually being done properly and actually making a difference?

In going through those five key areas, Dr. Johnson said Royal Caribbean came up with over 122 specific protocols to move towards safer sailing.

"One hundred twenty two protocols and actually almost three hundred specific policies added on, in addition to to what we already had some policies improved to change."

Dr. Johnson also echoed a sentiment shared by other Royal Caribbean Group executives that cruises will only begin when the cruise line feels it is safe to do so, and there is no rush back.

"That means not going back to sailing before we're ready to go back to sailing, not going back to sailing before we feel it is is safe to do so."

Vaccine outlook

Dr. Johnson was asked about his thoughts on some of the amazing trial results two different vaccines have reported recently.

Dr. Johnson said the vaccines have a long history of being "transformative in terms of both health, health care and public health," and thinks what is currently happening with the trial vaccines is "an incredibly exciting time".

"The fact that vaccines have we've gotten to this point in terms of vaccine development... is very, very encouraging."

"Those protections and processes that have been in place for vaccines in the past, still looking to ensure through the data that that these vaccines that are moving forward now are, in fact, safe and effective."

He added that there is still more information we can learn in the last phase of the vaccine development that we should pay close attention to, "to ensure that these vaccines continue to be safe and that their effectiveness seems to continue to be such that they will have an impact on limiting the severity and the duration of this illness."

Royal Caribbean has not decided on any more cancellations following Carnival Cruise Line announcement


Carnival Cruise Line announced today it has cancelled all sailings into February, and even some into March, but Royal Caribbean has no plans yet to match those dates.

Nearly as soon as Carnival Cruise Line made the announcement it would cancel all of its sailings through January 31, 2021 and select cruises in February and March, many cruise fans were wondering if Royal Caribbean would do the same.

Carnival announced it would extend its cancellation for all vessels through at least January 31.

In addition, Carnival canceled all sailings out of Baltimore; Charleston, South Carolina.; Jacksonville, Florida; Long Beach, California; Mobile, Alabama.; New Orleans; and San Diego through the end of February.

Sailings out of Tampa on the line’s Carnival Legend were canceled through March 26.

During a webinar with travel agents, Royal Caribbean's Senior Vice President, Sales, Trade Support and Service Vicki Freed said there was no decision made 

"At this point in time, we've only canceled sailings through the end of December."

"We're staying very fluid with the situation. And if we do need to cancel, we will certainly give everybody a heads up. But right now it's just through the end of December of 2020."

Royal Caribbean's current global cruise suspension expires at the end of December (except for Quantum of the Seas in Singapore), with a January 1, 2021 date to resume operation for the majority of the fleet.

Since the cruise industry have shut down operations in March, the "big three" cruise lines of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Carnival Corporation and Royal Caribbean Group have had a tendency to match each other with cruise cancellation announcements. While this pattern is far from an absolute guarantee, it has been the dominant pattern.

Time needed to prepare

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lifted the No Sail Order at the end of October, but replaced it with a complex road map for cruise lines to follow if they wish to restart operations.

There are multiple phases to restart, which include preparing ships now to ensure they are free of any virus, conducting test cruises, and applying for a Conditional Sailing Certificate.

None of these steps is simple or quick, and it could take many more weeks or months to go through all the steps.

Royal Caribbean has not provided any kind of guidance of how long they estimate it may take before cruises resume, but executives have been insistent that they will take their time in order to get it right.

Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain has said they want to have a good plan in place before starting back up.

"We have said that we're not sure when we're coming back. We won't come back until we're absolutely sure that we've done everything we can to work to protect the safety of our guests and crew."

"We will work with the authorities. We will work with all the experts that we have asked to help us on this, to make sure that we are doing everything we can to protect our guests and crew."

Royal Caribbean cruises longer than a week begin disappearing from website


While no official announcement has been made, many Royal Caribbean cruises longer than 7-nights from the United States have been removed from being available to book on its website.

