Banned from U.S., Royal Caribbean Group to start Bahamas, St. Maarten cruises in June
With the cruise industry shut down in the U.S. for the foreseeable future, Royal Caribbean Group is turning to the Caribbean for its North America restart in June.
Its Celebrity Millennium cruise ship will start seven-night cruises from St. Maarten on June 5, and its Adventure of the Seas ship will start seven-night cruises from Nassau, The Bahamas, on June 12. All crew and passengers older than 18 will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19; those under 18 will need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of boarding.
“The vaccines are clearly a game changer for all of us, and with the number of vaccinations and their impact growing rapidly, we believe starting with cruises for vaccinated adult guests and crew is the right choice,” said Royal Caribbean International CEO Michael Bayley in a statement. “As we move forward, we expect this requirement and other measures will inevitably evolve over time.”
The company is still determining whether it will require crew and passengers to wear masks and how full the ships will be.
“We are not sailing until June and we know much can change between now and then,” said Royal Caribbean International spokesperson Lyan Sierra-Caro via email. “We will continue to follow the science and the data.”
The Celebrity Millennium cruises will visit Aruba, Curaçao and Barbados on one itinerary and Tortola, St. Lucia and Barbados on another. The Adventure of the Seas cruises will visit Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Bahamas, Grand Bahama Island and Cozumel, Mexico.
This time last year, Caribbean countries shut their ports to cruise ships for fear that infected passengers would overwhelm their finite health resources. At times, infected cruise passengers and crew made up large portions of islands’ total case counts. Cruise outbreaks led to at least 111 crew and passenger deaths and affected 87 ships, according to a Miami Herald investigation.
After a five-and-a-half month cruise ban in the U.S., in October the CDC published a “conditional sail order,” the agency’s framework for restarting in the U.S. Phase one of the order requires companies to test crew members for COVID-19 weekly and report results to the agency. There are still some companies with ships in U.S. waters that have not complied with phase one of the order, according to agency spokesperson Caitlin Shockey. Once phase one is completed, the companies will move into phase two: securing agreements with local health authorities and ports.
The CDC’s October order, published before the COVID-19 vaccine distribution began, includes some requirements that go beyond what Royal Caribbean Group is planning for its Caribbean cruises, including PCR testing for all passengers and crew on embarkation and disembarkation days. It also requires companies to publicize CDC cruise travel warnings in all marketing materials and end cruises immediately in the case of an outbreak.
The CDC currently has a Level 4 warning against cruise travel — the agency’s highest — and “recommends that all people avoid travel on cruise ships, including river cruises, worldwide, because the risk of COVID-19 on cruise ships is very high.” Sierra-Caro, the Royal Caribbean International spokesperson, said via email that the company’s outbreak response plan includes “swift containment, contact tracing, enhanced medical capabilities on board and support on land with health care providers and destination partners.”
On a Thursday letter to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava encouraged the agency to allow cruises in the U.S. by July 4 and said PortMiami is working on getting a permanent COVID-19 testing lab up and running.
Meanwhile, lines are moving ahead just south of U.S. waters. Miami-based Crystal Cruises also plans to start seven-night, all-Bahamas cruises from Nassau and Bimini in July for vaccinated passengers.
The last attempt at cruising in the Caribbean — last fall — didn’t last. Seven passengers and two crew members tested positive for COVID-19 aboard the SeaDream 1 in November, with just 53 passengers on board. The sick were evacuated to hospitals in Barbados, and SeaDream canceled all remaining cruises for 2020.