North America Cruise Restart Programs Proceeding
Efforts to restart the North American cruise industry are continuing to accelerate as the first large cruise ship set sail in the Caribbean this week. At the same time, the major cruise lines are also announcing additional plans for their cruises sailing from U.S. ports while they continue to wait for a resolution of the dispute between Florida and the US Centers for Disease Control over asking passengers for proof of COVID-19 vaccination.
Royal Caribbean Group’s premium brand Celebrity Cruises became the first to resume sailing with its ship the Celebrity Millennium departing St. Maarten on June 5 for a 7-day cruise. Reports are that approximately 600 passengers joined the cruise ship, which has a normal capacity of 2,218 passengers. Early reports from onboard are the operations are similar but little changes such as there are no self-service buffets. Celebrity required passengers to be vaccinated, but only to wear face coverings during embarkation or if required by a destination. At least some photos, however, showed crew members wearing face coverings. Passengers are also being encouraged to maintain social distances, embarkation and disembarkation are being staggered, and digital apps are being used to reduce contacts.
“Today, we sail, again! This is such a significant moment for our company, our industry, and the Caribbean. That this day has finally arrived for our guests and our crew is truly special – beyond words, really,” said Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, President and CEO of Celebrity Cruises.
In the coming weeks, Celebrity Cruises plans to continue its phased resumption of service also with the first cruise scheduled to depart from a U.S. port sailing aboard the Celebrity Edge from Port Everglades. The Celebrity Millennium will move to Alaska while her sister ship the Celebrity Summit takes over the Caribbean cruises. In addition, Celebrity will have ships cruising in the U.K. Mediterranean and the Galapagos. The company last week received approval from the CDC for a second ship to begin sailing from US ports.
The three largest North American cruise brands, Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Royal Caribbean International, also announced additional details on their plans to resume cruising taking into account Florida’s current ban on vaccine passports.
Royal Caribbean International has decided to drop the requirement that passengers must be vaccinated. The line is still recommending it for its cruises and saying non-vaccinated passengers will have to agree to testing and may face some limitations onboard. Royal Caribbean plans to restart cruises from both Miami and Port Everglades at the beginning of July, with additional ships in August. They are also planning starting cruises from Texas and to Alaska in August.
Carnival Cruise Line confirmed plans for its July restart of cruises from Galveston, Texas adding that it is requiring passengers to be vaccinated. "We appreciate the progress and support for our US restart from the CDC and other key federal agencies; however, the current CDC requirements for cruising with a guest base that is unvaccinated will make it very difficult to deliver the experience our guests expect, especially given the large number of families with younger children who sail with us. As a result, our alternative is to operate our ships from the US during the month of July with vaccinated guests," said Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line.
The company said it continues to work with both the State of Florida and the CDC for the planned cruises from Miami and later Port Canaveral. They are hopeful an agreement can be reached and said they plan to provide an update by June 11 concerning protocols specific to the Florida sailings.
Norwegian Cruise Line also announced plans for additional cruises, including the first planned from New York starting in September to Bermuda, and the first West Coast Mexico cruises starting at the end of October. Norwegian continues to adjust its schedules, having previously withdrawn planned Caribbean cruises and now changing ships planned to operate its Alaska cruises. The company also said it is in discussions with Florida about the health and safety protocols.
The CDC also said that this week it hopes to begin posting online updates to the list of cruise ships approved to resume either revenue cruises from US ports or simulated cruises before gaining approval to resume service.
At the same time, US District Judge Steven Merryday scheduled hearings for June 10 Florida’s lawsuit against the CDC seeking to void the Conditional Sail Order and framework for the restart. The judge will be considering Florida's request for a preliminary injunction, which if granted would permit cruise lines to resume sailing from US ports without the current restrictions.