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Everything you need to know about Royal Caribbean test cruises

In:
Category: 
10Nov2020

Part of Royal Caribbean's plan to restart cruises is to conduct a series of test sailings that will give the cruise line the opportunity to validate its new health protocols.

Test cruises are non-revenue simulated cruises that are conducted in a manner as close to a real cruise as possible, albeit with volunteers onboard.

Here is a summary of everything we know about Royal Caribbean's test sailings and how they will be conducted.

Why offer test sailings?

In late October 2020, The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) opened a pathway for cruise lines to restart with their Framework for Conditional Sailing.

One of the steps outline by the CDC that need to occur before cruise ships can begin taking passengers onboard is for each cruise line to conduct test sailings that will test out the new health protocols the cruise industry as adopted.

These test cruises will use cruise line employees (and possibly others) to help implement and tryout these new health rules.  The goal is to make tweaks and modifications to ensure that everything is running smoothly.

When will test sailings begin?

On May 5, 2021, the CDC has provided cruise lines with instructions on how to conduct test sailings.

Royal Caribbean has received permission for the following cruise ships to start test cruises:

  • Freedom of the Seas: June 20-22, 2021 from PortMiami
  • Allure of the Seas: July 27-29, 2021 from Port Canaveral
  • Symphony of the Seas: August 1-3, 2021 from PortMiami

More test cruises are likely, with each ship needing to conduct test cruises in order to be certified by the CDC.

Prior to starting any test cruises, the CDC wants all cruise lines to ensure there are adequate health and safety protections for crew members.

Who can volunteer for a test cruise?

Test sailings will be conducted with a combination of Royal Caribbean employees and volunteers, although they are not sure how volunteers will be picked yet.

Royal Caribbean's Senior Vice President, Sales, Trade Support and Service, Vicki Freed, said, "We're going to be doing a series of sailings using our employees and other volunteers to test out the new protocols and make tweaks and modifications to ensure that everything is running smoothly and still deliver that Royal Caribbean amazing vacation experience."

The minimum requirements to be a volunteer will be you must be 18 or older, as well as have written proof the person has no pre-existing medical conditions that would place them at high-risk for COVID-19.

Royal Caribbean has set up an online form to take test sailing volunteer contact information.

What is Royal Caribbean required to do during a test cruise?

The purpose of these test sailings it to apply a variety of new cruise line policies and rules to ensure they mitigate any potential spread of a virus onboard.

Volunteers and crew members will be required to follow testing protocols, which includes rapid testing prior to both embarkation and disembarkation.

A simulated voyage must meet the following requirements:

  • The minimum number of required volunteer passengers for each simulated voyage must be at least 10% of the maximum number of passengers permitted onboard for restricted voyages.
  • All volunteers must show proof of being fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
  • Volunteers must be made aware of the CDC's health notice regarding Covid-19 and cruise ship travel.
  • All volunteer passengers must be informed in writing that they are participating in a simulation of health and safety protocols that are unproven and untested in the United States for purposes of simulating a cruise ship voyage and that sailing during a pandemic is an inherently risky activity. 
  • All volunteer passengers must be at least eighteen years old or older on the day of the simulation and at the time that their consent to participate is obtained.
  • Volunteers cannot be paid, and cannot go on a sailing in exchange for consideration or future reward.
  • All volunteer passengers must agree in writing to post-disembarkation specimen collection for COVID-19 testing at 3 to 5 days after completion of the simulated voyage. 
  • To facilitate contact tracing, the cruise ship operator must advise all volunteer passengers to notify the cruise ship operator if they develop symptoms of COVID-19 or are diagnosed with COVID-19 with any SARS-CoV-2 viral test within 14 days after the voyage. Passengers who develop symptoms within 14 days should be advised to be tested. The cruise ship operator must in turn report aggregate results to CDC in the after-action report or through an amended after-action report.

Specifically, the CDC mandates certain activities be conducted during the course of a test sailing:

  • embarkation and disembarkation procedures, including terminal check-in, 
  • on board activities, including at dining and entertainment venues,
  • private island shore excursions (if a port is visited)
  • evacuation procedures,
  • transfer of symptomatic passengers or crew, or those who test positive for SARSCoV-2, from cabins to isolation rooms,
  • quarantine of all remaining passengers and non-essential crew, and
  • other activities as may be listed in CDC technical instructions and orders.

