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Cruise lines navigate complex rules as Alaska sailings resume from Seattle

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It’s a sight Seattle hasn’t seen shortly: lines of vacationers at Pier 91, many wearing Hawaiian shirts, bucket hats and sun shades, with suitcases and smiles. The Majestic Princess floats on their left, the Serenade of Seas to the correct.

Under sunny skies, the primary Alaska cruise of the season — and the primary for the reason that onset of the pandemic — weighed anchor Monday as Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas set off on a seven-night voyage.

The lengthy anticipated return of cruising in Seattle continues this month as six different cruise lines resume crusing, amongst them Seattle-based Holland America Line and Princess Cruises. Starting Friday, ships will go away Seattle virtually every day for the remainder of the month. In August, some days will see two departures.

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“We’ve been waiting two years now to go to Alaska,” stated Peter Dorney, 52, one of many first folks according to his spouse, Kathy, 51, ready to board the Serenade on Monday morning. The Massachusetts couple is celebrating their twenty fifth anniversary this 12 months and Dorney stated they’ve been on greater than 20 cruises. “We’re frequent cruisers.”

Peter and Kathy Dorney, from Massachusetts, are frequent cruisers. On Monday, they checked in for an Alaska cruise on Serenade of the Seas at Terminal 91 in Seattle. (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)


But Monday’s resumption additionally highlights the complexities of cruising within the present stage of the worldwide pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asks cruise lines to determine whether or not they’ll require 95% of a ship’s passengers to be vaccinated, thereby qualifying as a “vaccinated cruise.” Depending on that call, there are pointers for masks use, social distancing and testing.

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Royal Caribbean selected to not meet the 95% threshold for sailings of the Serenade of the Seas. That doesn’t imply the friends aren’t vaccinated; actually, each one that is eligible for a vaccine will need to have gotten one.

The nuance in Royal Caribbean’s determination lies within the cruise line’s determination to simply accept unvaccinated kids underneath 12, who will not be but eligible for the vaccine within the United States. Few different ships are allowing unvaccinated kids on board.

For a voyage to be thought-about a “vaccinated cruise,” the CDC requires that 95% of passengers and likewise 95% of the crew be totally vaccinated 14 days earlier than boarding.

On these cruises, totally vaccinated passengers don’t have to put on masks wherever. They don’t want to keep up social distance. There’s no requirement for testing.

A passenger sorts through her COVID-19 vaccination card and passport before checking in for her Alaska cruise on Monday. Cruise lines vary on how they handle vaccination status. (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)


The CDC additionally says crew members who’re totally vaccinated don’t have to put on masks. However, most cruise lines leaving Seattle are requiring crew members to put on them, at the least for preliminary voyages.

“You’re kind of at herd immunity on board,” stated Gus Antorcha, president of Holland America Line. “On board, it’s like a bubble.”

The different, or the choice to not require a excessive vaccination charge for passengers and crew, requires all friends and crew members to put on masks indoors, besides in designated “vaccinated zones,” the place solely vaccinated friends are allowed.

Most ships leaving Seattle are pursuing the “vaccinated cruise” route. This consists of Holland America’s NieuwAmsterdam, Princess Cruises’ Majestic Princess, and Carnival’s Miracle.

While the Serenade of the Seas won’t clear the 95% vaccination threshold, the cruise line continues to be requiring passengers 16 and older to have been vaccinated. In August, it’s going to require vaccines for passengers 12 and older. All crew members are totally vaccinated.

The Serenade of the Seas sits at Terminal 91 early in the day on Monday. As Alaska cruises resume from Seattle, cruise lines and passengers must navigate a maze of regulations to ensure passenger health and safety. (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)


Jay Schneider, chief product innovation officer at Royal Caribbean Group, stated the choice to permit unvaccinated kids on board — therefore stopping the ship from clearing the 95% vaccination threshold — was made largely to keep up the model’s give attention to household journey.

