Update on Out At Sea 2021

Updated: December 18, 2020

As 2020 (thankfully) winds to a close, we wanted to take a moment to provide an update on the Out At Sea 2021 program. We know that for many (if not a majority) of us, the consequences of the pandemic this year have made travel impractical, if not outright impossible; planning a cruise even more so with the uncertainty of the cruise industry itself. However, with the recent roll-outs of multiple COVID-19 vaccines and the continued progress of the cruise ship sail authorizations with the Centers for Disease Control, the OAS team has resumed tentative planning for the July 2021 voyage with a motto of cautious optimism.

Where the Cruise Industry Currently Stands

While sailings from the United States have yet to resume, news and updates from the cruise lines have been optimistic in slowly starting again as early as next spring. The outright ban on passenger cruise line sailings from the CDC expired earlier this year, replaced with an updated Conditional Framework for Sailing order, including a detailed certification process that would allow ships to be cleared for business once again.  This process involves a rigorous review and inspection of updated protocols, ship-board safety systems, and crew training to ensure the safety and wellbeing of passengers and crew, and how to quickly and effectively respond to any positive infection situations that may occur. Each cruise line is responsible for submitting their COVID protocols and updates to the CDC for review, at which point they can be cleared for sailing from US ports once more. (You can actually track which ships are being cleared on the CDC website, updated every Tuesday) 

As of this email, our ship (Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas) has not been cleared for sailing; however, a growing list of Royal Caribbean’s other vessels (including their largest vessels) have been given the green light, so we believe it’s only a matter of time before the Radiance is added to that list. 

For more information on where Royal Caribbean currently stands, you can check out Royal Caribbean’s Cruising Safely page, constantly updated with the latest information and details. We also recommend an article recently posted on the Royal Caribbean Blog a comprehensive status of the company’s sailing status that contains some pretty useful information.

What Will Likely Change On Board

For the foreseeable future, the cruise experience as many have known it will be significantly different. Reduced capacity, changes to food service, and mandatory testing will be commonplace for at least the next year or so. Recently, Royal Caribbean began testing out these new protocols with sailings out of Singapore in conjunction with health authorities there. You can see a report on the Royal Caribbean Blog from a passenger who live-blogged their experience and what was different in their experience.

Perhaps most significant will be the impact of the excursions available at ports of call. As it stands now, Royal Caribbean has yet to resume any kind of excursion opportunities; all sailings for the moment have been entirely “at sea” itineraries with no ports of call. Discussion has centered around how to conduct port visits while still being able to maintain health safety with so many people leaving and returning from shore. One highly possible scenario currently being considered will be limited excursions operated exclusively through the cruise line or their select on-shore provider. As many can guess, this likely will result in higher costs to enjoy shore excursions, as oftentimes opportunities offered through the cruise line are more expensive than opportunities booked directly with port-based companies and providers. However, at this time this is all speculation as we wait for updates from the cruise companies.

Current OAS 2021 Plans

The OAS team, as well as the Board of Directors for OutChristian, continues to watch the news, updates, and directives that come from the CDC, U.S. federal government, Canadian federal government, Royal Caribbean, and other agencies, entities, companies, and new outlets. With the approval of multiple COVD-19 vaccines and the tentative approval from the CDC of cruise line protocols, we are cautiously optimistic that the July 2021 sailing to Alaska will be able to take place as planned (or nearly as planned). 

However, we fully recognize that the program is contingent on a number of milestones that must be met in order for the program to take place:

  • Continued approval and successful roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines, resulting in the dramatic decrease of positive infections.
  • The re-opening of the border between the United States and Canada for non-essential travel, necessary for a majority of our participants to be able to travel to Vancouver (our port of departure). 
  • The successful testing by cruise lines of CDC mandated and approved protocols and procedures. (You can see a sneak peek of what this might entail here.)
  • The successful resumption of cruising with minimal incidents, ensuring that on-board health and safety protocols are effective and maintained.
  • The approval of the Radiance of the Seas by U.S. and Canadian authorities to sail once more to/from U.S. and Canadian ports.
  • The comfort and confidence of Out At Sea participants to take part in airline and cruise travel experiences. 

The OAS team feels these five indicators will need to be met in order for the program to be successful, and as such, will continue to monitor the situation to ensure we can host the event in a safe and enjoyable way, consistent with the mission and goals of Out At Sea and OutChristian.

While we are tentatively resuming planning with the intention of being able to host the 2021 program, a final decision will be made by our governing team no later than March 31, 2021 as to whether or not the sailing (as an official group event) will take place for next year. (Obviously, this will be subject to any unexpected changes or incidents that may occur after that date which will alter the program beyond our control.)

What Happens Now

As we start to resume our planning for the trip, you can expect to see some additional information coming in the next couple months, including:

  • Recommended hotel accommodations in Vancouver and Anchorage
  • Group travel options and/or transfer recommendations between Seward and Anchorage
  • Group activities and options at ports of call (once more information is available on what will be allowed/available).

In the meantime, make sure you’ve joined our official Facebook group for the latest updates and discussions around the 2021 program and other major cruise news. We encourage you to reach out to us with any thoughts, questions, or concerns regarding the 2021 Alaska program. If you’re still not comfortable joining us next July, we absolutely understand, and hope you’ll be able to join us in 2022, or for one of our virtual cruise gatherings that we’ll be hosting next year.

On behalf of all of us with Out At Sea and OutChristian, we wish you and your family a very happy and safe Christmas, and an enjoyable new year.