Cruises from the United States aren’t back just yet, but they are getting closer — literally. Royal Caribbean — one of the major players in cruising — announced that this summer it is doing something it’s never done before. The cruise line will sail from Nassau and Bermuda.
These two places are usually ports of call on trips from the U.S. mainland. But with cruises halted from the United States, the cruise line plans to get back to sailing in North America via these ports. The two departure points will offer 7-day summer cruises in summer 2021 aboard Adventure of the Seas from Nassau and Vision of the Seas from Bermuda.
Given that there have been no cruises from major lines departing from North America for over a year, there’s little doubt that demand for the trips will be high.
But if you’re interested in booking one of these cruises, then there are several things that you should know before you set sail. These first trips back are truly groundbreaking and a different spin on the typical sailing, meaning they are much more than just another cruise.
The Cruises Sail Only for a Limited Time
As mentioned, Nassau and Bermuda are usually ports of call. On these trips, cruises will depart from them instead. But the change will not last forever. While the sailings could always be extended, they seem to be a temporary measure until cruises return to sailing from the mainland United States.
According to Royal Caribbean, the sailings from both ports are scheduled only from June through August — so they only sail for a few months. (Note: A check of Royal Caribbean’s website shows one Nassau cruise departing in early September.)
In other words, if you are wanting to sail one of these cruises, then the earlier you book, the better. There may not be another chance to sail the unique itinerary.
Adults Sailing Must Be Vaccinated
While Royal Caribbean has yet to announce if vaccines will be required on all cruises when they return to the United States, they have said that cruises from Bermuda and The Bahamas will require the shot.
Specifically, all crew will have the vaccine and adults 18 or older will also need to be inoculated. Those under 18 don’t have to be vaccinated, but will need to have a negative test before sailing.
There’s no word yet on what documentation will be required, but it seems reasonable that the small white vaccination card received with your shot will be needed. Be sure to keep yours in a safe place.
The Safety Protocols Are Still Being Ironed Out
Royal Caribbean has been at the forefront of figuring out how to return to sailing safely. The cruise line’s parent company — along with Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd.– created the Healthy Sail Panel. This group of health experts outlined 74 protocols of what to do in order to limit the cases and spread of COVID on a ship.
Interestingly, Royal Caribbean Group CEO Richard Fain has emphasized that a protocol-based approach to sailing may no longer be as applicable. That’s because vaccines — which the CEO calls the “ultimate weapon” — weren’t around when the recommendations were released.
That could mean things are done differently onboard than originally envisioned by the panel’s recommendations. That’s not to say that things will simply be back to normal, however, they could adjust thanks to the vaccine requirement. According to the cruise line:
“Details on the health and safety measures to be implemented will be announced at a later date. The comprehensive, multilayered health and safety measures to come will continue to be led by science and leverage expert guidance from the Healthy Sail Panel, Royal Caribbean Group’s Head of Public Health and Chief Medical Officer, and local government and health authorities.”
Transportation Could Add Big Costs to Your Vacation
For people that normally fly to a departure port like Miami, flying to Bermuda or Nassau may not be that much different, although it could potentially cost more in airfare. But for those that typically drive to a port to sail, then trips from Bermuda or Nassau can potentially add hundreds of dollars in airfare.
For instance, we recently priced a short one-hour flight from Miami to Nassau in June, when these cruises begin. The lowest price we found was $260 per person. So a couple flying together would drop more than $500 to simply get back and forth to the ship.
Again, that cost may not be much if you are used to flying to a port already, but it is something to consider when pricing out your vacation.
You Will Likely Need a Passport
One of the things that’s so convenient about cruising is that it can often allow you to travel internationally without needing a passport. On most cruises that sail roundtrip from a U.S. port such as Miami or Galveston, passengers on these “closed loop” cruises require just a birth certificate and a photo ID.
To sail from Nassau or Bermuda, however, you’ll want to get a passport. The “closed loop” cruise situation applies only to trips that begin and end at the same U.S. port.
A passport is required for air travel back into the United States. So if you plan to fly to the departure port for one of these cruises, you’ll need the document. A passport card or enhanced driver’s license is allowed for sea entry from the Caribbean or Bermuda, however, it’s better just to have a passport.
Local Governments Also Have Entry Requirements
In addition to being vaccinated, you’ll need to comply with the entry requirements of either The Bahamas or Bermuda.
Here, people traveling to the countries will need to plan things out ahead of time. The Bahamas requires a negative test no more than five days before arrival. Once you have a test, then you also need to apply for a Bahamas Travel Health Visa. Details of what’s required could change, so be sure to check the latest here.
Bermuda also requires a negative test before arriving, along with a “Bermuda COVID-19 Travel Authorisation” 1-3 days before. Again, these rules could change, so it’s important to be up-to-date on the latest requirements.
Be Aware of Refund Rules
Obviously the virus has the potential to be found on the ship or you have the ability to catch it before you sail. So what happens to your fare in these cases?
First, if a cruise has to end early due to cases on the ship, then Royal Caribbean says they will give passengers a refund or cruise credit of up to 100% of your fare. The refund will vary based on the number of days missed on the cruise.
If you test positive for COVID 14 days before your cruise, are confirmed positive at the terminal, or test positive during the cruise, then the cruise line will give you a 100% refund as long as it’s booked before May 31, 2021. As well, Royal Caribbean says they will cover onboard treatment, the cost of any quarantine, and travel home in the event of “COVID-19 related expenses.”
There Have Been a Small Number of Cases Since Sailing Returned
Of course, no one wants to worry about getting sick on their cruise. And at the start of the pandemic, there was no denying that the virus could easily spread on cruise ships.
But there is some data coming in that points to an ability to cruise safely. Using new protocols, Royal Caribbean Group CEO Richard Fain says that more than 100,000 passengers have sailed on the cruise line around the world. Of those, just 10 positive cases have been found. In other words, the data points to a 0.01% infection rate.
What’s more, this has all been before Royal Caribbean required vaccines to sail like on the trips from Bermuda and Nassau.
There’s no guarantee that cases won’t be found on the cruise, but so far the initial results of sailings that have resumed are promising.