Cruise Update #23 – USA Cruise Update, Royal Caribbean And More
Here are the 6 breaking cruise news stories that you need to know about, including the CDC in the United States dialling up it’s advice against cruising, 3 huge new challenges cruises that have resumed are now dealing with, what a Royal Caribbean cruise is actually going to be like, a big surprise financial bail out for the cruise lines and more.
This is another of my Tips For Travellers cruise updates, where I unpick the biggest cruising news, and discuss what it means for all of us as cruisers.
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#1 CDC No Cruise Advice
Firstly, a really significant development in the USA.
The CDC has significantly increased their travel advice against cruising, moving it from a level 2 up to a level 3, warning US residents to avoid all non-essential travel, especially cruising. They call cruising out in some detail in this update.
Their advice says (and I quote): the “CDC recommends that travelers defer all cruise travel worldwide”.
They highlight the on-going and increased levels of Covid-19 infection across many countries including the US, and argue (quote) “Cruise passengers are at increased risk of person-to-person spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19, and outbreaks of COVID-19 have been reported on several cruise ships”
The lifting of the no-sail order is key to cruise lines being legally able to resume sailing, but this advice against cruising is also significant as it usually negates traveller’s insurance and deters many from travelling, making resumption challenging for the lines.
As recording this, some lines have already started to cancel and push cruises out even further. Virgin Voyages being one of the first, cancelling through to 3 January.
Although at the same, Carnival Cruises has brought back some crew to St Maarten to join Carnival Horizon, Carnival Pride and Mardi Gras, although it is not clear if these are to replace crew in cold layup whose contracts have ended or with eye to resuming cruising.
#2 Challenges Of Cruising During Pandemic
Meanwhile across in Europe, we have seen three new issues the lines are facing in recent days.
First of all, the fast rise in cases in some countries has made lines more skittish and nervous about who they accept on their cruises.
Carnival’s Costa Cruises, which resumed cruising with just Italian passengers, has cancelled plans to accept guests from other European countries whose cases are higher than in Italy.
Costa was due to open to EU travellers, but now travellers from countries including France, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, UK, Croatia, Poland and Portugal cannot cruise with them. The policy will be reviewed at the end of November.
They have also announced they have extended the ban on USA travellers through towards the end of December.
The second challenge is that lines are having to get used to modifying itineraries at short notice, as travel advice keeps changing due to the infection rates. For example, Carnival’s AIDA cruises, which cater for German-speaking travellers, had to overnight drop some Italian ports in regions the German government advised against travel to.
They dropped popular ports like Naples and added Messina and Syracuse where the travel advice is still okay – for now. This even means they abruptly dropped La Spezia in Italy as an embarkation port, and travellers can only embark in Civitavecchia near Rome.
CroisiEurope, which was sailing on many rivers, has announced multiple cancellations and scrapped their entire Christmas season sailings, due to the changing travel advice and restrictions in countries on attractions, opening of hospitality venues and so on.
Thirdly, as I covered on my last cruise news update. There is still risk of outbreaks on board despite testing, physical distancing and creating bubbles for excursions, as we saw on Costa Diaderma that I spoke about in my last update. In recent days, there was a reported outbreak on a river cruise in Germany on the MS Vista Serenity. It led to the guests being transferred home to isolate, and 13 crew testing positive.
Though the new protocols mean quick identification, and only having to isolate those infected and their close contacts, it does create on-going challenges that the lines are learning to manage.
So cruises getting the go-ahead to resume is, as we are learning, just the start and lines have to keep adapting and changing who can sail, where they can call on and how they handle Covid flare ups if and when they happen.
#3 Royal Caribbean Real-Life Protocols
In other more positive news, we have confirmation on what cruising on a Royal Caribbean ship is really going to be like. How? By looking at what they have put in place as they resume cruising on the Quantum Of The Seas out of Singapore.
Overall it is very consistent with what we have seen on Carnival’s European lines currently sailing (Costa Cruises and AIDA) and Royal Caribbean’s joint venture Mein Schiff and Hapag-Lloyd lines. And also things included in the “Healthy Sailing” Panel proposals submitted to the CDC in the USA.
