Three cruise lines just announced they are ready to resume cruising. Yay! They got there because they made the decision to move the home port for three of their ships out of the U.S. to ports elsewhere. By taking that step, and making sure no U.S. port is on any of the ships’ itineraries, the cruise lines have strategically removed the ships from the CDC’s jurisdiction, allowing them to return to cruising. They also sent a shot across the CDC’s bow.
Make no mistake, this was not a decision the cruise lines took lightly. Nor did they do it to avoid stringent COVID-19 protective measures. The cruise lines did it because bleeding money to the tune of several hundred million dollars a day as they have for the past year is unsustainable. They did it to survive. At the same time, it sends a clear message to the CDC that they need to step up and do their job rather than continue to kick the can down the road. The cruise lines are looking at the end of the road and they would rather be looking at open seas.
Each of these ships will be sailing 7-day Caribbean itineraries with no port call in the U.S. and the sailings will be for the 2021 summer season, beginning in June. Royal Caribbean is redeploying the Adventure of the Seas to her new home port of Nassau, The Bahamas, Celebrity is redeploying the Celebrity Millennium to St. Martin, and the luxury Crystal Cruise Lines is redeploying one of their ocean ships, the Crystal Serenity, also to Nassau for sailings beginning in July. If going on a cruise interests you, check out our facebook page or give Janet a call on 410-652-5936 to get all the details. The purpose of this post is to provide some responses to what I am sure will be FAQs and let you know what to expect from these cruises. These FAQs only apply to these three ships and only for their summer sailing season from their new home ports:
Q: Can you book online or direct with the cruise line?
A: Yes, but why would you want to? It costs you no more to book with us and given the dynamic nature of the return to cruising you’ll need to be plugged in to any changes that might impact your worry-free vacation. Book with us and let us do the worrying for you.
Q: Will crews be required to get vaccinated?
Q: Will passengers be required to get vaccinated?
A: Yes. All passengers aged 18 and older will be required to show proof of vaccination. That requirement may change down the road, but for now vaccination is required.
Q: Will COVID testing still be required even if you are vaccinated?
A: Yes. The vaccination gets you on the boat, but since these cruises depart from other countries you have to first get into the country. A negative PCR test no later than 72 hours prior to arrival is required to get you into the country. Celebrity is currently requiring the negative PCR test be within 72 hours of sailing as well.
Q: What if someone tests positive or develops COVID symptoms after the ship sets sail?
A: The cruise will proceed. The ship will treat a positive COVID test as a medical emergency and the ship’s crew will follow a strict safety protocol which may include evacuating the patient from the ship, but the cruise will go on.
Q: Will there be capacity controls?
A: Yes. As long as COVID-19 is in pandemic state, you can expect capacity controls to continue. Expect fill rates at 40-60% passenger capacity, but these ships will sail with close to a full crew. Passenger capacity will be expanded as they get successes under their belt. Celebrity announced they will only be booking Verandah and above staterooms, which is a signal that pricing for these cruises will be on the high side. Look for Royal Caribbean to take the same approach.
Q: Will I still be able to make a pig out of myself at the buffet?
A: Yes. Buffets aren’t going away, for now. However, they will no longer be self-service. Crew members will serve from limited designated stations so they will be sanitary.
Q: Will masks still be required?
A: TBD. Wearing a mask in public spaces may be required even with all passengers and crew being vaccinated but if so, expect the practice to eventually be phased out. At a minimum, guests who feel more comfortable wearing a mask in public will still be encouraged to do so.
Q: Will social distancing still be required?
A: TBD. With the capacity controls being used for these sailings, mandated and enforced social distancing probably won’t be necessary, but the cruise lines haven’t decided.
Q: Will there be shore excursions?
A: Yes. The cruise lines are thoroughly vetting shore excursion vendors to ensure they comply with the cruise line’s COVID-19 standards, so these will have to be booked through the ship at least initially. There will even be opportunities to explore ports on your own, to include shopping.
Q: Will cruise lines continue to observe enhanced sanitation practices?
A: Yes. They will expand the measures they use to combat Norovirus with aggressive sanitization of public areas, and many are investing in UV sterilization equipment for use in cabins and large public spaces where manual sanitizing is more challenging. As with the Norovirus enhanced sanitization, you won’t see it unless you really look for it, but it will be happening in the background for sure.
Q: Will cruise lines be adopting the COVID safety plans they came up with last summer now that vaccines are required?
A: Yes! Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Norwegian all invested significant resources in their Healthy Sail Panel…Carnival and subordinate brands (Princess) came up with their own version. These plans make sense, and yes the cruise lines will be adopting them. For details on what to expect with the plans, check out my blog article on the subject.
Q: If you need to get a COVID test once you board, will it be available?
A: Yes. Cruise lines have invested in ensuring medical staff and facilities can handle testing all passengers and crew several times during each cruise. And as long as the CDC continues to insist on negative COVID testing before returning to the U.S. even when you’ve been vaccinated, the cruise lines will provide the necessary testing during your sailing.
Q: What about that pesky lifeboat drill where you have to get up close and personal with everyone else on the ship…will that still be required?
A: No! This is a US Coast Guard requirement and unlike the CDC, they have demonstrated common sense. Passengers will be required to view a short safety briefing via video in their cabin video system at their convenience. There will be tracking mechanisms on the in-cabin video system to ensure you do it within the first 24 hours of sailing.
Q: Will we still have to go through US customs and immigration check points upon return?
A: Yes, but most likely not as a requirement to disembark. Since these cruises are sailing roundtrip from Caribbean ports, the local immigration and customs laws for each country will be followed. As it is, Nassau airport is a US Customs and Immigration pre-clearance airport where clearance occurs before you board your plane home. Bottom line is you probably won’t have to go through the chaos and mass of humanity that are frequently accompanied with disembarkation in U.S. ports.
Q: Can I cruise with just my birth certificate like I used to be able to from Florida ports?
A: No. You’ll need a passport to get into the country anyway, so the cruise lines will not be accepting birth certificates as proof of citizenship.
This return to cruising is not what the cruise lines wanted. It is what they need to survive. Hopefully they will be able to resume cruising from and to U.S. ports soon, and I’ll be following developments closely.