In addition, Royal Caribbean must meet standards for hand hygiene, face coverings, and social distancing for passengers and crew, as well as ship sanitation, as may be required by CDC technical instructions or orders.

Royal Caribbean must modify meal service and entertainment venues to facilitate social distancing during the simulated voyage.

How many test sailings will be needed?

It is unknown how many test sailings will be needed yet.

At least one simulation must be conducted for each ship.

Royal Caribbean has not shared details on its plans for test sailings.

How do I sign up for a test cruise a volunteer?

There is no option for the public to sign up as a volunteer for any test cruises.

There is no waiting list, or means to be notified if a volunteer option becomes available.

If/when Royal Caribbean does allow volunteers to sign up, I will be sure to post about it on RoyalCaribbeanBlog.com

Lots of cruise fans want to volunteer for Royal Caribbean trial cruises

In:
Category: 
06Nov2020

In the two days since Royal Caribbean said it would need volunteers for test cruises, there has been an outpouring of cruise fans who would love to sign up.

On Wednesday, Royal Caribbean Senior Vice President, Sales, Trade Support and Service, Vicki Freed, told travel agents that a combination of cruise line employees and volunteers would be used onboard a series of test cruises in order to test out the new health and safety protocols.

Since then, cruise fans have taken to social media to let the cruise line know that they are willing and able to be one of those volunteers.

Royal Caribbean has no option as of now to take volunteer sign ups.

Freed told travel agents that it has not been decided how they would pick volunteers, "We haven't decided how we're going to select people at this point. I know it will be our employees. You must be 18 or older, but we will be looking possibly for volunteers."

Regardless of the cruise line's plans, many cruise fans have begun posting on social media and even contacting the cruise line to sign up.

I posted a question asking cruise fans if they would volunteer for a test cruise, and in less than two days almost 200 people have replied enthusiastically that they would want to be a subject for any test cruise.

LibertyMoonbeam wrote back, "Where do I sign up? I absolutely would love to be a volunteer. I miss cruising!"

bhageerah mentioned not seeing much risk in volunteering, "In a heartbeat, I can assure you that I know that I have less of a chance of contacting it onboard that ship than I would  at work.

RoyalCaribbeanBlog reader Michelle reached out to Royal Caribbean directly about signing up as a volunteer, but the cruise line informed her that currently the test sailings "are limited to current employees and members of our operational teams."

To be clear, there has been no means of actually signing up to be a volunteer on any test Royal Caribbean sailing.

Pent-up demand

All of these volunteers are a sign of the pent-up demand that Royal Caribbean has been seeing with its bookings during its voluntary cruise shutdown.

Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley told Wall Street analysts they were surprised by the level of demand for cruises to return in Singapore on Quantum of the Seas, and there is plenty of demand to go around.

"We were really quite surprised by the level of demand that came into the product of the winter season that we've got it open," Mr. Bayley shared during the call with investors.

Earlier this summer, Bayley spoke about the fact many people want to make up for the lost 2020 fun with vacations in 2021.

"I think a lot of people have written off this summer. They've decided that there's not going to be a big summer vacation for all of the reasons that we know. But people certainly want to have a vacation next year."

Public overwhelmingly told CDC that cruises should restart

In:
Category: 
05Nov2020

Earlier this summer the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) asked the public for their input on if cruises should be able to restart, and an immense amount of people thought they should.

The CDC shared in their new framework for conditional sailing that a majority (approximately 75%) of the public comments were in support of cruises being able to restart.

Over 13,000 comments were received during the 60-day period where the CDC was soliciting public input through a Request for Information (RFI) in the Federal Register related to cruise ship planning and infrastructure, resumption of passenger operations, and additional summary questions.

Comments were open between July 20 and September 21, 2020.

Approximately 25% of respondents, including many previous cruise passengers, were in favor of delaying the resumption of passenger cruising because of the current state of the pandemic, and supported waiting until a vaccine is widely available. 

