Normally the introduction of a brand-new cruise ship is reason enough to get cruisers interested. But in this case, Royal Caribbean’s announcement regarding who can sail on that ship is what is raising eyebrows.
In the case of the cruise line’s upcoming sailings for the new Odyssey of the Seas, Royal Caribbean announced that it will offer “fully vaccinated sailings” where passengers and crew will be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Odyssey of the Seas is the cruise line’s newest “Quantum Ultra Class” ship. Built in Germany, the vessel comes in at nearly 170,000 gross tons and can carry nearly 5,500 passengers at full capacity. It features a number of amenities that Royal Caribbean ships are known for, including the FlowRider standing wave, Bionic Bar, Playmakers Sports Bar, and even bumper cars.
The ship is set to sail from Israel, starting in May 2021. It marks the first time the global cruise line has sailed from the country. Odyssey of the Seas will offer sailings from between three and seven nights to the Greek Isles and Cyprus.
While the introduction of any new ship is newsworthy, the bigger news is that this will be the first Royal Caribbean ship that will offer cruises where passengers will be vaccinated.
“In conjunction with Israel’s health and tourism authorities, Royal Caribbean will be the first to offer fully vaccinated sailings, where both crew and guests above the age of 16 will be vaccinated against COVID-19,” the company said in a press release.
Israel has become a world leader in vaccine distribution. Approximately 90% of its population over 50 years old is vaccinated — the highest percentage in the world. Millions more Israelis will likely get the jab before Odyssey of the Seas begins to sail in May. That makes it an ideal spot for the first fully-vaccinated cruises.
To date, the cruise line has yet to announce if other sailings from the United States or elsewhere will be fully vaccinated whenever they return. So could vaccine requirements eventually apply to cruises from the U.S.?
As Cruzely discussed recently, there are signs we think point to all cruise lines requiring a vaccine before getting on the ship.
Of course, having a vaccine requirement would be a major step for the return of U.S. cruises. While it does not guarantee a passenger or crew member won’t get sick, it does drastically reduce the risks, especially of the illness being severe or requiring hospitalization. On a recent investor call, Royal Caribbean Group CEO Richard Fain went as far as calling the vaccine the “ultimate weapon.”
That said, a large portion of the American population — roughly one-third — say they will not get vaccinated.
With cruises already cancelled in the United States until at least June, it’s sure that both cruise executives and health authorities around the world will watch these Israeli cruises closely. While cruises have returned in limited numbers, this appears to be the first to sail with both passengers and crew being vaccinated. The change could be a game-changer for cruises to sail safely again.
Perhaps the biggest question many cruise passengers will have is how the onboard experience will be different — if at all — from other cruises where vaccines are not in use by everyone. According to the press release, “details on the additional health and safety measures to be implemented by Israel and Royal Caribbean will be announced at a later date.”
Is it possible that if everyone on the ship is vaccinated (creating a “Green Island” as Royal Caribbean calls it) that some restrictions for life onboard could be relaxed? To be sure, the cruise line has made no mention of this possibility, and we think it is unlikely at first.
Even so, if COVID cases continue trending lower and everyone has vaccine protection on the ship, it’s certainly a question that will be on passenger’s minds.
Odyssey of the Seas begins sailing from Haifa, Israel in May. It is scheduled to move to Fort Lauderdale in November 2021.
For more on why we think vaccines could be required on a cruise from the United States, see our article here.