Royal Caribbean Cruises announced Wednesday that subject to developments, it plans to resume cruise operations as of August 1 and in China from July 1.
“Given ongoing global public health circumstances, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. has decided to extend the suspension of most sailings through July 31, 2020, with the exception of sailings from China, which will be suspended through the end of June.,” the company said in a statement.
“We are working with our guests and travel partners to address this disruption to their vacations, and we are genuinely sorry for their inconvenience.
“We expect to return to service on August 1.”
Preparing for a ‘new normal’
RCL owns and operates Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Azamara, and also holds a two-thirds stake in Silversea Cruises.
The move makes Royal Caribbean the second of the big three cruise operators to announce a resumption of cruise operations after Carnival Cruise Line said earlier this month that it plans to phase in a resumption of its North American service this summer, beginning on August 1 with a total of eight ships sailing from Miami, Port Canaveral, and Galveston.
Regarding its operational plans for a resumption of service, Royal Caribbean said it was defining and preparing for a ‘new normal’”.
“The Company has engaged the services of distinguished external experts in relevant fields, including public health, epidemiology, design and sanitation, to bring additional expertise to its internal teams that are envisioning the Company’s new standards and procedures for its return to service strategy,” a statement read.
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Healthy return to service program
Royal Caribbean Cruises CEO Richard Fain said the cruise line was launching a ‘healthy return to service program.’
“The program will have four main focuses: upgraded screening prior to boarding, enhanced processes and procedures onboard, special focus on addressing the destinations we visit, and procedures for dealing with any reports of exceptions,” Fain said
Fain added that it was too early to define the specifics with regard to health protocols.
“It is tempting to start talking now about all the individual components of how things will change. However, we are still defining all those enhancements, and we’re still taking guidance from our expert advisors. And this process will continue in keeping with our mantra of continuous improvement.”
“The one thing that won’t change is our determination that we will not start operations until we are fully ready to do so with all the hygiene and other health protocols solidly in place.”
Like Carnival, Royal Caribbean’s return to service will be phased.
“We don’t expect that… someday somebody blows a horn, and all the ships start operating right away. We think that it will be a gradual start, a little bit like society is opening up gradually,” Fain said.
“So, we would imagine that we would start with fewer ships… and then it would then evolve and grow from there.”
Royal Caribbean to resume sailing Asian markets or the European region could come back earlier
As to where cruises will resume first, Royal Caribbean International CEO Michael Bayley said: “It is highly likely the Asian markets or the European region could come back earlier. We’re very aware of these different landscapes and I think we’re also relatively pleased we have this global infrastructure that we can leverage.
“Interestingly, we are already in dialogue with over 40 different ports and destinations around the world in terms of return to service. In fact, we get many calls asking when we’re going to bring our ships there.”
With regard to the American market, Bayley said “destinations like Perfect Day [at Coco Cay] will be key to our start up.”
Prices that are down
The cruise operator said that due to the impact of COVID-19, booking volumes for the remainder of 2020 are meaningfully lower than the same time last year at prices that are down low-single digits, but that booked positions for 2021 is within historical ranges when compared to same time last year with 2021 prices up mid-single digits compared to 2020.
Bayley said that there had been what he called “surprising demand” from Royal Caribbean’s nearly 20 million loyalty members.
“Their response to various promotions that we’ve put into the market, just to understand what the demand looks like has been surprisingly positive. So, as we move into Q4 and into ’21, we’ve been honestly surprised in terms of the demand that we’ve seen coming in, particularly from loyalty guests.”
TrvlTrend will update this story when more details are available.
UPDATE 02/06/2020: Alaska season cancelled due to extension of Canada restrictions
Royal Caribbean has cancelled its 2020 sailings to Canada, Alaska and New England due to the Canadian government extension of restrictions on cruise traffic through October 2020.
“As a result of the Government of Canada’s decision to extend its restriction on cruise ships carrying more than 100 guests until October 31, Royal Caribbean 2020 sailings to Canada, New England and Alaska must be cancelled,” a spokesman for the cruise line said.
Royal Caribbean is offering a Lift & Shift option to move the booking to a qualifying cruise in the same time period next year; Future Cruise Credit of 125%, or a full refund.
Refunds are currently taking far longer than the standard 30 days and the company has issued an apology and explained that its systems have been log jammed by the enormous volume of refund requests resulting from the suspension of all voyages due to the coronavirus pandemic.