Essentially, the CDC said that the willingness of the public to accept measures to mitigate the risk of transmitting COVID-19 onboard cruise ships is "noteworthy."

As a result, the agency felt the need to give cruise lines a chance to restart sailings.

Cruisers wanted new health protocols

While the CDC has given cruise lines the opportunity to restart cruises, the onus is on the cruise industry to demonstrate cruises can be done safely despite the current public health emergency.

The CDC noted that "most" of the commenters told the agency they saw a need for increased public health measures, including health screening, testing, mask use, social distancing, travel insurance, refunds, and shipboard public health capacity as important steps to take before cruising resumes.

Approximately 98% of respondents supported cruise ship operators denying boarding to passengers with COVID-like illness or confirmed COVID-19 infection, while approximately 65% of respondents supported denying boarding to passengers with known COVID-19 exposure in the previous 14 days before embarkation.

A majority of respondents (74%) also supported requiring that cruise ship operators test passengers and crew prior to embarkation.

Furthermore, approximately 90% of respondents supported cruise ship operators reducing passenger and crew loads to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, while approximately 85% supported the wearing of face masks by passengers.

Between the public's support for new health protocols and the science behind how easily the virus could spread, the CDC felt appropriate public health oversight was necessary.

CDC considered allowing cruises with no restrictions

Given the fact the public clearly wanted cruises to restart, the CDC did consider alternative options than the conditional sail order.

One alternative considered was allowing cruise lines to return to unrestricted passenger operations without any public health oversight. The CDC felt this alternative was unacceptable because, "cruise ship travel is known to contribute to COVID-19 transmission."

Anti-cruise group tried to swing the vote

Towards the end of the open comment period, Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley warned that "a small anti-cruise group" was trying to flood the comments with anti-cruise rhetoric.

He did not mention the group by name, but sifting through recent comments in the CDC's database of public comments showed one such post by a member of the group Stand.Earth.

The group went as far as to not only provide instructions on how to access the comments, but also a series of talking points to that bring up a few tropes about cruise ships.

Mr. Bayley implored cruise fans to fight back by submitting their own thoughts on if cruises should restart.

Royal Caribbean has not determined yet how it will pick volunteers for test cruises

In:
Category: 
04Nov2020

Before Royal Caribbean can restart cruises with paying passengers, they will need to conduct test sailings and it is not clear yet how volunteers will be selected for that process.

Speaking to travel agents, Royal Caribbean's Senior Vice President, Sales, Trade Support and Service, Vicki Freed, said that test sailings will be conducted with a combination of Royal Caribbean employees and volunteers, although they are not sure how volunteers will be picked yet.

"We're going to be doing a series of sailings using our employees and other volunteers to test out the new protocols and make tweaks and modifications to ensure that everything is running smoothly and still deliver that Royal Caribbean amazing vacation experience," Ms. Freed explained.

After receiving questions from travel agents who can volunteer to help test out the sailings, Ms. Freed said Royal Caribbean is still deciding how they might pick volunteers.

"We haven't decided how we're going to select people at this point. I know it will be our employees. You must be 18 or older, but we will be looking possibly for volunteers."

"We do not have all of the details yet fleshed out."

It is also not clear when the test sailings might actually start, but Freed thinks test sailings in December is a possibility, although not confirmed.

"I do believe they will take place next month. But I'm not confirming that to be absolutely certain, because, again, we're working through all the details."

"We hope to have the trial cruises in December, but more to come."

UPDATE: You can sign up to be a volunteer for a test cruise.

Volunteers will be required to do a lot of tasks

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued 40 pages of requirements for cruise lines to be able to conditionally restart sailings, and running test sailings with volunteer passengers is a major component of the plan.

As Ms. Freed indicated, Royal Caribbean employees will have the opportunity to volunteer to test out the new health protocols. The CDC will require these volunteers be at least 18 years old and sign a waiver to acknowledge that there are risk associated with a test cruise.

In addition, all volunteer passengers and crew members must follow testing protocols, which include rapid testing prior to both embarkation and disembarkation.

"The cruise ship operator must conduct a monitored observation period and laboratory testing of volunteer passengers, as directed in CDC technical instructions or orders, prior to embarking volunteer passengers on a simulated voyage."

