The global cruise industry is increasingly taking the first steps to restore operations at key markets around the world. Five cruise lines announced summer programs, including the first large US-based brands, with cruises scheduled for the Caribbean, Malaysia, and the UK, as the industry looks to take advantage of the expanding vaccine programs and loosening restrictions travel restrictions.
With the US on track to make the COVID-19 vaccine available to all adults starting in May and many Caribbean nations anxious to begin rebuilding their tourism industries, Royal Caribbean Group plans to bypass US regulators and restart operations in June from the Bahamas and St. Maarten for two of its brands. Its Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises brands will become the first large cruise lines to resume North American cruises followed a month later by Genting’s Crystal Cruises which previously announced plans to base one of its deluxe cruise ships in the Bahamas.
Demand from travelers is expected to be very strong for these first programs. Crystal Cruises started accepting bookings for its Bahamas cruises due to start in July and in the first 24-hour period nearly 4,000 travelers made reservations the line reports. That represent more than 25 percent of the 16 voyages combined availability. Almost 200 guests reserved back-to-back voyages with some planning to spend 42 days on board the cruise ship.
“Someday is here,” wrote Celebrity Cruises president Lisa Lutoff-Perlo to the line’s past passengers announcing the return of cruise service. Starting June 5, the Celebrity Millennium, a 91,000 gross ton cruise ship, will be offering weekly cruises from St. Maarten. The company plans to operate two alternating itineraries to Aruba, Curacao, and Barbados and to Tortola, St. Lucia, and Barbados scheduled to continue through August.
Royal Caribbean International, the group’s largest brand, targeted to the broad market, is scheduled to start cruising a week later with its 138,100 gross ton cruise ship the Adventure of the Seas departing from Nassau in the Bahamas. Beginning on June 12, they will offer weekly cruises to the line’s private island destination in the Bahamas, Grand Bahama Island, and Cozumel, Mexico.
“The vaccines are clearly a game changer for all of us, and with the number of vaccinations and their impact growing rapidly, we believe starting with cruises for vaccinated adult guests and crew is the right choice,” said Michael Bayley, president and CEO, Royal Caribbean International. “As we move forward, we expect this requirement and other measures will inevitably evolve over time.”
Before the North American cruises begin, Genting has also received permission to offer cruises from Penang in Malaysia. Starting on May 13, the 40,053 gross ton Star Pisces will begin operating one- and two-night cruises. The overnights will cruise the Straits of Malacca while the two-night cruise will include 10 hours of port time for passengers in Langkawi. Officials in Malaysia had been proposing for months to start cruises following a similar model to Singapore, which at the end of 2020 permitted another Genting cruise ship and one from Royal Caribbean to begin short sea cruises for Singapore residents.
International cruise lines are also announcing cruise programs for the UK market. MSC, which has been cruising in the Mediterranean, plans to base a ship in the UK starting May 20, pending government approval. Details of the cruise program have not been released, but the company says it will offer a series of mini and week-long cruises around the UK for British residents that will include unspecified UK ports. The cruises will initially sail from Southampton and MSC is planning to add other embarkation ports.
Carnival Corporation’s Princess Cruises also confirmed reports that it would base two of its cruise ships in the UK. The 142,000 gross ton sister ships Regal Princess and Sky Princess will both be operating short three-night and week-long trips from Southampton in British waters with port calls including Liverpool, Belfast, and Greenock.
All of the cruise lines plan to build on the experience of the lines that resumed service starting last summer. Genting, for example, is highlighting that it has carried 100,000 passengers on the cruises from Singapore while MSC reports over 50,000 passengers have sailed on its cruises from Italy. The lines will all maintain public health measures but policies vary in part due to the homeport countries. Both Celebrity and Royal Caribbean say all crew will be vaccinated and adult passengers must also be fully vaccinated. The Bahamas and St. Maarten are also requiring negative COVID-19 tests. Similarly, Princess is limiting its cruises to vaccinated UK residents, but MSC says it will also accept non-vaccinated guests but they must have a negative test prior to embarkation.
Industry observers expect that this is the beginning of a broader resumption for the cruise industry with other major cruise lines also expected to start operations outside the US while they continue to wait for the CDC’s guidance for US-based cruises. Executives with Royal Caribbean have said they and other cruise lines are in weekly contact with the CDC anticipating steps to resume US-based cruising will be coming shortly as many states in the US are relaxing their COVID-related restrictions.