Over the weekend, a number of RoyalCaribbeanBlog readers reported while the 8-night or longer cruises they have booked are still showing in their online account, searching for these sailings is impossible on Royal Caribbean's booking site.

While closed for new bookings, these cruises are not cancelled at this time. Existing reservations on these longer itineraries remain valid at this point.

When viewing Royal Caribbean's website, if you select any American port and try any date prior to late November 2021, no results are found. This apparent change does not seem to affect European sailings, or 2022 cruises.

All of the cruises longer than 7-nights have not been removed yet. Three 12-night Southern Caribbean cruises remain available in November and December 2021, and there are ten 8-night cruises still listed in December 2021.

One of the requirements of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Framework for Conditional Sailing Order is to limit cruises to no longer than 7-nights.

"The cruise ship operator must not sail or offer to sail on an itinerary longer than 7 days. CDC may shorten or lengthen the number of days permitted to sail based on public health
considerations and as set forth in technical instructions or orders."

In conducting spot checking of a few cruises, I could not locate these sailings for booking on Royal Caribbean's website:

  • Oasis of the Seas July 30, 2021 9-night Eastern Caribbean from Cape Liberty
  • Jewel of the Seas September 12, 2021 8-night Canada from Cape Liberty
  • Anthem of the Seas October 30, 2021 8-Night Bahamas from Cape Liberty
  • All Explorer of the Seas 9-Night Southern Caribbean from Miami
  • Radiance of the Seas October 15, 2021 9-Night Southern Caribbean from Miami

Once again, Royal Caribbean has not announced any new cancellations related to these 7-night cruises, nor if the longer sailings would be shortened to adhere to the CDC rules.

Sailings longer than seven nights from U.S. homeports are showing as available to book as of November 2021, when the CDC's new Framework for Conditional Sailing is expected to expire.

UPDATE: Vicki Freed, Royal Caribbean's Senior Vice President, Sales, Trade Support and Service, told travel agents on Wednesday that 8-night cruises between January 1 - November 1, 2021 are on hold.

"The eight-night cruises right now are on hold on pause from January 1st to November 1st, 2021. So we're still re-evaluating the whole situation."

Following other cruise lines?

If Royal Caribbean is about to alter or cancel cruises longer than 7 nights in 2021, it is not the first cruise line to do so.

Earlier this month, Carnival Cruise Line also removed cruises from its website from the U.S. that were longer than a week without any announcement.

Royal Caribbean stock jumps after COVID-19 vaccine is 94% effective


Royal Caribbean shareholders have started their week on a positive note thanks to excellent COVID-19 vaccine news.

Royal Caribbean (RCL) shares jumped by almost 10% on Monday (it closed up almost 7% at the end of trading) after pharmaceutical company reported its vaccine tests showed 94.5% effectiveness.

The good news spurred all cruise line stocks to spike even before the market opened.

Moderna's results are on top of last week's Pfizer's results that showed its vaccine candidate was more than 90% effective.

Moderna says about 20 million doses will be available in the United States by the end of this year, and have between 500 million a 1 billion doses worldwide in 2021.

The company says it will apply for Emergency Use Authorization with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration within the coming weeks.

Vaccine results

During Moderna's late-stage trials, 15,000 study participants were given a placebo, which is a shot of saline that has no effect. Over several months, 90 of them developed COVID-19, with 11 developing severe forms of the disease.

Another 15,000 participants were given the vaccine, and only five of them developed COVID-19. None of the five became severely ill.

Moderna says its vaccine did not have any serious side effects. A small percentage of those who received it experienced symptoms such as body aches and headaches.

The vaccine is not only more effective than Pfizer's vaccine, but it can be stored for up to six months when stored at standard freezer temperatures of -4 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to the -94 degree temperatures required for the Pfizer vaccine. 

Both vaccines are using messenger RNA, or mRNA to produce an immune response in the vaccine.

The mRNA vaccine approach uses genetic material called mRNA to trick cells into producing bits of protein that look like pieces of the virus. The immune system learns to recognize and attack those bits and, in theory, would react fast to any actual infection.

Vaccine potential great news for Royal Caribbean

While the cruise industry's attempt to restart operations does not rely on a vaccine, it certainly will do nothing but help their cause.

Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain spoke on Monday about the "transformational" progress being made on the vaccine front.

"The most at risk Americans will be vaccinated first, and then it will spread throughout our population."

"I noticed that Dr. Fauci said he believes that any American who wants one will be able to get an inoculation by April of next year. That's exciting news."

While it waits for a vaccine, the cruise industry will rely on a multi-faceted approach to mitigate risk by relying on social distancing, reduced ship capacity, and 100% testing of everyone onboard.

Congress members ask CDC to bring back the No Sail order cruise ship ban


A United States Senator and Representative sent a joint letter to the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) asking them to reinstate the ban on cruise ships from the United States.

The Senators felt obliged to act following a high profile situation developing with a small luxury yacht cruise line that encountered a few passengers testing positive for COVID-19 while onboard.

U.S. Representative Doris Matsui (D-CA) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) sent the letters after seeing the SeaDream 1 cruise ship report about 5 positive cases a few days after the ship departed Barbados.

The letter was sent to CDC Director Robert R. Redfield, and implored him to bring back the cruise ship ban.

"We write with urgent concern surrounding recent reports of multiple confirmed positive COVID-19 cases on board the first cruise ship to carry passengers in the Caribbean since  countries around the world imposed strict limitations on operations in mid-March."

The Senators feel the time is simply not right for cruises to restart with the pandemic still a major threat across the United States, and around the world.

"The order set out a seemingly robust and phased approach to restarting cruise line operations, but we have serious concerns that – even with the additional requirements and standards – cruising is simply unsafe during a global pandemic."

At the end of October, the CDC lifted the No Sail Order ban on cruise ships, and replaced it with the Framework for Conditional Sail Order (CSO), which set up a series of requirements for cruise lines to meet before getting approval to sail again.

On Wednesday, SeaDream Yacht Club announced that a passenger on board one of its ships had preliminarily tested positive for COVID-19. Last night, reports confirmed several other cases aboard the ship and that at least five people aboard have tested positive for coronavirus after undergoing additional screening.

Cruise industry insider Stewart Chiron called the letter "uninformed, political grandstanding", noting the enormous double standard the cruise lines are held to while so many other aspects of travel and life in the United States are completely unregulated for COVID-19 concerns.

Senator Blumenthal took to Twitter as well to share his concern that cruises returning have fulfilled, "our worst fears."

Royal Caribbean cancels January 2021 Australia and New Zealand cruises


Royal Caribbean announced it has cancelled its Australia and New Zealand cruises on or before January 31, 2021.

Guests on affected sailings in January have begun receiving emails to inform them of the change.

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

Royal Caribbean had planned to resume cruises on January 1, but announced it had to cancel the cruises to prepare for its new health protocols.

"We want to ensure we have ample time to focus on our healthy return to service initiatives and to let you make alternative holiday plans."

"Royal Caribbean International will be extending our suspension of sailings, beyond that of the Australian government’s, to include sailings departing Australia and New Zealand on or before 31 January 2021. This is to allow guests booked on January sailings to make alternative holiday arrangements."

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

The email to guests also thanked them for their understanding.

"We appreciate your patience, understanding, and continued loyalty. We will all come out of this stronger than ever. Stay healthy and safe. We miss our guests, and we’ll be ready to welcome you back soon."

Guests on the now cancelled cruises have the choice of three compensation offers:

125% Future Cruise Credit

125% Future Cruise Credit to book a new cruise by December 31, 2021 for sailings on or before April 30, 2022.

The FCCs will be sent via email by by December 18, 2020.

Lift & Shift

Select next year’s sailing with the same itinerary type, sailing length, stateroom category, and within the same 4-week window of the original cruise date, and you can take your existing reservation and move it to next year.

