BY: MINA KAJI, AND GIO BENITEZ, ABC NEWS
(NEW YORK) — Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises announced Friday they are resuming North America cruises in June with ships sailing out of the Bahamas and St. Maarten. The CEOs of the cruise lines referred to vaccines as “key” and a “game changer” in allowing them to end the cruise lines’ yearlong halt of operations amid the pandemic.
In order to board these ships, all adults, including the crew, will be required to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination. Children will be allowed to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours.
Celebrity CEO and President Lisa Lutoff-Perlo told ABC News in an exclusive interview that the company is still finalizing what the onboard COVID protocols will look like in June, but that the “cruising of tomorrow doesn’t look any different than the cruising of today.”
“One of the things that our guests had told us is when they come back they don’t want their experience to be awkward,” Lutoff-Perlo told ABC News Transportation Correspondent Gio Benitez. “They want to do the things they remember doing, and that was another reason why we really wanted to be prudent about when and how we started up. We do not want the experience to be compromised in a way that lessens the pleasure of our guests.”
In light of COVID-19 concerns, the cruise lines have made some permanent changes, such as upgrading cleaning procedures, improving air filtration systems and modifying medical centers.
“We have a very robust contact-tracing system as well,” Lutoff-Perlo said. “It’s going to be very easy to know where those people have been, and who they’ve been with.”
The demand for cruises in 2022 is reaching historic levels, according to Lutoff-Perlo. “I think people have a lot of optimism about the future and their ability to see the world again,” she added.
Celebrity’s Millennium will leave port on June 5 stopping in Aruba, Curaçao and Barbados. Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas is set to sail on June 12 with stops in the Bahamas and Cozumel, Mexico.
Bookings for both cruises open next week. They warned potential guests they may have to be tested for COVID-19 before entering islands such as St. Maarten and the Bahamas in order to comply with local regulations.
Since March 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has blocked cruise ships that carry more than 250 people from sailing in U.S. waters. It is still unclear when that “no sail” order will be lifted.
Since Royal Caribbean and Celebrity’s seven-day cruises in June won’t involve departures or stops at any U.S. ports, they don’t need approval from the CDC. They only had to obtain officials’ approvals at their planned destinations.
The agency published a four-step framework in late October for a phased resumption of cruise ship passenger operations. One of the CDC’s requirements to grant approval to resume U.S. operations is for the cruise lines to conduct test cruises with volunteer passengers. Celebrity’s CEO said she doesn’t know if the test cruises will still be necessary, but that they continue to work with the CDC.
“The world has changed so much since October when they issued this conditional sail order and when they were requiring test cruises so honestly we don’t know,” Lutoff-Perlo told ABC News. “The vaccines have changed and really been a game changer for all of us, so we’ll see.”
CDC spokesperson Jasmine Reed told ABC News on Friday that its current focus is on the protection of crew and “working with cruise lines to implement the initial phase requirements of testing all crew and developing onboard laboratory capacity.”
“We anticipate the next phase of technical instructions for ‘Port and Local Health Authorities Agreements’ to be released soon,” Reed said.
The CDC is still not recommending travel, even for those who are vaccinated.
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