Breaking: 2 major cruise lines will resume North America sailings in June
It looks like the comeback of big-ship cruising in North America is, finally, at hand.
Two of the world's biggest cruise lines, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises, on Friday announced they would resume North America cruises in June with sailings out of the Bahamas and St. Martin, respectively.
Royal Caribbean -- the world's largest cruise line -- said it would begin seven-night sailings out of Nassau in the Bahamas on June 12 that will feature calls in the Bahamas and Mexico. The trips will take place on the line's 3,807-passenger Adventure of the Seas -- a ship that originally was scheduled to spend the summer in Europe.
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Celebrity, a sister line to Royal Caribbean, said it would begin seven-night sailings out of St. Martin on June 5 that will feature calls at such destinations as Aruba, Curaçao and Barbados. The trips will take place on the line's 2,218-passenger Celebrity Millennium -- a ship that originally was scheduled to spend the summer in Alaska.
In a departure from what is typical for big-ship Bahamas and Caribbean cruises, the sailings will not originate in or involve any stops at U.S. ports. This means they will not require the approval of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They only require the approval of officials in the destinations where the ships will visit, which the lines now have.
The CDC has blocked cruise ships that carry more than 250 people from sailing in U.S. waters since March of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The agency has not yet announced when cruise lines will be able to restart operations in U.S. waters.
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The CDC prohibition on cruising in U.S. waters has forced major lines to repeatedly push back their plans for a restart to North American operations over the past year, as the lines typically operate North American sailings out U.S. ports such as Florida's PortMiami and Port Canaveral. But a top Royal Caribbean official on Friday told TPG the line's newly announced June restart was not something that was likely to be postponed.
"This is really happening," Mark Tamis, Royal Caribbean's senior vice president of hotel operations, said in a one-on-one interview in advance of the line's announcement.
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Tamis said the CDC was aware of Royal Caribbean's plans to restart North America departures out of the Bahamas, but he didn't say if the agency approved of the move.
Still, Tamis suggested the increasing availability of COVID-19 vaccines made now the right time to start returning to operations in North America. He said Royal Caribbean was taking a "measured approach" in its cruising comeback and noted the line had been operating cruises out of Singapore since December without a single incident related to COVID-19.
The cruises out of Singapore, which only are open to local residents of Singapore, have had more than 45,000 passengers on them in all, Tamis said.
"With the game-changer of the vaccines in combination with this measured approach that we've taken through protocols, and the learnings we have had from Singapore, we really feel like this is the right time," he said.
Both Royal Caribbean and Celebrity said adult passengers on the newly announced sailings would need to show proof of a vaccine for COVID-19 to sail. The lines said children under 18 could sail with proof of a negative COVID-19 test.
Royal Caribbean and Celebrity are the first of the cruising world's big brands to announce a definitive restart date for North America cruising.
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Their announcements come just days after Crystal Cruises, a relatively small cruise brand that focuses on luxury sailings, announced it would restart cruising in North America in July with its own first-ever sailings out of Nassau in the Bahamas.
Taken together, the announcements mark a significant milestone in the comeback of cruising worldwide after a year-long halt to nearly all cruises due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A very limited amount of cruising has restarted in parts of Europe and Asia in recent months. But the Bahamas and Caribbean are the world's most popular cruise destinations, accounting for the highest percentage of cruises taken by all cruisers worldwide.
The new Royal Caribbean sailings out of Nassau will feature a stop at Grand Bahama Island in the Bahamas and back-to-back stops at Perfect Day at CocoCay, Royal Caribbean’s recently revamped private island in the Bahamas. They'll also include a stop at Cozumel, Mexico.
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The trips are scheduled to continue through at least August and will mark Royal Caribbean's first sailings ever out of Nassau.
Celebrity will offer two different itineraries out of St. Martin. One will feature calls at Aruba, Curaçao and Barbados. The other will bring visits to Tortola, St. Lucia and Barbados.
In a statement accompanying Celebrity's announcement, Celebrity president and CEO Lisa Lutoff-Perlo praised the government of St. Martin for helping to make the line's new sailings happen.
"That we will sail from the magical island of St. Maarten is very special," she said. "I am forever grateful for the support and collaboration of the St. Maarten government."
The island known as St. Martin is divided between French Saint-Martin and Dutch St. Maarten. Cruise lines operate from the Dutch side, St. Maarten.
Royal Caribbean's Tamis had similar things to say about the government of the Bahamas.
"We're just very happy to be able to not only be sailing, providing great vacations to guests who really need a great vacation at this point, but to do it in the Bahamas, which is a place where we have one of our closest partnerships," Tamis said. "We've been able to have very open dialogue with them, [and] they've been very cooperative in every phase of discussing the technical aspects of sailing out of Nassau ... they've been great partners."
The Royal Caribbean sailings will open for bookings on March 24, and the Celebrity sailings will open for bookings on March 25.
Both lines said they would operate the new sailings with a long list of new health and safety measures designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on board the ship, some of which would be announced at a later date.
Royal Caribbean said that, in addition to a COVID-19 vaccination requirement for all adult passengers, it would require that all crew on Adventure of the Seas be vaccinated for COVID-19 before the sailings begin.
Royal Caribbean noted that passengers would have to meet additional requirements being imposed by the government of the Bahamas that might include receiving a negative COVID-19 PCR test result before their arrival in the country, testing upon arrival into the country and filling out appropriate entry forms.
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