Royal Caribbean will launch cruises from Barbados for the first time
Is Royal Caribbean trying to break free from U.S. government oversight of its cruises to the Caribbean?
That'd be one way to read the Miami-based cruise giant's announcement Wednesday that it soon would launch its first-ever sailings to the Caribbean out of Bridgetown, Barbados.
Unlike Caribbean sailings out of such traditional Royal Caribbean hubs as PortMiami and Port Canaveral in Florida, Caribbean cruises out of Barbados are not subject to U.S. regulation, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) current, coronavirus-related ban on cruises.
Only cruises that touch U.S. waters are subject to such regulation.
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Still, Royal Caribbean on Wednesday told TPG the CDC ban on cruising from U.S. ports had nothing to do with its decision to begin running some of its Caribbean cruises out of Barbados.
When asked if the CDC's current rules were a factor in the decision to move a ship to Barbados, a spokeswoman gave a straightforward, one-word answer: "No."
The CDC has blocked Royal Caribbean and all other lines that operate ships that carry more than 250 people from operating cruises out of U.S. ports since March.
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In a statement accompanying the line's announcement on Wednesday, Royal Caribbean president and CEO Michael Bayley said the deployment was about offering its customers a new range of itineraries that it hadn't offered before.
"Sailing from the heart of the Windward Islands unlocks new memorable vacations to share with family and friends in breathtaking places, such as Grenada, St. Lucia and now St. Vincent, Trinidad and Tobago,” Bayley said. “The pink-sand beaches and unexpected adventures across Barbados also make it an ideal destination for our guests to experience even more of the Caribbean charm and culture before or after their cruise.”
Related: Here's when lines say they hope to resume sailings
The new sailings out of Barbados will take place on Royal Caribbean's 2,446-passenger Grandeur of the Seas, and start on Dec. 5.
The line plans three distinct itineraries out of Barbados, all departing on Sundays:
- A seven-night "Southern Caribbean Explorer" itinerary with stops at Scarborough, Tobago; Port of Spain, Trinidad; St. George’s, Grenada; Kingstown, St. Vincent; Roseau, Dominica; and Castries, St. Lucia.
- A seven-night "Southern Caribbean Adventure" itinerary with stops at St. George’s, Grenada; Kralendijk, Bonaire; Oranjestad, Aruba; Willemstad, Curaçao; and Port of Spain, Trinidad.
- A 14-night "Ultimate Caribbean" itinerary with stops at St. George’s, Grenada; Kingstown, St. Vincent; Kralendijk, Bonaire; Oranjestad, Aruba (for an overnight); Willemstad, Curaçao; Port of Spain, Trinidad; Cartagena, Colombia; Colon, Panama; and Puerto Limon, Costa Rica.
The stops in Tobago, Trinidad and St. Vincent are firsts for the line.
Until the cruise industry began halting operations last March due to the escalating coronavirus pandemic, the ship that's heading to Barbados -- Grandeur of the Seas -- was based in Baltimore, Maryland.
Royal Caribbean — and the rest of the cruise industry — is grappling with a road map for a return to cruising in U.S. waters issued by the CDC that lays out a long period of testing and approvals before cruising can resume.
Related: The ultimate guide to Royal Caribbean
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 has yet to begin and may not begin for some time. 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 many months before cruising is allowed out of U.S. ports.
Barbados traditionally has served as a home port for very small vessels such as those operated by small-ship lines SeaDream Yacht Club and Star Clippers. But it does draw a few bigger ships that use it both as a home port and as a transit port.
Royal Caribbean ships have visited Barbados in the past in the midst of a cruise, but have never been based in the country.
As a foreign country not subject to the jurisdiction of the CDC, Barbados can host cruise ships wanting to restart operations this year even if the CDC maintains its ban on sailings.
Indeed, in November, Barbados welcomed the first cruise ship to attempt to restart operations in the Caribbean since the cruising shutdown began in March -- a 112-passenger SeaDream Yacht Club vessel called SeaDream 1. But the sailing, notably, 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
Royal Caribbean is the world's biggest cruise line by passenger capacity, and it accounts for nearly 20% of all cruises taken worldwide. It often serves as a bellwether for the industry.
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