More bad news for cruisers: Some of the world’s largest lines won’t start sailing until May

Jan 12, 2021

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There was more bad news on Tuesday for cruise fans hoping to return to the high seas when cruise giant Royal Caribbean said it would delay its restart in most of the world by another two months.

The world’s largest cruise line by passenger capacity said it wouldn’t resume most operations until at least May. The only exception will be sailings on a handful of ships in Asia that only will be open to local residents.

Until Tuesday, Royal Caribbean only had canceled sailings through the end of February.

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Royal Caribbean’s smaller sister brands, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara, also pushed back their restarts until May.

Royal Caribbean is the first of the world’s four big lines to push its restart date all the way back to May. Its three main rivals — Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and MSC Cruises — only have canceled voyages through the end of March.

The line’s move is a blow to cruise fans who hoped the cruise industry’s most recently announced restart dates would hold. Many cruisers have been optimistic that the arrival of vaccines would allow for at least some cruises to take place in March or April.

Related: The best credit cards for booking cruises

Royal Caribbean operates the world’s biggest cruise ships and is the world’s biggest cruise line. (Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean)

Royal Caribbean accounts for nearly 20% of all cruises taken worldwide, and it often serves as a bellwether for the industry.

The announcement comes as COVID-19 case counts continue to rise in the United States and the rollout of coronavirus vaccines in the country appears to be going slower than hoped.

The U.S. in recent days has been recording well over 200,000 new COVID-19 cases per day.

Royal Caribbean — and the rest of the cruise industry — is also grappling with a road map for a return to cruising in U.S. waters issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that lays out a long period of testing and approvals before cruising can resume.

Issued in October as a “framework for conditional sailing” order, the road map includes a testing period for new anti-coronavirus protocols on ships that have yet to begin and could extend well into February or March. After that, cruise operators can apply for what the CDC is calling a Conditional Sailing Certificate in a process that could take an additional 60 days.

Assuming the CDC sticks to the guidelines it has laid out in the order, it could be April or May, at the earliest, before cruising is allowed out of U.S. ports.

Cruising has resumed in a very limited way over the past six months in parts of Europe, led by Europe-based lines such as MSC Cruises, Costa Cruises and TUI Cruises. A handful of lines in other parts of the world including French Polynesia also have resumed limited sailings. But, so far, no line has successfully resumed sailings in North America.

Related: These 9 cruise lines have resumed limited sailings

In November, one small cruise company, SeaDream Yacht Club, attempted to resume voyages in the Caribbean out of Barbados with a small vessel. But the sailing did not go well. It ended with a COVID-19 outbreak and passengers quarantined in their cabins. The line subsequently canceled all remaining cruises for the winter season.

All cruise lines around the world halted departures in March of last year as the coronavirus outbreak grew and many have yet to restart operations. Carnival, Norwegian Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Princess Cruises and Holland America are among the major lines that haven’t operated a single departure since March.

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Featured image courtesy of Royal Caribbean 

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