Royal Caribbean International – ITTN’s Supplier of the Week for March 8 – is optimistic about a resumption of sailing in 2021, but is most excited about 2022, according to Stuart Byron, Sales Director UK, Ireland and Spain.
Speaking exclusively to ITTN, Stuart said that 2022 would be a bonanza for European guests as the company will be basing seven ships in Europe, including the brand new Odyssey of the Seas, one more than in years past.
“The outlook for the brand is really strong, really exciting, for 2022,” he said in a call that also included Jennifer Callister, Head of Ireland Royal Caribbean Cruises. “When we look at the type of ships that we have deployed it’s a real bonanza time for European guests. Odyssey of the Seas, which is our newest ship, she’ll also be in Europe next year, sailing out of Rome – picking up destinations like the Greek Isles and Turkey. I think that’s a really exciting opportunity on our newest hardware.”
“Other ships to be based in Europe will Allure of the Seas, sailing out of Barcelona and covering the western Mediterranean; and Anthem of the Seas, which is returning to Southampton for 2021 and 2022 and will be doing an interesting mix of northern and souther itineraries: picking up the fjords but also sailing south around the Canaries.”
Salvaging the 2021 Season
Odyssey of the Seas will enter service in May 2021 with cruises from Haifa, Israel on a variety of 3- to 7-night sailings that visit the Greek islands and Cyprus. These cruises are only available to be booked by residents of Israel, and all guests above the age of 16 will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
No other sailings have been scheduled yet, but Stuart Byron thinks that Boris Johnson’s recent announcement about the opening up of the UK and the possible resumption of international travel from May 17 offers hope that British cruisers will be able to take to the water at some point after that. “It’s such an evolving situation,” he said, “that it still remains to be seen what 2021 will look like.” This is especially true for Irish cruise passengers, as the government has yet to outline a plan for when international travel might resume from Ireland.
Waiting for the Green Light
Although not yet able to sail, Royal Caribbean has been busy behind the scenes preparing for the moment when they can resume.
“What we have done behind the scenes,” Stuart says, “through the healthy cruising panel is [that] we’re really clear on all of our protocols, and what we need to do when we need to do it. So we sit ready and waiting as soon as the green light is given. We’re working very closely with local governments here [in the UK and Ireland] and across Europe in the same way that we work with the CDC [Centers for Disease Control] in the US.”
And it’s not all theory: in December, Quantum of the Seas resumed sailing on a ‘cruise to nowhere’ out of Singapore when a passenger reported feeling unwell. “The ship returned to port in Singapore; that passenger was taken off the ship, taken to hospital and was proven to be a false positive.”
“What it did show was that all of our protocols were effective, that they worked. Once you have the system in place it goes to show that you can manage it.”
Cruising in a Post-Pandemic World
When sailings do resume, passenger numbers are likely to be reduced at the outset to support social distancing. Online boarding, already a feature of the cruise experience, will be the norm. The new eMuster system will be operational, which changes the legal safety drill that requires all passengers to visit their designated assembly station before departure. Instead of mustering in large groups, passengers will now get their instructions on where to muster via their mobile device and stateroom TV and will be invited to visit the assembly point in their own time (but still before departure).
As for dining and entertainment options, “because the ships are so large,” Stuart says, “I don’t see there being any real difference to the guest experience.”
In a separate interview, ITTN’s Sharon Jordan asked Stuart Byron some trade-specific questions: