Royal Caribbean, the country’s largest vacation cruise line, announced Wednesday that it plans to resume cruises in September.
The cruise line, which has been anchored since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said that it would keep the suspension in place until September 15. But it hopes to take passengers to sea once again beginning on September 16.
The cruise industry has been one of the most dramatic casualties of the pandemic. Viruses are notorious for spreading rapidly aboard tight-quartered ships, where food is often served buffet-style and physically distancing from others is nearly impossible. Royal Caribbean, and all of its competitors, have been forced to tie up their ships since they became breeding grounds for the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
An Industry on Pause
Last month, the Cruise Lines International Association announced it would extend its suspension for cruise operations until at least September 15. Accordingly, Carnival Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line have canceled voyages through the end of September.
But even if Royal Caribbean does resume operations on September 16, it will have to cut back on some of its destinations. All trips to or from Canada must be suspended at least through the end of October, as the Canadian government has put a travel ban on cruises until the end of that month. Trips to Bermuda will also be suspended through Halloween.
John Murray, CEO of Port Canaveral in Florida, says that even when cruises do resume, not every fleet will return. “Some of the older ships in the cruise fleet are, during this time, going away,” Murray said. “They’ll be sold to third parties or scrapped.”
Murray predicts that the big cruise lines will get rid of their smaller ships, keeping only their largest ships. Royal Caribbean, for instance, has a 3,000-passenger and a 5,000-passenger ship anchored at Port Canaveral. These mammoth vessels are more likely to stay than smaller, more intimate ships.
Murray explained, “When you break it down, the fuel cost per passenger onboard is much lower on a big ship.”
Still, Murray’s logic breaks down since the bigger ships will likely operate at half capacity when they leave port. Still, cruise lines can sell more tickets for a bigger ship, even if it can only accommodate half its usual guests. Passengers should be safer aboard a larger ship, since there is more space to spread out.
Even with Royal Caribbean’s optimistic September start date, the chances that cruises will disembark by then are slim. The Centers for Disease Control is not accepting recovery plans from cruise lines at present. That means there’s a good chance the cruise line will be forbidden from resuming operations by its intended date.
Then there’s the question of whether guests will even return to the cruise.