You must decide to move to a new sailing by November 25, 2020. If not, we will automatically issue you a 125% Future Cruise Credit.


If you prefer a cash refund, you can do so by requesting this option on-or-before March 31, 2020.

You can expect their refund to the original form of payment within 45 days from the cancellation date. 

FCC Used to Purchase: If you purchased your January cruise using a Future Cruise Credit and opt for a refund, the FCC will be reinstated for future use, under its original terms.

Royal Caribbean stock surges after COVID-19 vaccine tests are more than 90% effective


If you own Royal Caribbean stock, today is a great start to your portfolio for the week.

Royal Caribbean, and the entire travel sector, saw enormous gains in pre-market trading that has continued through the day thanks to positive news about COVID-19 vaccine trials.

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer said early data from its coronavirus vaccine shows it is more than 90% effective, which is better than expected results.

Royal Caribbean's stock was trading at around 25% higher than its opening price, and thee momentum started with pre-market trading nearly as soon as Pfizer made its announcement.

Not only did the news buoy Royal Caribbean's stock, but other cruise lines saw similar gains as well.  In fact, travel industry stocks across the board have seen large gains on Monday.

Vaccine test results

Pfizer says the interim analysis looked at the first 94 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among the more than 43,000 volunteers who got either two doses of the vaccine or a placebo.

It found that fewer than 10% of infections were in participants who had been given the vaccine. More than 90% of the cases were in people who had been given a placebo.

The vaccine is being developed with German partner BioNTech had an efficacy rate higher than 90% at seven days after the second dose, which means protection is achieved 28 days after a person begins vaccination. 

The vaccine requires two doses. 

The reason why the 90% mark is such good news is because the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it expected at least 50% efficacy from any coronavirus vaccine.

In a press release, Pfizer said it plans to seek emergency use authorization from the FDA soon after volunteers have been monitored for two months after getting their second dose of vaccine, as requested by the FDA.

Pfizer said it anticipated reaching that marker by the third week of November.

Next steps for the vaccine

Phase 3 of Pfizer's vaccine trial has 43,538 people enrolled since July 27.  As of Sunday, 38,955 of the volunteers have received a second dose of the vaccine.

42% of international trial sites and 30% of US trial sites involve volunteers of racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds.

The final goal of the trial is to reach 164 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection.

Pfizer's approach relies on a new technology called messenger RNA, or mRNA, to produce an immune response in the vaccine.

The mRNA vaccine approach uses genetic material called mRNA to trick cells into producing bits of protein that look like pieces of the virus. The immune system learns to recognize and attack those bits and, in theory, would react fast to any actual infection.

It is not clear yet if this vaccine will become a yearly or season shot, as it is not clear if the vaccine will provide long-term protection.

Royal Caribbean not counting on vaccine yet

While the vaccine may prove to be a major weapon in the arsenal for combating COVID-19, Royal Caribbean's plans to restart cruises do not hinge on the vaccine quite yet.

Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain expects tests to have a greater impact on cruises than the vaccine in the short term.

"The advances are so significant that I believe in the near term we will see more benefit from testing than we will from vaccines in the near term."

Fain thinks the impact of a vaccine will take time, and in the meantime, new and better testing will make a quicker difference.

"Vaccines are the ultimate weapon against this virus and their development has been nothing short of amazing. But I do think it's likely that a vaccine will be available before the end of the year. But getting enough for widespread distribution is going to take probably until sometime in the spring."

"On the other hand, faster, cheaper and widespread testing will be much more impactful, much sooner. Widespread testing enables contact tracing, and it's the one two punch of testing and contact tracing that is so effective in limiting the community spread of the disease."

Cruise industry announces it will extend voluntary suspension of cruises through December 2020


Royal Caribbean announced it has cancelled its December 2020 cruises in North America, and the entire cruise industry will be doing the same thing.