Simulated sailings will need to meet CDC expectations for certification, which includes passengers wearing masks, wash and sanitize hands, and practice social distancing. 

During the test cruise, the following activities must be simulated:

  • embarkation and disembarkation procedures, including terminal check-in, 
  • on board activities, including at dining and entertainment venues,
  • private island shore excursions (if a port is visited)
  • evacuation procedures,
  • transfer of symptomatic passengers or crew, or those who test positive for SARSCoV-2, from cabins to isolation rooms,
  • quarantine of all remaining passengers and non-essential crew, and
  • other activities as may be listed in CDC technical instructions and orders.

Royal Caribbean must modify meal service and entertainment venues to facilitate social distancing during the simulated voyage.

Would you want to volunteer for test cruise?

As soon as the CDC stipulated that volunteers would be needed for simulated cruises, many cruise fans expressed their interest in volunteering.

Cruise fans wrote on the RoyalCaribbeanBlog message boards if they were interested in going on a test sailing as a volunteer.

princevaliantus would love to be a volunteer, "Yep! Life is too short. Can't live in fear."

nhilding10 agreed that it would be worth giving a test sailing a try, "I would. I'm in a lucky position that I'm still relatively young enough and healthy enough that even if a worse-case scenario played out for me, I feel confident that it wouldn't be life or death for me."

At one point, USFFrank would have volunteered, but has changed his mind, "now that I'm 9 days into being covid positive with minimal symptom's, no. I'll now wait till there's a successful vaccine and I can get it."

Why cruise ships will not be able to restart right away

In:
Category: 
02Nov2020

While the CDC lifting the No Sail order removes a major barrier for the cruise lines to restart sailings, cruise ships will not be able to sail again immediately.

In fact, the Conditional Sail order is less of an open invitation to restart cruises as it is an opportunity for the cruise industry to prove it can operate safely.

There is no denying cruises are a lot closer now than they were last month, but there are still a lot of hurdles for the cruise industry to jump over before we will get onboard.

Tasks to complete before cruises restart

In the CDC's 40 page directive that outlines what cruise lines need to do in order to restart cruises, the agency requires a phased approach to restarting operations.

These phases are designed to allow the cruise lines to demonstrate that all of the new protocols the cruise industry has developed can work.

Over the summer, Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings created the Healthy Sail Panel of health experts to create a framework for cruises to operate safely.

The panel came up with 74 recommendations for how a cruise ship could operate with minimal risk.

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

Protecting crew members

Before any hint of sailings can restart, the safety and well-being of crew members must be established through new health measures.

Cruise lines must test all crew members using a lab that is approved by the CDC.

In addition, new onboard labs must be set up so that the ships can run weekly PCR tests for crew. The CDC recommends PCR tests instead of antigen tests due to the higher accuracy.

When new crew members join the ship, they must be tested as soon as they board and quarantined on the ship for 14 days.

Simulated cruises

Once the new rules for crew members are setup, the next phase will be for test cruises with volunteer passengers that must be approved by the CDC.

It is not clear who these volunteers will be exactly, but the CDC stipulates volunteering cannot be a condition of employment or in exchange for consideration or future reward.

These simulated cruises will require both passengers and crew members to wear masks, and must include a number of real-world scenarios onboard, including:

  • Cruise terminal check-in
  • Embarkation and disembarkation procedures
  • On board activities, including at dining and entertainment venues
  • Private island shore excursions (if visiting an island)
  • Evacuation procedures
  • Transfer of symptomatic passengers or crew, or anyone that tests positive, from cabins to isolation rooms
  • Quarantine of all remaining passengers and non-essential crew

Applying to sail

If all goes well with the simulated sailings, then Royal Caribbean (or any cruise line) can apply for permission to sail again and obtain a "Conditional Sailing Certificate" from the CDC.

Even with approval, comes restrictions on how cruise lines can operate for an indeterminate amount of time.

If approved, the CDC has said cruises would not be able to be longer than 7 nights.

In addition, guests must be made aware of CDC warnings in marketing materials. Guests and crew members must be tested with PCR tests upon embarkation and disembarkation.

