The cruise industry has been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic. Now that the U.S. has lifted its no-sail order, one cruise line says it will be looking for volunteers to go on trial voyages to test its safety protocols.
Royal Caribbean says it will be looking for volunteers to take part in trial sailings as it completes "simulation voyages" required by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“While we are eager to welcome our guests back on board, we have a lot to do between now and then, and we’re committed to taking the time to do things right,” a cruise line spokesperson told Travel and Leisure on Monday. “This includes training our crew in new health and safety protocols and conducting a number of trial sailings to stress-test those protocols in real-world conditions.”
The CDC lifted its no-sail order at the end of October, allowing cruise lines in the US to begin a "phased resumption of cruise ship operations."
Part of that process requires cruise companies to complete simulated voyages to "test cruise ships' ability to mitigate COVID-19 risk."
The CDC's guidelines say that in order to resume carrying passengers, the companies have to demonstrate they have procedures for testing, quarantining and isolating passengers and crew. They will have to build test labs on all ships, and make their own arrangements to isolate or quarantine passengers on shore if needed. Before being allowed to sail, they will have to conduct mock voyages with volunteers playing passengers who get sick, the CDC said.
“We are going to be doing a series of sailings using our employees and other volunteers to test out the protocols and make modifications," said Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales and trade support and service for Royal Caribbean, according to Cruise Industry News.
Freed said Royal Caribbean would be looking for volunteers, but haven't determined yet how they will recruit people to participate.
The company will resume its sailings in 2021, beginning with short cruises to its private island in the Bahamas, called "Perfect Day at CocoCay," Freed said.
“It is going to require a lot of work to restart operations," she said. "It is complicated to go through this entire CDC recommendation, but we are going to do it."
Cruise Lines International Association — which includes cruise giants Princess, Carnival, and Royal Caribbean — said that its members have voluntarily opted to maintain the current suspension of cruise operations in the U.S. through the end of the year, despite the no-sail order being lifted.
Members “will use the remainder of the year to prepare for the implementation of extensive measures to address COVID-19 safety” with the guidance of public health experts and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the association said.
The cruise industry has been essentially closed for business since mid-March, when it became clear that the deadly and contagious virus had already been sweeping through the U.S. unabated for weeks. The cruise association estimates that the suspension of cruises snuffed out more than $25 billion in economic activity, and 164,000 American jobs.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.