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), which is the industry group representing 95% of cruise lines (including Royal Caribbean), announced on Tuesday it is extended its Voluntarily Extend Suspension of U.S. Operations through December 31, 2020.

In a statement to the media, CLIA indicated the extension was needed for cruise lines to prepare to meet the rigorous health standards needed to restart cruises.

CLIA members will use the remainder of the year to prepare for the implementation of extensive measures to address COVID-19 safety with the guidance of outside public health experts and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"As we continue to plan for a gradual and highly-controlled return of cruise operations in the U.S., CLIA members are committed to implementing stringent measures to address COVID-19 safety, including 100% testing of passengers and crew, expanded onboard medical capabilities, and trial sailings, among many others." 

"We share a common goal with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to protect public health, which has been affirmed and reaffirmed consistently throughout the industry’s response to the global pandemic.  As we work to operationalize a path forward, our members have agreed to extend our existing suspension of U.S. operations through December 31.  This action will provide additional time to align the industry’s extensive preparation of health protocols with the implementation requirements under the CDC’s Framework for Conditional Sailing and Initial Phase COVID-19 Testing Requirements for Protection of Crew."

"We recognize the devastating impact that the pandemic continues to have on the 421,000 Americans whose livelihoods are connected directly to cruise operations. We will work with urgency to advance a responsible return to cruising while maintaining a focus on effective, science-based measures to protect public health."

CLIA also noted the significant economic impact cruises have on the American economy.

"The cruise industry is a vital economic artery in the United States, generating over $53 billion in annual economic activity and supporting 421,000 American jobs spanning almost every sector. Each day without cruise operations in the U.S. results in nearly 1,000 American jobs lost."

"From mid-March through today, it is estimated that the suspension of cruise operations has resulted in a loss of more than $25 billion in economic activity and over 164,000 American jobs."

Yesterday, Royal Caribbean Group, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Carnival Corporation and MSC Cruises all announced independently that they would cancel their December cruises in the United States. 

Preparing to cruise again

While the CDC has opened the door for cruises to start again, there are many requirements imposed on the cruise industry to demonstrate it can be achieved safely.

Following a months-long planning process with the support and guidance of leading public health experts, Royal Caribbean and all cruise lines are taking this extra time to prepare to operationalize enhanced public health procedures.

Before cruises can fully resume, the CDC has outlined a series of steps that need to occur before cruise ships can begin taking passengers onboard.

The Framework for Conditional Sailing requires cruise lines to establish safety and testing protocols for crew members, conduct a series of test sailings, and then request approval to sail with paying passengers.

The CDC believes these new regulations and check points are needed to "prevent the further introduction, transmission, or spread of COVID-19 via cruise ships globally and into U.S. communities."

Bittersweet news

Most cruise fans understand the need by the cruise lines to prepare for all of these new rules, but many believe the CDC has created extremely difficult goals to attain.

On the RoyalCaribbeanBlog message boards, the topic has been discussed at great lengths and whether or not the new Conditional Sail Order is fair.

Tanner believes the new rules are simply too ambiguous, "The biggest lack of clarity is in terms of what will be considered cruising safely. Will the CDC view one case of Covid-19, a statistical outbreak, or failure to adhere to meet the standards as the end all be all. Clearly, not following rules will result in one line being shut down but will it shut down the industry."

Twangster shared he believes the new order is simply a stop-gap measure, "I think the CDC is buying time hoping for a new administration that will accept their findings without interference."

Worst yet, many readers seem to think the first sailings may still be many months away, such as jaullram, "I unfortunately, don't see how sailings will begin until February or March at the earliest."

Royal Caribbean cancels December 2020 cruises while preparing to restart


Royal Caribbean announced on Monday it would cancel its December 2020 cruises (excluding Quantum of the Seas in Singapore) while the cruise line prepares to restart cruise operations.

While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lifted the No Sail order, the new regulations and requirements imposed on the cruise industry to be able to restart simply means Royal Caribbean needs more time to meet the new requirements.

