On June 16, at the Fourth USVI Community Business Forum, cruise giant Royal Caribbean announced solid plans to return to the US Virgin Islands. With four ships charted to arrive on St. Thomas or St. Croix over the summer and early fall months, the cruise line projects 213,000 passengers and over $40 million in small business revenue by the end of 2021.
“They have been exemplary in their commitment to the Virgin Islands and to the Caribbean as a whole,” Governor Bryan said. “Looking forward to safe cruising coming back and entering our shores, not only in St. Thomas but also in St. Croix. We long for those passengers who we haven’t seen for a year and Royal Caribbean has done the work in terms of preparing their vessels and their tourism products to enter back to our shores.”
The scheduled itinerary is as follows according to Jayne Halcomb, Director of Destination Development – the Caribbean and the Americas, for Royal Caribbean Group:
- July 6 – St. Thomas – Celebrity Edge
- July 29 – St. Thomas – Allure of the Seas
- August 18 – St. Croix – Celebrity Equinox
- September 28 – St. Croix – Explorer
The ships will arrive at 30% capacity to start in order to ensure safety and the ability to “social distance” on board.
Initially, the cruise line announced their return to the Caribbean with the intent to require that all passengers over the age of 18 and all crew members provide proof of full vaccination to board their vessels with Caribbean itineraries. Last month, the Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, deemed it illegal for businesses within the state to require proof of vaccination. The Executive Order “codifies the prohibition of COVID-19 vaccine passports…Blocking any business or government entity from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination.”
This new Executive Order made it impossible for Royal Caribbean to follow through on their attempts at a 95% vaccination rate on their Caribbean bound vessels. And, earlier this month, they reversed their vaccination protocol due to the fact that the majority of their ports are in Florida.
Governor Bryan, in response, sent a letter to DeSantis and, separately, to leaders around the Caribbean. In the letter to Florida’s Governor urged him to “reconsider his ban on cruise ships embarking from Florida requiring proof of vaccination against COVID-19.”
Governor Bryan said such an action contradicts the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines and could endanger the population of the Caribbean islands visited by such ships and potentially heavily impact the limited healthcare resources in the region. – VI Government House Release – June 17, 2021
In his letter to the leaders of Caribbean territories and nations that would also be adversely affected by this ruling he urged “partners in the cruise and land-based tourism industries to add their voices in appeal to Governor DeSantis.”
Last week, Governor Bryan received a response from Dominica Prime Minister Honorable Roosevelt Skerrit, in his role as Chairman of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). In the letter, the leader of our sister island thanked Governor Bryan for his proactive approach in sending the letter to DeSantis.
Prime Minister Skerrit sent the letter to Governor Bryan on behalf of Anguilla Premier Ellis Webster; Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne; BVI Premier Andrew Fahie; Grenada Prime Minister Keith Mitchell; Guadeloupe Regional Council President Ary Chalus; Martinique Executive Council President Alfred Marie-Jean; Montserrat Premier Joseph E. Farrell; St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Timothy Harris; St. Lucia Prime Minister Allen Chastanet; St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves; and Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States Director General Didacus Jules.
“We are deeply concerned – as you are – with the grave inherent difficulties for our effort to safeguard lives and to reignite livelihoods as we are among the most tourism-dependent economies of the world,” Prime Minister Skerrit’s letter said. “While the new law is not specific to the cruise business, it will potentially have a huge deleterious effect on it because almost all cruise ships (especially to the Caribbean) originate from ports within the state of Florida.
In his letter to Governor Bryan, Prime Minister Skerrit said the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States will advance those arguments in support of the advocacy that Governor Bryan already has undertaken and will urge their partners in the cruise and land-based tourism industries to add their voices in appeal to Governor DeSantis.
It is unclear as to whether or not the Caribbean islands are able or willing to reject these inbound ships at their ports of call or what the USVI approach will be to accepting arriving passengers. Although, in the USVI, the Department of Tourism has shifted their focus away from the cruise ship industry and more towards visitors staying on island for a week or longer and the blue water marine industry. Both have which have proven to be more profitable to the territory than day trippers on cruise liners. However, the cruise industry does bring a lot of revenue to many islands in the region, with less impact on their overall infrastructure….
It is likely that some type of travel portal or passport system could be initiated by local governments at each port of call, similar to the USVI’s current travel protocol for arriving passengers at the airport or to the extensive testing and quarantine process for arrivals in the BVI. Nothing has been announced as of yet in regards to the plan for the upcoming July 6 Celebrity Edge arrival on St. Thomas pending that Governor DeSantis does not, in fact, bend to the pleas of the Caribbean island leaders.