Cruising Plans Its Official Comeback for June
(Bloomberg) -- On the heels of Crystal Cruises’ announcement this week that it would circumvent the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by launching Bahamas-only trips this summer, two further lines will open itineraries in the Caribbean as soon as June.
The latest announcements came from Royal Caribbean International, which will sail a ship from Nassau, the Bahamas, to Cozumel, Mexico, and sister line Celebrity Cruises, which will explore southern Caribbean itineraries from Sint Maarten. Additional cruise lines are expected to follow with similar announcements in the coming days and weeks.
The North American restart is the most significant move yet for an ailing industry that has so far managed to resume business only with limited, regional cruises—including some trips that go nowhere at all—in select parts of Europe and Asia.
Unlike Crystal, which is requiring all passengers to be inoculated against Covid-19, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity will allow kids under 18 to board without proof of vaccine (for which they are not yet eligible), as long as they have undergone a negative PCR test.
Brands of the Royal Caribbean Group say all its crew members will have been vaccinated, a commitment Crystal Cruises has not yet been ready to make.
The availability of vaccinations was a key ingredient in Royal Caribbean’s decision to return, says Mark Tamis, the company’s senior vice president of hotel operations. "For us, it's about taking a very measured approach of how we return to service,” he says.
Royal Caribbean said it would do a series of 12 weekly sailings on the mega ship Adventure of the Seas, which can carry 3,800 passengers at full capacity. The sailings will be round-trip from Nassau to Cozumel, with a stop in Freeport and two days at the cruise company’s own $200 million private Bahamas island, Perfect Day at CocoCay, which normally nets $1 billion in total cruise expenditures annually. The program will begin on June 12.
Beating its sister line by a week is Celebrity, which will sail its 2,220-passenger Celebrity Millennium round trip from Sint Maarten, from June 5 through August, alternating seven-night itineraries to Aruba, Curacao, and Barbados, or Tortola, St. Lucia, and Barbados.
The sailings will come as a boon to the economies of cruise-dependent Bahamas and Sint Maarten and the ports they will visit, which will have gone more than a year without cruise traffic. The Bahamas in 2019 had 5.4 million cruise visitors.
All the lines are committing to follow local health requirements on the islands. But none has decided on specific social distancing or mask-wearing requirements for those onboard ship. While they are all pledged to operate with reduced capacities, the exact numbers are still to be determined.
American cruise passengers have not been able to set sail on oceangoing ships since March 2020. The CDC has been slow to greenlight even the rigorous round of test cruises that are expected to be precursors to a return to sailing from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and other U.S. ports.
“There’s a ton of pent-up demand,” says Vicky Garcia, chief operating officer of Cruise Planners, the largest network of home-based travel advisers. Since Crystal’s announcement that it would send its 980-passenger Crystal Serenity on a dozen all-Bahamas itineraries beginning on July 3, says Garcia, “Our phones have been ringing off the hook.” Roughly 24 hours after announcing its trips, Crystal reported that 4,000 cabins had been reserved for its Bahamas-only itineraries—the biggest single day of bookings in the company’s 30-year history.
Travel advisers are also collecting the names of interested consumers in anticipation of additional announcements next week. “As much as kids are celebrating spring break, we are going to be celebrating with great announcements in the cruise industry—more of them,” Garcia says.
Hard-hit by the dearth of pandemic travel, sellers of cruises are themselves “ecstatic” that cruise lines have found a workaround to the CDC, Garcia adds. “There’s newfound hope that we’re coming back.”
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