In a statement to travel agents, Royal Caribbean said the cancellations were necessary to prepare for restarting cruises, "We are eager to welcome our guests back onboard while keeping their safety, as well as that of our crew members, our number one priority. We’re committed to taking the time needed to do things right"

"We plan to utilize this time to thoroughly train our staff and crew on our new health and safety protocols, while also conducting a number of trial sailings to stress-test these measures in real-world conditions."

"We will continue to work closely with the CDC and the Healthy Sail Panel as we take this next step and solidify our action plan."

Cruise operations had been suspended through the end of November, but will now be extended an additional month.

Read moreWhat you should do now that Royal Caribbean cancelled your cruise


Guests affected by the cancelled cruises between December 1 - 31, 2020 have three options for compensation.

Lift & Shift: Select next year’s sailing with the same itinerary type, sailing length, stateroom category, and within the same 4-week window of the original cruise date, and you can take your existing reservation and move it to next year.Option expires on November 13, 2020.

125% Future Cruise Credit: To account for the inconvenience this has caused, guests are eligible for a 125% Future Cruise Credit (FCC) that is based on the total cruise fare paid at the guest-level if neither of the other options is selected.

Taxes and fees, as well as any pre-purchased amenities or onboard packages will be automatically refunded to the original form of payment within 45 days from the cancellation date. 

If you previously opted to take advantage of our Cruise with Confidence policy, the 100% FCC will stand, and this new option is ineligible.

Additionally, if you redeemed your Cruise with Confidence Future Cruise Credit on a sailing that is now cancelled, their original FCC will be reinstated, plus 125% of any amount paid by the guest on the cancelled reservation.

Refund: If you prefer a cash refund, you can do so by requesting this option on-or-before December 31, 2020.

You can expect their refund to the original form of payment within 45 days from the cancellation date. 

If you redeemed a Cruise with Confidence Future Cruise Credit on an impacted sailing and would now prefer a refund instead, Royal Caribbean will process this request in the amount of any new funds paid above the original certificate and, in turn, will reinstate the Cruise with Confidence FCC for future use.

Cruise Planner Purchases: If you had purchased any cruise add-ons, such as shore excursions, drink packages, wifi and more, you could opt to convert your Cruise Planner purchases  to an Onboard Credit valued at 125% of the total amount paid. This offer expires on November 13, 2020.

Time needed to be able to restart

Unlike all of the other cancellations Royal Caribbean has made up until this point, this new round of cancelled cruises is for a different reason.

Rather than being prohibited by the CDC from sailing at all, the pathway for cruises to restart as opened, and Royal Caribbean is working on satisfying the CDC's stringent rules.

Before cruises can fully resume, the CDC has outlined a series of steps that need to occur before cruise ships can begin taking passengers onboard.

The framework for conditional sailing is meant to potentially allow cruise ships to sail again while not putting the public health at risk.

There are three key phases to Royal Caribbean being able to restart cruises:

  1. Testing crew members
  2. Simulated cruises to test out new protocols
  3. Apply for a Conditional Sailing Certificate

In order to meet the needs of the CDC, Royal Caribbean has adopted the recommendations of the Healthy Sail Panel's 74 recommendations.

Royal Caribbean has expressed it can operate in a safe manner, and is eager to prove the Healthy Sail Panel recommendations can work effectively.

The framework for sailing again is not simple, and the CDC admits the rules can change in terms of what is needed to get cruise ships operating again from the United States.

It is not clear yet how long it will take before Royal Caribbean (or any cruise line) can receive permission to offer cruises, but clearly Royal Caribbean feels more time is needed to get it right.

While many cruise fans are very eager for cruises to resume, Royal Caribbean Group executives were insistent that they while they are equally eager to resume operations, they will only do so when it is safe to do so.