This is what the cruise lines wanted

If all of this sounds like a major hassle, you are right that it is "no rubber stamp" operation, however, the cruise lines have been pleading for the chance to prove they can operate safely for months.

Royal Caribbean has been adamant that it wants to apply its Healthy Sail Panel recommendations in a safe manner and prove they can operate again.

At a meeting with Vice President Pence and the CDC in early October, all of the major cruise lines presented their proposal to start cruises again and a few weeks later, the No Sail order was lifted.

In addition, the CDC's multi phase approach to cruises starting mirrors what Royal Caribbean Group executives have been saying for months would be their approach as well.

Royal Caribbean Group Richard Fain has emphasized there is no rush to start cruises, "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."

Mr. Fain spoke of the work the Healthy Sail Panel has done to provide a roadmap for cruises to restart, "the panel has recommended that this process be carefully evaluated by independent outside observers and we will do that.

"And then only on a ship or two it first and in a gradual and methodical way, we expect to start sailing again."

In a statement hours after the CDC announced the Conditional Sail order, Royal Caribbean Group characterized the move as "a positive step".

"While we are eager to welcome our guests back on board, we have a lot to do between now and then, and we’re committed to taking the time to do things right. This includes training our crew in new health and safety protocols and conducting a number of trial sailings to stress-test those protocols in real-world conditions."

In short, the new regulations by the CDC will not open a floodgate of ships starting up, but it is a pathway for a return to service and that is an important step in the right direction

What does the Conditional Sailing Order mean for cruises to restart?

In:
Category: 
31Oct2020

With the big news that the CDC will lift the No Sail order and conditionally allow cruises to restart, you might be wondering what this means and how soon cruises can actually begin.

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. Even then, there are other restrictions.

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

Testing crew members

The first step is for cruise ships to have all ships run tests of the crew onboard, and to add more safeguards for them.

Before anyone else can get onboard the ship, the CDC wants cruise lines to ensure there are adequate health and safety protections for crew members.

This time will also be used to build the laboratory capacity needed to test future passengers.

In fact, the cruise lines need to meet certain testing requirements before they receive permission to conduct a simulated cruise or apply for a Conditional Sailing Certificate.

Test sailing rules

The cruise lines need to test out their policies through a series of test sailings. 

These test cruises are designed to clearly demonstrate that Royal Caribbean can "mitigate the risks of COVID-19 onboard its cruise ship".

A simulated voyage must meet the following requirements:

  • Volunteer passengers are to be told in writing of the "inherently risky activity" of their test sailing with untested health and safety protocols.
  • All volunteer passengers must be at least eighteen years old or older.
  • All volunteer passengers must have a written certification from a healthcare provider that they have no pre-existing medical conditions .
  • Royal Caribbean must conduct any simulation on a consensual basis and not as a condition of employment or in exchange for consideration or future reward. 
  • Royal Caribbean must embark additional crew members beyond safe minimum manning levels only as determined through CDC technical instructions or orders.
  •  The cruise ship operator must design and conduct a simulated voyage insofar as practicable to test the efficacy of the cruise ship operator’s ability to mitigate the risks  of COVID-19 onboard its cruise ship.
  • The cruise ship operator must conduct a monitored observation period and laboratory  testing of volunteer passengers, as directed in CDC technical instructions or orders, prior to embarking volunteer passengers on a simulated voyage.

During the test cruise, the following activities must be simulated:

  • embarkation and disembarkation procedures, including terminal check-in, 
  • on board activities, including at dining and entertainment venues,
  • private island shore excursions (if a port is visited)
  • evacuation procedures,
  • transfer of symptomatic passengers or crew, or those who test positive for SARSCoV-2, from cabins to isolation rooms,
  • quarantine of all remaining passengers and non-essential crew, and
  • other activities as may be listed in CDC technical instructions and orders.

In addition, Royal Caribbean must meet standards for hand hygiene, face coverings, and social distancing for passengers and crew, as well as ship sanitation, as may be required by CDC technical instructions or orders.

Royal Caribbean must modify meal service and entertainment venues to facilitate social distancing during the simulated voyage.

After each sailing, any issues in the health and safety protocols must be noted in an “after-action” report and address how these intend to address those deficiencies prior to applying for a COVID-19 Conditional Sailing Certificate. 

