TORONTO — “I was elated.”
That’s how ‘The Cruise Guy’, cruise industry expert Stewart Chiron, says he felt when he heard about the new Bahamas and Caribbean itineraries with Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Crystal Cruises scheduled to start in June and July 2021.
They’re the first sailings in the Americas by ocean-going cruise ships more than one year after cruise lines announced a pause in operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the CDC issued its No Sail Order.
Chiron’s reaction was no doubt shared by more than a few in the industry, even here in Canada, where the current suspension of sun flights, 3-day hotel and 14-day quarantine rules, PCR test requirements and other tough measures have made it far more challenging for Canadian travel agents than U.S. agents to promote and book travel for their clients.
This past Friday Royal Caribbean announced new Cozumel and Bahamas itineraries starting June 12. Celebrity Cruises will sail Caribbean itineraries out of St. Maarten starting June 5. And Crystal Cruises’ all-Bahamas itineraries are set to kick off July 3.
After sales for the all-Bahamas cruises opened on March 18, Crystal reported its biggest single day of bookings in its history. More than 25% of the 16 sailings’ combined availability was booked in the first 24 hours. And close to 200 travellers booked back-to-back sailings.
Based in Florida, Chiron is known for his appearances on everything from CNN to Good Morning America. His 31 years of experience in the cruise industry includes 276 sailings.
We caught up with Chiron to get his take on the new cruises, how he feels about all-vaccinated sailings, the wait for the CDC’s go-ahead and more.
Q. Everyone in the travel industry – the cruise lines, the travel agents – as well as the cruise travellers themselves – really want these newly-announced Bahamas & Caribbean cruise itineraries from (so far) Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Crystal to work. What were your first thoughts when these new sailings were announced?
Chiron: “I was elated that cruise lines were finally ready to get off the hamster wheel. The time is right for cruise lines to safely resume sailings.”
Q. Booking volumes will no doubt be sky-high, which is fantastic. It will be frustrating if sailings have to be suspended again, despite the cruise lines’ best efforts. How crucial are these first cruises to the industry getting back on its feet?
Chiron: “The first sailings are important. But it’s essential to keep in mind, hiccups are inevitable. So realistic expectations and patience are necessary. I’m expecting a slower boarding process and I recognize the onboard experience may have a few kinks to work out because the crews may be a little rusty. Setbacks are NOT an option. The cruise industry must move forward.”
Q. Do you think the cruise lines got fed up with waiting for the CDC to give the go-ahead for cruising out of U.S. ports? Have you heard anything that indicates the CDC and the cruise lines are close to announcing U.S. ports any time soon?
Chiron: “The cruise industry very much wants to work with the CDC to resume sailings from U.S. ports ASAP! While waiting for the CDC to re-engage the industry, cruise lines are making alternative plans in the meantime. Many companies have assembled their own health panels with industry leading doctors and scientists to ensure they have the most up-to-date protocols and procedures using best available science and technology. Several cruise lines have already been sailing in Europe, beginning last June and have shared a lot of information.”
Q. Do you think that vaccination requirements for cruise passengers are inevitable and the only clear path forward, given the lack of other options?
Chiron: “With so few people vaccinated currently, it may be tough to fill ships even at reduced capacities with vaccination requirements. It’s encouraging to see how many people are getting vaccinated but let’s recognize, kids and young adults are very important to the cruise industry’s success and it will take time for them to get vaccinated.
“Some of the technology the cruise industry needs hasn’t been revealed yet. Feel-good COVID tests, temperature checks, social distancing and even vaccines are part of the formula but not the answer. It’s going to be a combination of a lot of protocols, procedures and technology that helps industry move forward. These efforts will make cruising safer. COVID-infected passengers will inevitably get onboard and it’s how cruise lines mitigate the situations, minimize inconveniences and disruptions, that makes the difference.”
Q. One of the MSC cruises in Europe in summer 2020 turned away a family looking to reboard after they’d taken a non-MSC shore excursion and violated the protocols. Do you expect to see the U.S. cruise lines take a similarly strong stance on protocols?
Chiron: “MSC Cruises was following agreed-upon protocols with Italy, where they required all passengers to take special tours created to ensure COVID protections were followed. Unfortunately, one family thought they could sneak off from the MSC tour and explore on their own, risking their health and everyone else aboard ship.
“Situations and protocols are in constant flux. With many, most or all cruise passengers and crews being vaccinated on certain ships, requirements to take cruise line tours may be unnecessary moving forward. This is a topic that will be decided closer to restart as more information becomes available.”