- Royal Caribbean plans on operating mock cruises as part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) conditional sailing requirements.
- The company's mock cruises require volunteers to test its new health and safety measures.
- In exchange, volunteers get to go on a mock cruise for free — though there isn't much information on what these cruises entail, and it's unclear if they actually go out to sea.
- We spoke to volunteers who love cruising, and see their participation in testing new health and safety measures as a way to help the struggling industry.
- The CDC currently says to "avoid all cruise travel due to ongoing spread of COVID-19 and the increased risk of person-to-person spread of infectious diseases."
- Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
Royal Caribbean recently announced that it's looking for volunteers to go on free "mock cruises" to test its new health and safety measures.
Within days of the company's November 12 announcement, more than 100,000 people applied to volunteer, despite there being little information on what these mock cruises entail.
At the time of writing, Royal Caribbean hasn't shared much information on what the cruises will look like, or where and when they will be. It's unclear if they'll actually go out to sea at all. A representative for the company said it could not provide further information, telling Insider that it is still "working through the details."
Though if the "cruises to nowhere" in Singapore are any indication, volunteers will more than likely be in store for a totally different cruising experience than they're used to.
"While we review the requirements proposed by the CDC and consider when we can host our simulated trial sailings, we are gathering information from those who have shown interest," Royal Caribbean said in a Facebook group it created to find volunteers. "Our priority is to ensure that we can exercise our comprehensive set of measures in a safe and healthy manner while making sure we provide a memorable vacation experience."
Royal Caribbean's mock cruises come after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) changed its rules for cruise companies. The CDC implemented a no-sail order from March 14 to October 29, 2020, but changed it to a "conditional sailing" order on November 1, requiring a phased approach to resuming operations with the implementation of new health and safety measures such as increased sanitization, pre-boarding testing for passengers and crew, and onboard labs.
The implementation of simulated voyages, or mock cruises, is another requirement.
Royal Caribbean, like many cruise lines, has voluntarily renewed the no-sail order, canceling all cruises through February 2021 as it figures out the safest way to resume operations. Conducting mock cruises seems to be the first step in that direction.
Insider spoke to five hopeful volunteers (none of them received confirmation that they've been selected at the time of writing), who told us why they're prepared to go on a mock cruise. Most of them told us that they love cruising and want to ensure there will be "normal" cruises once again.
More than 100,000 prospective volunteers applied to go on a Royal Caribbean mock cruise without any details on what the voyage entails
Most of the people Insider spoke to see the potential health risk going on a mock cruise would pose as a sacrifice for the greater good: Someone needs to step up to help get sailing back on track, many say.
Hopeful volunteer Cris Martin, 52, from Maryland, said she applied to help the ailing cruise industry, and considers it "exciting to help Royal Caribbean International navigate the post-COVID waters."
Jason Wamhoff, 53, also applied to volunteer because he wants to help cruising return to some semblance of normalcy and says he expects some setbacks along the way.
"I expect stringent measures that will require patience and flexibility," he told Insider of the mock cruise. "I'm aware this is protocol development and not a free cruise I won in a raffle. I see the cruising industry going above and beyond to get people back on the ocean safely, and I want to participate!"
Wamhoff says he's realistic about the potential of contracting the coronavirus, and acknowledges the risk involved.
Michael Vallillo, 34, from Orlando, Florida, echoed these sentiments.
"If it's gonna happen, it's gonna happen," he said about contracting COVID-19. "The only thing I can do is be as cautious as possible and hygienic as possible. I have faith that whatever procedures are put in place will be acceptable. I doubt any of these companies would be faulty on any procedure as it would be most likely their last move before bankruptcy."
Even pre-coronavirus, cruise ships saw infectious disease outbreaks relatively often due to their isolated environments, and the prolonged close contact between travelers and crew from around the world, according to the CDC. The public health institute recently gave cruising a "Level 4 Warning," the highest level in its COVID-19 risk assessment.
Margi Levin, 55, from Texas, says she wants to help flatten the curve globally, and do her part to ensure safe travel in the future.
She likens the simulated voyages to clinical drug trials.
"It takes individuals who are willing to be part of the testing process, agree to the terms and conditions of participation, and to follow the testing scenarios to ensure accurate protocols are reviewed and developed," she told Insider.
Similarly, Vallillo said that he believes that the world needs fearless people willing to take risks to move forward "instead of living in fear."
Miosotys Perrone, 25, from North Port, Florida, said she initially applied to volunteer because she wanted a vacation, but realizes this won't be a regular cruise.
"I still volunteered because I am healthy, young, and working from home, so the risks are not high for me," she said, adding that as long as there's medical personnel onboard to treat symptoms, she's not concerned.
However, it's worth noting, as an article from Johns Hopkins Medicine points out, that "even healthy people in their 20s and 30s can catch the coronavirus, spread it to others, and suffer from severe illness resulting in lasting health problems or even death."
Little is known about what this mock cruise will look like, but we can look to recent 'cruises to nowhere' in Singapore for an idea
At the time of writing, a Royal Caribbean representative told Insider that they are still reviewing the requirements proposed by the CDC.
"Our priority is to ensure that we can exercise our comprehensive set of measures in a safe and healthy manner while making sure we provide a memorable vacation experience," they said.
However, after a successful "cruise to nowhere" in Singapore by Dream Cruises in November — a two-night trip that departed and arrived at the same dock with no stops in between — Royal Caribbean Singapore followed suit, launching its own two-day "cruise to nowhere" on December 1, followed by a four-day one on December 7.
While Royal Caribbean's first Singapore cruise went off without a hitch, the second cruise, on December 7, was forced to return to port a day early after an 83-year-old passenger tested positive for COVID-19. However, three follow-up tests revealed that the passenger did not have COVID-19 after all, according to a statement by the Singapore Ministry of Health.
While these trips are for residents of Singapore only and cost money like a regular cruise, they might give us an idea of what US travelers can expect from the mock cruises.
Royal Caribbean's Singapore website includes a "Royal Promise" stating that guests must have proof of a negative coronavirus test taken 48 to 72 hours prior to boarding and that they'll be tested again at the end of their cruise.
The Royal Promise also says that ships have stepped up cleaning measures, will set sail at a reduced capacity, and that their medical facilities have been newly outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment.
Travel Weekly reports that passengers aboard these voyages must also wear a "Tracelet" wristband that monitors social distancing and enables contract tracing, and that Royal Caribbean upgraded the Quantum of the Seas' HVAC system to improve ventilation.
It's also probable that guests on US mock cruises will have to pre-register for events and activities, as these will likely have capacity limits in place. On Singapore's World Dream, operated by Dream Cruises, for example, a maximum of 26 people were allowed in the pool at once.
When it comes to health and hygiene, cruise ships have historically had a bad rap
While Singapore's "cruises to nowhere" have had no confirmed cases of COVID-19 to date (besides the one scare), other cruises have not been so lucky.
SeaDream Yacht Club announced the cancelation of all of its remaining 2020 cruises following a COVID-19 outbreak on one of its ships. Its SeaDream I set sail from Barbados on November 7, becoming the first cruise to resume sailing in the Caribbean since March, but had seven passengers and two crew members test positive for the virus. This occurred despite precautions such as guests having been required to test negative within 72 hours of sailing, and again at boarding, according to USA Today.
According to the Miami Herald, which has been tracking coronavirus cases aboard cruise ships, as of October 2, there have been 3,908 cases of the coronavirus and 111 related deaths across 87 vessels.
The CDC warns to "avoid all cruise travel due to ongoing spread of COVID-19 and the increased risk of person-to-person spread of infectious diseases on cruise ships."
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