In a watershed moment for cruising, one small line will resume Caribbean sailings this weekend

Nov 6, 2020

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Something big in the cruise world is happening this weekend, almost under the radar.

One of the world’s smallest cruise brands, SeaDream Yacht Club, on Saturday will kick off the very first cruise in the Caribbean since the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic in March.

That’s right, cruising is about to be back in the Caribbean — albeit in a very small way.

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Assuming all goes as expected, SeaDream’s yacht-like, 112-passenger SeaDream I will depart from Barbados on Saturday on a seven-night voyage to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada. It’ll be the first of 22 sailings that the line plans in the region through the spring.

If it goes well, the voyage could be a watershed moment for the cruise industry, which has been eyeing a restart in the Caribbean for many months. The Caribbean is the world’s biggest cruise destination, accounting for at least a third of all cruises taken in a normal year, and a resumption of sailings in the region is critical to the cruise industry’s long-term health.

Related: How to book a cruise with points and miles

SeaDream Yacht Club operates two 112-passenger vessels that have a yacht-like feel. (Photo courtesy of SeaDream Yacht Club).
SeaDream Yacht Club operates two 112-passenger vessels that have a yacht-like feel. (Photo courtesy of SeaDream Yacht Club)

In recent months, cruising has resumed in a limited way in several other parts of the world, including in Europe and French Polynesia. But, with the exception of one aborted attempt, there hasn’t been a single sailing not just in the Caribbean but all of North America.

SeaDream announced plans for the new Caribbean voyages just seven weeks ago, and it has stuck with the plans over the past few weeks even as every other major line in the world has pulled back from the idea of a November restart to Caribbean cruising.

In recent days, all the world’s major cruise lines have extended their cancellations of sailings in North America even further — through the end of December.

Related: TPG will report live from the first SeaDream sailing 

The recent cancellations came in the wake of a restrictive new “conditional sailing” order from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that will make it hard for most lines to restart operations in the Caribbean before January. The order creates a number of hoops that cruise lines must jump through before receiving a Conditional Sailing Certificate to resume operations out of U.S. ports such as PortMiami and Port Canaveral.

SeaDream’s sailings aren’t covered by the CDC’s new order because the line’s Caribbean itineraries do not include passages through U.S. waters. SeaDream Yacht Club’s two small vessels also are below the size threshold included in the CDC order. The order only applies to ships that carry more than 250 passengers and crew.

SeaDream is confident that it can restart cruising in the Caribbean safely.

The line already has experience operating voyages during this new era of COVID in a safe way. It was one of the first cruise operators to resume sailings in Europe — way back in June. It operated sailings along the Norwegian coast for months with little trouble.

Related: Demand rises for cruises on small ships in wake of COVID

The line had a brief COVID scare in August when someone who had sailed on one of its ships tested positive for COVID-19 after returning home. But that turned out to be a false alarm.

SeaDream has implemented a range of anti-COVID measures on its two small ships that — for several months, at least — have kept them COVID-free.

The anti-COVID measures include testing every passenger for COVID-19 at the pier before they are allowed to board and requiring social distancing and daily temperature checks.

SeaDream also has implemented rigorous cleaning and sanitizing measures on board its ships, including using the same sort of ultrasonic foggers that hospitals use to sanitize rooms, as well as a germ-killing UV light system.

Related: A preview of the new COVID-related cruise restrictions 

For the upcoming Caribbean sailings, SeaDream also will be restricting passengers from wandering around during calls on their own. This is designed to minimize the chance of interacting with local residents who might be ill.

Most of the anti-COVID measures that SeaDream is implementing are the same as what the major cruise lines plan for when they restart sailings as early as January.

In that sense, the line’s success — or failure — in restarting cruising in the Caribbean in the coming days and weeks could be a bellwether for what is to come when the industry’s bigger players begin tiptoeing back into operations in the coming months.

Or, put another way, all eyes in cruise world are about to be on the SeaDream I.

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Featured image courtesy of SeaDream Yacht Club

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