"But it's fair to say that there is still a lot of uncertainty against this backdrop, " Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain said during a conference call with investors in August. "We will not rush to return to service until we are confident that we have figured out the changes that we must make to offer our guests and crew strong health and safety protocols with the enjoyable experience that they rightly expect."

"We believe that our health is healthy. Return to service program will help get us there."

CDC lifts cruise ship ban and allow phased approach for cruises to sail again


The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced on Friday it will begin allowing cruise ships to restart cruises.

The CDC announced following the expiration of the No Sail order on October 31, the agency will take a "phased approach to resuming cruise ship operations in U.S. waters."

The Conditional Sailing Order for Cruise Ships will encompass a few phases:

  1. Testing and additional safeguards for crew members
  2. Simulated voyages to test cruise line ability to mitigate virus spread onboard
  3. Phased return to cruise ship passenger voyages

These phases are subject to change based on public health considerations and cruise ship operator's demonstrated ability to mitigate COVID-19 risk.

In addition, the Conditional Sailing Order announced new requirements for initial phases relating to crew testing.

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), announces this framework for a phased resumption of cruise ship passenger operations. Considering the continued spread of COVID-19 worldwide and increased risk of COVID-19 on cruise ships, a careful approach is needed to safely resume cruise ship passenger operations. CDC is establishing requirements to mitigate the COVID-19 risk to passengers and crew, prevent the further spread of COVID-19 from cruise ships into U.S. communities, and protect public health and safety. After expiration of CDC’s No Sail Order (NSO) on October 31, 2020, CDC will take a phased approach to resuming cruise ship passenger operations in U.S. waters."

While the No Sail order expires on October 31, Royal Caribbean has already cancelled all of its sailings through November 30.

Ending the cruise ship ban

The announcement that the CDC will lift the cruise ship ban comes after 7 months of the No Sail order prohibiting cruise lines from operating in U.S. waters.

Royal Caribbean has been shutdown since mid-March, and the No Sail order has been a major obstacle to any restart plan in North America.

Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings teamed up over the summer to come up with a comprehensive and multi-layered approach to allow cruise ships to operate safely, through the efforts of a blue ribbon panel of scientists.

The Healthy Sail Panel has developed its own set of 74 detailed steps to safeguard the health of guests, crew and communities.

Recommendations include testing, the use of face coverings, and enhanced sanitation procedures on ships and in terminals. 

Healthy Panel co-chair Governor Mike Leavitt, former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, specified exactly how in-depth their recommendations go.

"This Panel undertook an ambitious, cross-disciplinary, public health examination to develop standards and guidelines that create the highest level of safety in the complex environment of a cruise ship. We studied the industry’s experiences combating the pandemic – and we then incorporated the many lessons learned and advances made by medicine and science over the past six months. The Panel’s recommendations are grounded in the best scientific and medical information available and are intended to meaningfully mitigate public health risks to those who sail."

When will Royal Caribbean restart cruises?

Royal Caribbean has not announced any firm restart plan yet, but it is clear based on comments from executives what to expect.

Just yesterday, Royal Caribbean Chairman and CEO Richard Fain shared details of the cruise line's general approach to restarting cruises during a call with investors.

  1. Training crew
  2. A series of non-revenue sailings to rehearse and validate the new protocols
    1. This process will be carefully evaluated by independent outside observers
  3. Restart of cruises with a ship or two at first, the more ships later in a "gradual and methodical way".

The first sailings will be short cruises at first, with limited destinations and controlled shore excursions.

Apart from cruises in the United States, Quantum of the Seas will begin cruises in December from Singapore and offer short cruises with no port stops.

Royal Caribbean Group Chief Financial Officer Jason Liberty also gave investors a preview of what it expects for cruises in Spring 2021 that largely mirror what Mr. Fain shared.

Mr. Liberty expects "a very limited initial return and a gradual ramp up during the first half of 2021."

Royal Caribbean anticipates short sailings the be the cornerstone of their return, and to offer these cruises from key drive markets in both the U.S. and Asia-Pacific regions.