There are 5 things that really stand out to me:
Firstly, guests have to take a Covid-19 test 48 to 72 hours before boarding. The cost of the test is included in the fare, and arranged through the line. If you, or your party, tests positive, or fails the pre-boarding screening, you get 100% future cruise credit.
So, it is good to finally know what happens if you cannot go, as this also applies if you have to isolate and can’t go on the cruise.
Secondly, the ship will be sailing at a maximum of 50% capacity, and all venues, including the swimming pools, restaurants and bars will operate at half usual capacity, with numbers actively controlled with booking required for most venues in advance.
Only four people can be in an elevator at one time.
Thirdly, the Windjammer buffet will not be self-service and items are served by crew, and it’s recommended guests book a time to go. This may not be a popular requirement !
Fourthly, wearing of masks is required in almost all situations, except when seated to eat or drink. Masks are required inside the ship, and also when out on the deck and taking part in outdoor activities, except the flow rider. They are even to be worn around the pool when not in the water. Though this is not the case on European cruises though.
Fifthly, some big modifications have been made to the ship, with new ventilation and filtration systems and an expanded medical centre. This now has more doctors, nurses and a dedicated isolation ward for Covid care patients.
Importantly, Royal Caribbean will cover all Covid-19 related medical treatment on board, and also the costs of quarantine off the ship and travel home if required. So also it’s good to finally know how this is handled and who pays for it.
As you can see, these are pretty consistent with other cruises that have resumed to date. But we are now getting answers to some questions we had all been asking.
#4 More Lines Kick Passengers Off
Despite all of this, a lot of people are also sceptical that the cruise lines will really enforce these new protocols and rules. Based on the news that keeps coming through, we are seeing strict enforcement.
I have previously covered MSC Cruises throwing guests off their cruises in Europe for breaking the new rules, and in the past week Carnival’s AIDA has done the same.
One of the new rules is only being allowed to leave the ship on a cruise line excursion, and you can’t leave that to self explore, visit a shop or bar. A passenger on a cruise on AIDAblu left one of their tours in Catania Italy, and he was refused permission to re-board and had to organise getting himself back home to Germany.
I predict we will keep seeing stories like this when they occur, as cruise lines want potential cruisers to know sticking to these new protocols is non-negotiable.
#5 Royal Caribbean Joins Wearable Trend
Technology is being ramped up too to help with the new protocols.
So it was not a surprise to me that another major cruise group is looking to add technology to help deliver more touchless services on board their ships, and also improve the ability to do smarter track and trace on board.
Royal Caribbean have now trademarked a wearable bracelet device called “Tracelet”, which sounds a lot like Carnival Corporation’s Ocean Medallion, used by their Princess and Costa brands so far, and MSC Cruises wearable “MSC For Me” bracelet device.
Although described as a bracelet, things like the Ocean Medallion come in different formats to suit how people may want to wear or carry them.
These wearable devices are given to all passengers, and help track who they have been in close contact with for 15 minutes or more. This data enables more specific track and trace, so if a guest shows Covid-19 symptoms, it should allow only those who have been in contact with them to quarantine. And avoid entire ships having to be put into lockdown, as happened in the run up to the shutdown.
These wearable devices, also allow contactless opening of cabin doors, paying for items on board and ordering drinks and food when used with a phone App.
Increased technology use, and faster adoption of these wearable devices, look to be another key change out of this pandemic.
#6 Cruise Lines Bail Out
As workers affected by the shutdown of cruise ports in Florida held rallies in Miami, Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale and Port Canaveral lobbying for cruises to be allowed to resume, news has come from there that cruise lines have been given a substantial bail out.
The cruise lines, as they are flagged and registered out of the USA, did not qualify or get any bail out or assistance from the government. However, Port Miami got Miami-Dade County to waive $285 million in fees the cruise lines owe under minimum rent deals they signed years ago to use the docks, terminals and garages owned by the county.
Those are the 6 biggest news stories breaking that I felt you need to know about, and what I think they mean for us as cruise lovers.
ABOUT TIPS FOR TRAVELLERS
Gary Bembridge’s Tips For Travellers aims to help you make more of your precious travel time and money on land and when cruising the oceans or rivers of the world. To help you, in every video I draw on my first-hand tips and advice from travelling every month for over 20 years and average of 10 cruises a year.
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