Royal Caribbean continues to be simulating the “vaccinated cruise” expertise in lots of areas of the ship, particularly these the place kids aren’t in any other case allowed. This consists of the on line casino, particular eating rooms, pubs, lounges and sure occasions the place friends can stay mask-free indoors.

For Princess Cruises, it was “absolutely torturous” to determine to not enable unvaccinated kids on board, stated Lisa Syme, a vp at Princess who has been with the corporate for 38 years. Especially given the cruise line’s efforts lately to be a family-focused model, “that was a particular heartbreaker for us.”

For unvaccinated passengers, some earlier precautions instituted through the pandemic stay.

They should be examined for the coronavirus on the port earlier than boarding the ship. For voyages longer than 4 days, they should be examined once more upon returning earlier than they disembark, per CDC pointers.

Royal Caribbean will place unvaccinated passengers in particular shore excursions when exploring locations. Holland America is mandating that unvaccinated passengers — who gained’t be kids, however relatively folks with medical exceptions — do the identical, and put on a masks at almost all occasions indoors on the ship, besides when consuming.

Bhupesh Singh, 44, who was boarding the Serenade of the Seas on Monday together with his spouse, Hansi, and their two unvaccinated kids — each are underneath 12 — stated he felt comfy with Royal Caribbean’s strategy, even with the additional precautions he’d need to take travelling with youngsters. He famous that he introduced his household to cruise from Seattle, the place Royal Caribbean at the least requires all adults to be vaccinated. In Florida, the place he’s from, that isn’t the case.

The decreased capability on board the Serenade of the Seas was additionally encouraging for Singh. Royal Caribbean declined to say precisely what number of passengers it’s going to have on board, however stated it could be “much lower” than full capability, which is often virtually 2,500 folks. Holland America and Princess Cruises stated they are going to be beginning their Alaskan cruises at roughly 60% capability, transferring up step by step over the course of the season.

Some cruise lines may also be utilizing know-how to hint passengers’ location. Royal Caribbean shall be utilizing “tracelets,” or wristbands that passengers should put on in an effort to be tracked on board. Princess Cruises shall be utilizing medallions, transportable gadgets used for varied features on board the ship, which is able to maintain a log of who passengers are available contact with.

Physically, the cruise lines say the structure of the ships stays almost an identical to what passengers are used to. Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas shall be spacing out eating tables and on line casino machines. Holland America and Princess Cruises stated their lines don’t plan to make any such modifications.

All cruise lines say they’ve made vital upgrades to their HVAC programs, investing closely in air-filtration programs that usher in contemporary air and don’t recycle air on the ship. And they tout their new cleansing protocols, which they are saying are extra thorough and sanitary than earlier than.

Cruise lines needs to be contemplating the delta variant, stated Janet Baseman, a professor of epidemiology on the University of Washington School of Public Health. The variant is extra contagious than its predecessors and has despatched coronavirus infections spiking once more nationwide, growing the prospect {that a} passenger may contract the delta variant. The danger can be more likely to improve if cruise ships have older passengers on board.

Baseman added that cruise ships had a “known history of infectious disease outbreaks” even earlier than the coronavirus pandemic, given {that a} mounted group of individuals combine in shut quarters with one another.

Despite her issues, Baseman stated the plans outlined by cruises departing from Seattle — with their required excessive charges of vaccination — have been according to the reopening plans of the remainder of the United States. “It’s hard for me to think what more they would be able to do.”

She stated if she discovered herself in an setting the place she knew with certainty that at the least 95% of the folks round her have been totally vaccinated, she would really feel comfy eradicating her masks indoors, as lengthy as she didn’t have any signs.

Regardless of what coverage cruise lines put forth, “people need to be self-aware, and they’ve got to take their own precautions,” stated Singh.

When requested if he’s frightened concerning the delta variant, Dorney stated, “It’s gonna be what it is … Just take the precautions you can take and and then, you know, live your life.”

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