Applying for permission to cruise

If all goes well with the simulated cruises, the next step is for Royal Caribbean to request a Conditional Sailing Certificate (CSO).

Applying for a CSO entails a lot of paperwork to indicate the responsible officials from the cruise line, as well as shoreside.

Each ship will need to apply and include the ship name, carrying capacity for passengers and crew, itinerary, ports of call, length of voyage, and expected onboard or shoreside activities, for the cruise ship that the cruise ship operator intends to have certified for restricted passenger operations.

Basically, the application ensures the ship has met, and will continue to meet, the rigorous standards for safe cruising.

The CDC may limit passenger or crew capacity, itinerary, ports of call, length of voyage, onboard or shoreside activities.

These materials should be submitted at least 60 calendar days prior to the date on which the cruise ship operator proposes to commence restricted passenger operations.

Initial sailings

Once cruises are able to resume, there will be limitations on what is allowed during the "Restricted Passenger Voyages".

  • Notify prospective passengers prior to accepting a reservation of any CDC travel advisory, warning, or recommendation relating to cruise travel.
  • Royal Caribbean cannot sail or offer to sail on an itinerary longer than 7 days.
  • Royal Caribbean must screen passengers and crew and deny boarding if anyone tests positive.
  • Royal Caribbean must conduct laboratory testing of all passengers and crew on the day of embarkation and the day of disembarkation.
  • Conduct laboratory testing of any passengers and crew who report illness consistent with COVID-19 during the voyage with rapid point of care results.
  • Report syndromic surveillance and all laboratory test results using CDC’s Enhanced Data Collection form as required by CDC technical instructions or orders.
  • Meet standards for hand hygiene, face coverings, and social distancing for passengers and crew, as well as ship sanitation.
  • Modify meal service and entertainment venues to facilitate social distancing.

The CDC reserves the right to revoke a Conditional Sailing Certificate if rules are not being followed onboard.

Royal Caribbean: CDC announcement is a positive step

If all of this sounds like a lot of work, well, it is, and Royal Caribbean is ready for it.

In a statement to the media, Royal Caribbean Group reiterated its commitment to doing whatever it takes to be able to sail again.

"While we are eager to welcome our guests back on board, we have a lot to do between now and then, and we’re committed to taking the time to do things right. This includes training our crew in new health and safety protocols and conducting a number of trial sailings to stress-test those protocols in real-world conditions."

Moreover, Royal Caribbean has never been shy about saying they always planned a slow return to service.

Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain has emphasized a slow and methodical approach to cruises restarting, "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."

Royal Caribbean eager to welcome guests back on its cruise ships

In:
Category: 
30Oct2020

Hours after the CDC announced it would end its ban on cruise ships, Royal Caribbean said it is "eager to welcome guests back onboard".

In a statement shared on social media, Royal Caribbean shared a brief message that it is ready to begin working on new protocols and trial sailings in order to be able to sail again.

"Today’s CDC announcement establishes a pathway for our ships to return to service. We’re eager to welcome guests back on board & will continue to work closely with both CDC & the Healthy Sail Panel to protect the health of our guests, our crew, & the communities where we sail."

"While we are eager to welcome our guests back on board, we have a lot to do between now and then, and we're committed to taking the time to do things right. This includes training our crew in new health and safety protocols and conducting a number of trial sailings to stress-test those protocols in real-world conditions."

"We will continue to work closely with both CDC and the Healthy Sail Panel as we make our plans, and we are confident in our ability to mitigate the risks of the pandemic and protect the health of our guests, our crew, and the communities where we sail."

Royal Caribbean has not announced any restart plans yet, nor which ships will sail first.

Work needed before cruises can restart

While the No Sail order may be gone, it will not be a free-for-all to restart sailings.

The CDC has added a great deal of restrictions on when and how cruises can restart, stipulating many new hurdles cruise lines must overcome in order for a cruise ship to be certified to sail again.

The terms of the Conditional Sailing Order are many, and include provisions for testing crew members and rigorous simulated cruises.

Test sailings will require the ship to test the efficacy of Royal Caribbean’s ability to mitigate the risks of COVID-19 onboard its cruise ship.

