The cruise industry will continue its careful resumption of service during December. This will include both the first sailings by Royal Caribbean International in over eight months as well as the first cruises in China. While fears of the resurgence of the virus continue to mount, the cruise lines are moving forward with preparations for their trial voyages from the United States hoping to operate them in the coming weeks.
Royal Caribbean International operated its first cruise over the weekend as a trial trip in preparation for a return to commercial service on December 1. The authorities in Singapore approved the line to resume a limited trial cruise program for residents on cruises to nowhere. Before beginning the cruises, Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas cruise ship and its crew have undergone extensive preparation. Crew members have been in isolation for a total of a month, first at home and then after rejoining the ship. During that time, they prepared the cruise ship for its return to service as well as practicing the new onboard protocols.
The first trial cruise from Singapore operated this last week with “friend and family” sailing as the passengers. The ship has returned to Singapore and will board its first paying passengers. Under the trial program agreed to with Singapore and being closely monitored by the government, the ship will operate three- and four-day sea cruises from Singapore only for local residents and with no ports of call.
Singapore working with DNV developed the protocols for the operation. The ships are restricted to half their normal passenger capacity. Passengers also are required to wear face coverings and maintain social distancing. Foodservice has been adapted and even in the showrooms seating has been blocked off for social distancing. Pictures circulated of the preparations showing the dancers in the production shows wearing face coverings as part of the Las Vegas-style costumes.
According to reports in The Wall Street Journal, China is also preparing to follow Singapore’s model, possibly launching its first domestic cruises in December. In September, the Sanya municipal government and Astro Ocean Cruise signed an agreement to support the development of cruises in the Hainan region. Astro, which was formed as a joint venture between the China Tourism Group and COSCO Shipping Group acquired the Oriana cruise ship from P&O and in 2019 had begun operating her as China’s first large domestic cruise ship, the Piano Land.
The cruise ship remains at the Xiamen port and China has not released details on what type of operations might be planned. It is believed that they would offer residents of the region the first opportunity to cruise on short voyages that would remain in China.
In September, the local government also entered into an agreement with Genting’s Dream Cruises, calling for a similar re-start program. Because of China’s cabotage rules, the cruise ship would have to be chartered to a Chinese company. For a similar reason, it has been suggested that China might be one of the last markets to reopen to the international cruise lines.
Last week, MSC Cruises, based in Switzerland, reported that it has also been the first international cruise line granted a health and safety certificate from Japan’s ClassNK. MSC is currently targeting April 2021, to start cruises aboard one of its ships sailing from Japan.
None of the cruise lines seeking to operate from the US have announced details, but they are all believed to be taking steps to meet the CDC requirements as they follow the protocols to resume cruising. No dates have been publicly set on when the first trial cruises could operate, but rumors point to the lines planning to run the trials cruises before the end of December or early in 2021, pending approval from the CDC.
More cruise ships are also repositioning after having sat idle for months. In addition to the previous report that Disney Cruise Line had started repositioning cruise ships towards the United States, Princess Cruises’ Emerald Princess is also currently westbound in the Atlantic heading towards the Caribbean. MSC Cruises has also begun sending ships that had been in the Americas to Europe. Other cruise lines including Holland America Line and Norwegian Cruise Line have also confirmed reports that they will be returning cruise ships to North America in the coming weeks.
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