The Royal Caribbean Group is confident that its ships will be sailing from U.S. ports "as early as next month."
In a video message to travel advisors Monday, chairman Richard Fain said, "we can now state with a high level of confidence that ships from the Royal Caribbean Group will be operating out of U.S. ports as early as next month.
"Next month," he emphasized. "It feels so good to be saying those words."
"The CDC has clarified and updated their rules to allow us to start sailing from U.S. ports," Fain said. "Last week we formally submitted a request for sailing authorization from the CDC. We're hopeful they'll issue that permission shortly."
Fain said that the level of dialogue between the cruise industry and the CDC had improved "1000%" over the past few weeks, and he said that it had allowed both sides to understand each other's concerns, and that the CDC has been able to learn from the industry's experience sailing abroad. Vaccines, he said, have also been a game-changer.
He also thanked travel advisors for lobbying on the industry's behalf by sending messages to their congressional representatives and posting on social media.
"You spoke up on behalf of treating cruises like other areas, and the world listened," Fain said. "That's what partnership is all about."
Fain said that Royal's brands would each enter service under slightly different scenarios.
All three brands intend to fully vaccinate their crew. But while Celebrity and Silversea will try to maintain a 95% vaccination threshold on its ships for passengers, Royal Caribbean International will enable families with children under 12, who are not eligible for vaccination, to sail with a negative PCR tests.
"Under any scenario, anyone who is eligible for the vaccine will be vaccinated," Fain said. "Royal Caribbean carries a lot of families, and families are important to us. On these cruises we may not reach the 95% threshold, but the vast majority will be vaccinated."
Fain is also optimistic that the cruise experience will be very close to normal. He said he is optimistic that masks will not be necessary for vaccinated passengers, and in most cases, passengers will be able to "arrange their own excursions regulated by local rules. Vaccines are ramping up in major destinations, as well."
Most of the biggest onboard changes, he said, will be behind the scenes, such as upgraded HVAC systems and enhanced cleaning protocols.
"The onboard experience will be great, with only minimal restrictions. The shoreside experience will also be great and with minimal restrictions," he said.
He advised travel advisors to take advantage of the enormous pent-up demand for cruising.
"Now is the time for you to really mine your databases," he said.