During the test cruise, the following activities must be simulated:

  • embarkation and disembarkation procedures, including terminal check-in, 
  • on board activities, including at dining and entertainment venues,
  • private island shore excursions (if a port is visited)
  • evacuation procedures,
  • transfer of symptomatic passengers or crew, or those who test positive for SARSCoV-2, from cabins to isolation rooms,
  • quarantine of all remaining passengers and non-essential crew, and
  • other activities as may be listed in CDC technical instructions and orders.

Royal Caribbean shares prediction for early 2021 cruises

In:
Category: 
29Oct2020

During Royal Caribbean Group's third quarter earnings call with investors on Thursday, the company provided a preview of what its early return to service might look like.

While Royal Caribbean is very cautious about expectations related to restarting, but it did provide more insight into its plans for a very limited initial return.

Jason T. Liberty, executive vice president and CFO, spoke on restart plans during his opening statement, "The situation regarding our return to service is fluid, but we are currently planning for a very limited initial return and a gradual ramp up during the first half of 2021."

Mr. Liberty emphasized that the first cruises back will be focused on short sailings, "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."

Typically, "key drive markets" references cruises that depart from ports where most of the customers can drive to the cruise ship, as opposed to guests who fly to their cruise ship.

In addition, the first sailings will be highly focused on Perfect Day at CocoCay.

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

Cruises restarting will be slow

Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain reiterated the restart plans that have been the plan for months, with a slow and methodical restart.

Mr. Fain spoke of the work the Healthy Sail Panel has done to provide a roadmap for cruises to restart, "the panel has recommended that this process be carefully evaluated by independent outside observers and we will do that.

"And then only on a ship or two it first and in a gradual and methodical way, we expect to start sailing again."

"There'll be short cruises at first with limited destinations and controlled shore excursions. But as we learn and as the science continues to improve, we will expand."

A scientific approach to cruising safely

Prior to cruises starting again, Mr. Fain reminded investors that they intend to test out their new protocols with a series of test sailings.

"We propose to start slowly by training our crew and embarking on a series of non-revenue trial sailings, where we can rehearse and validate the new protocols."

Mr. Fain was confident that the Healthy Sail Panel recommendations can serve as a foundation for a gradual and methodical, healthy return to service.

"We intend to make our ships and environment a bubble, if you will, that presents less risk of transmission than our guests would find on land."

If all of this sounds frustrating, Mr. Fain remains optimistic about the future, "I am optimistic that we will soon have a path that we all see as a pathway back to resuming operations. It will be slower than I would wish, but faster than many are assuming."

Announcement coming soon?

While Royal Caribbean Group executives were hesitant to provide any insight into what the CDC might do, travel advisors are being told to expect a change.

In an email to travel advisors sent on Thursday morning, Royal Caribbean told travel agents to expect something "very soon".

Very soon – potentially as early as next week - we’ll be announcing our return to service. 

Cruise ports workers rally in support of cruise ships restarting sailings

In:
21Oct2020

Longshoremen, hotel workers, port officials and everyone affected by the effect of cruise lines shut down held a rally across different cruise ports on Wednesday in support of cruise lines being able to restart sailings again.

Cruise industry workers rallied in Florida and Texas to tell lawmakers to allow the cruise industry to restart.

Cruise lines have been shutdown since March due to the global health crisis, and are currently unable to restart cruises because of the U.S. Center for Disease Control's No Sail order that prevents passenger service in the United States.

Rallies were held in Port Canaveral, PortMiami and the Port of Galveston to protest the shutdown and the effect it has had on all the jobs.

Photos by the Port of Galveston

The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) stated cruise activity in Florida supports over 150,000 local jobs, contributing $7.7 billion in wages and salaries to Floridians across a variety of local sectors and industries. 

U.S. Senator Rick Scott went on Fox News Radio to talk about the work he has been doing to try to convince the CDC to work with cruise lines on a way to restart the industry.

Senator Scott was clearly upset with the lack of any kind of progress with the CDC, "not being responsive. I don’t get it. It’s like a black hole."

Government, said Scott, should do as he did when he was Governor, and “tell people yes or no” and “make the regulations really clear.”

