Royal Caribbean International revealed that it will resume cruising in North America on June 12 from the Bahamas, just hours after sister line Celebrity Cruises said that it would launch cruises from St. Maarten.
Royal will offer seven-day sailings from Nassau on the Adventure of the Seas that will spend two days at its private Bahamian island, Perfect Day at CocoCay, and call at Grand Bahama Island and Cozumel, Mexico.
Both Royal and Celebrity will only allow fully vaccinated adults to cruise, while passengers under the age of 18 can sail with negative PCR test results. Both ships' entire crew will be vaccinated.
"The vaccines are clearly a game-changer for all of us. And with the number of vaccinations and their impact growing rapidly, we believe starting with cruises for vaccinated adult guests and crew is the right choice," said Michael Bayley, CEO of Royal Caribbean International.
He said that combined with the Bahamas' testing requirement to enter and join the ship, and then having to test again to return to the U.S., "in many ways, it'll be the safest place on the planet, because everybody's vaccinated, except for kids, who are tested."
Bayley said that as of now, passengers disembarking during calls in Cozumel and Grand Bahama will be offered "controlled protocol experiences, both for the community and the guests."
"There will be tours and excursions, there will be requirements of the tour operators -- regular testing, masks, social distancing, this type of thing -- until we've got a high degree of confidence that everybody there is vaccinated," he said.
On Perfect Day, he said, passengers can wander freely as they always have because the island will be "fundamentally be an extension of the ship. Everybody's tested, everybody's vaccinated."
"It's a controlled environment, we know who's coming and going, employees will be vaccinated, and there'll be a regular testing for all employees in Perfect Day," Bayley said.
Bayley said the line chose the Adventure of the Seas in part because of its relatively small size as opposed to one of the line's larger ships, such as an Oasis-class vessel.
"Just the sheer scale of Oasis does change the dynamics," he said. "So we were quite considerate of that. It's quite a lot of airlift that needs to go into the Bahamas to join the Adventure of the Seas: if you put an Oasis class there it really does increase the airlift needs significantly."
He also said the Adventure of the Seas "is in great condition, it's got lots of fun features. We just thought it was a perfect ship to start selling out of the Bahamas with."
Both brands will bypass the CDC's Conditional Sailing Order that prevents large-ship cruising in U.S. waters by launching cruises for North Americans just outside our borders, a move Crystal Cruises was the first to announce, earlier this month, with a July restart from the Bahamas.
"Obviously, we're impatient," said Bayley. "We've been waiting a while for the guidance from the CDC, but we understand that the CDC has got a lot on its shoulders, there's a lot for them to be taking care of, so we completely understand the situation, but naturally, we're waiting and our mission is delivering great vacations."
Bayley said the launch of sailings from Singapore in December, its recent plan to launch from Israel in May and the experience its German sister-brand Tui Cruises has had sailing in Europe since the fall, "really helped the discussions in the Caribbean."
He said the pace of vaccinations "really started to open the door all over the world; a lot more conversations started to happen."
It is Royal's first time homeporting in Nassau, Bahamas. Bookings for the sailings open March 24, and the itineraries will operate through August. Bayley said Royal's 50-year relationship with the Bahamas made it a natural place to start.
The Bahamas' prime minister, Dr. Hubert A. Minnis, called the news "exciting" for the islands.
"Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of passengers will experience Nassau or Grand Bahama in ways they never had the opportunity to before," he said. "This is truly a new day for tourism. It should inspire many small to mediumsized businesses, tour operators, taxi drivers, restaurants and retailers to prepare for brighter days ahead, the best we have ever had."