“Tell me no, that’s an answer,” Scott said.

Why the CDC has banned cruise ships

If you read the opening portion of the No Sail Order, it explains early on out why the CDC believes cruise ships should not operate.

"Cruise ships continue to be an unsafe environment with close quarters where the disease spreads easily and is not readily detected," is the direct rationale for why cruise ships may not sail.

In order to prove this, the Executive Summary cites CDC data on COVID-19 cases aboard cruise ships.

"Cumulative CDC data from March 1 through September 28, 2020, show a total of 3,689 confirmed cases of COVID-19 or COV1D-like illness cases on cruise ships and 41 deaths. These data have also revealed a total of 102 outbreaks on 124 different cruise ships, meaning more than 82% of ships within U.S. jurisdiction were affected by COVID-19 during this time frame. In addition, four cruise ships still have ongoing or resolving COV1D-19 outbreaks on board. Recent outbreaks on cruise ships overseas continue to demonstrate that reduced capacity alone has not diminished transmission."

In addition, the CDC cited small-scale cases of the virus on a few sailings that have restarted outside the United States.

All of this lead the CDC to believe cruise ships, "would likely spread the infection  into U.S. communities if passenger operations were to resume prematurely in the United States."

What happens if a cruise is oversold above reduced capacity?

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16Oct2020

Ever since Royal Caribbean said it would lower the capacity of its ships in order to foster social distancing, many cruise fans want to know what happens if the ship is already oversold beyond that limit?

One of the many new protocols that Royal Caribbean has added to make cruises safe for everyone is its ships would not sail at 100% occupancy in order to lower load factors for social distancing.

This change is not permanent, but at least for the early sailings back, reduced capacity is expected.  In fact, for the Quantum of the Seas sailings in Singapore in December, there will be a maximum of 50% capacity for those voyages.

So how will Royal Caribbean determine who gets to cruise and who will not in order to maintain lower ship capacity?

No official answer yet

So far, there has been no official policy announced on how the cruise line will handle enforcing a lower ship capacity in regards to existing bookings.

The question of how will Royal Caribbean determine which reservations are cancelled or moved if the ship is sold above the lowered maximum capacity for the ship is one of the most commonly asked questions among RoyalCaribbeanBlog readers.

A Royal Caribbean Strategic Account Manager said this week that the cruise line is still considering options, "This is a scenario that we are aware of and looking into."

"Once we can pinpoint the exact capacity per ship, we will be able to discuss this process in more detail.  More details to come one hear back form the CDC."

Getting around the problem in Singapore

It looked like we might have gotten an answer with the announcement Quantum of the Seas would restart cruises in December, but Royal Caribbean circumvented the problem by cancelling all of Quantum of the Seas' sailings, and then announcing new sailings to book.

By doing this, Royal Caribbean avoided a scenario where that could happen, but using this strategy in the Caribbean would mean hundreds of cancelled cruises and a shorter window of time to get guests rebooked.

Moreover, Royal Caribbean already has ships sailing short cruises from Florida, whereas Quantum of the Seas was originally scheduled to do longer cruises.  This made the decision to cancel and re-issue new sailings for Quantum more of a necessity.

How would they pick which reservations are cancelled?

It is anyone's guess how Royal Caribbean will handle these sort of scenarios, and which reservations stay and which get cancelled.

Based on the comment from the Royal Caribbean Strategic Account Manager, it sounds like there will not be a fleetwide standard, but based on each ship.

Moreover, there are a few different possibilities I could see happening, but these are all just guesses:

  • Who booked the sailing first gets to stay
  • Reverse Crown and Anchor Society status
  • Airline model: ask for volunteers first, and then start randomly bumping reservations
  • Cancelling all cruises, similar to Quantum of the Seas in Singapore.

UBS Analyst Robin Farley said in June that the cheapest staterooms are likely candidates to be excluded.

"We note that since cruise lines are taking so much capacity out of service and not pricing to fill what is in service, they could potentially eliminate some of the lowest-margin demand that they might normally turn to when filling a ship."

There is no clear indication yet on what Royal Caribbean may or may not do, nor is there any signs if they would cancel certain reservations that are already booked.

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