Eye on Travel — Celebrity Millennium — June 12, 2021
This week’s broadcast of Eye on Travel comes from aboard the Celebrity Millennium, the first ship in the Western Hemisphere to cruise with U.S. passengers — as it cruises from Sint Maarten to Aruba and Curacao, with a first stop in Barbados. Joining Peter this week for extended conversations: Silveria Jacobs, Prime Minister of Sint Maarten, on the impact of the pandemic on the country’s economy – in 2019 over 90% of the island’s GDP came from travel and tourism. Then, Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, on managing through an economic disaster during COVID-19 and how to move forward responsibly with the number of visitors — Barbados has had one of the highest numbers of repeat visitors in the world. Ship historian Peter Knego reports that even during this resumption of cruising, many cruise ships are being retired and scrapped. He also offers a hidden gem aboard Millennium with connections to the Titanic’s sister ship, the Olympic. And, something not so hidden: the ongoing confusion of vaccination requirements on cruise ships, and the battle between two U.S. governors and the cruise lines requiring proof of vaccination from passengers. There’s all this and more as Eye on Travel broadcasts on board the Celebrity Millennium.
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Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, CEO of Celebrity Cruises, joins the show to talk about Celebrity’s decision to home port outside of the United States as a way for it to get started cruising again soon while also being able to show the U.S. that it’s able to sail safely and successfully as the CDC guidance continues to change. Celebrity has adopted a “crawl, run, walk” mindset, meaning that it is taking things slow to ensure safety and comfort. It’s operating at one third of the normal capacity and has replaced its usual buffet with a staffed one. It has increased the number of washing stations throughout the ship. It is also working closely with the local governments of the ports being visited and caters shore excursions to local regulations. She discusses challenges with the state of Florida and how the challenges are being addressed while still remaining at its 95% vaccination rule. While she can’t give an exact date for when cruising will return at full capacity, she did share that nine of its 14 ships will be operational by Labor Day, and Celebrity Cruises will ramp up more over time.
Silveria Jacobs, Prime Minister of Sint Maarten, talks about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the country’s economy. Prior to the pandemic, over 90% of the island’s GDP came from travel and tourism, impacting everything from hotels to taxi drivers. What are some of the biggest lessons the country has learned over the past year? She says it’s the importance of discipline and people diversifying their skill sets. She also reflects on how the country used this opportunity to form strong relationships with the cruise industry, which has led to homeporting on the island for the first time ever. And she adds that the opportunity to homeport cruises is the jumpstart for economic sustainability that the island needs.
Captain Theo Zakkas, Captain of Celebrity Millennium, discusses his excitement for being on the first Celebrity cruise ship to sail with American passengers after over a year of being idle. He details the ship’s journey to Sint Maarten after the shutdown and the many adjustments and changes that had to be made to get the ship ready to welcome passengers back including installing advanced air filters, redesigning the ship’s layout, and increasing medical capabilities. Despite 100% vaccination compliance on board the ship, he notes that there will be strict social distancing and mask requirements in place — at least at first. Shore excursions will also look different and will take place in escorted bubbles in line with the port’s health protocols.
Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, joins Peter to talk about the devastating impact that the lack of tourism over the past year has had on the island as well as on other countries in the Caribbean and the Pacfic. She then speaks about the country’s continued focus on doing the right thing and trying to be the best people they can be, including being one of the only countries that was willing to help people transit and get home at the beginning of the pandemic. She goes on to say that the pandemic has allowed the country the opportunity to reset in order to make sure it is giving its visitors — not tourists — the most welcoming experience possible so that they feel more like friends when they leave. Barbados has one of the highest number of repeat visitors in the world thanks to the warmth of its people. She also provides a brief history lesson on the nation’s drink of choice, rum. It was originally called “Kill Devil.”
Colleen McDaniel, Editor-in-Chief of Cruise Critic, on the “fantastic” period the cruise industry is currently in with announcements of plans for the resumption of cruising from many cruise lines after more than a year without them. She notes that despite operating at a decreased capacity, she can feel more enthusiasm and excitement from passengers. Other changes that can be seen on the ship include replacing the usual self-serve buffet with one that is preplated for you, which is actually helping decrease the amount of waste the ship is producing. While many cruises are requiring vaccinations, she also talks about how she thinks there will be a mixed bag of requirements for many ships, with some requiring vaccinations and others relying on testing. The resumption of cruises also means that more ships are on the way. Disney has announced its first new ship in more than 10 years. The Disney Wish is coming soon while Viking and Crystal Cruises also have new ships coming out of their shipyards soon.
Bill Ridgers, Digital Editor at The Economist, joins the show from Hong Kong to speak about Asia and Australia remaining closed to tourists as Euope and the U.S. begin to open back up. Some travel bubbles do exist in the area, but Ridgers notes that they can be fragile. It took a long time for the bubble between Australia and New Zealand to form and parts of it have been suspended. Hong Kong and Singapore attempted to open a travel bubble last year, but plans fell apart in the wake of a sudden spike. Ridgers also discusses how while Asia and Australia have done fantastic jobs of keeping COVID-19 out of their borders, the lack of big waves and runs on hospitals in these areas compared to Europe and the U.S. have led to low incentives to get the vaccine, which will make it harder for these countries to open up.
Ludmila de Weever, Minister of Tourism of Sint Maarten, speaks about the severe impact the pandemic has had on the island’s GDP and the struggles that came with having to adjust and diversify when it could no longer rely on tourism. She notes that change does not happen overnight, and it took time for the country to pivot especially as it was still recovering from devastating hurricanes that occurred in 2017. She also talks about the hard work including long hours spent in labs to create testing procedures that it took for Sint Maarten to become one of the first places to open back up. She worked closely with the Ministry of Health to create a safe environment for everyone in Sint Maarten. And she credits the pandemic with allowing the country the time needed to reevaluate what it wanted to show off to the world, emphasizing the importance of its culture.
Stewart Chiron, The Cruise Guy, reveals the feeling of euphoria he and other passengers experienced when boarding the Celebrity Millennium and getting to connect and meet people again in a safe environment. He also talks about the ongoing battle between the CDC and cruise lines for cruises to resume, which was originally met with silence and then guidance that was not up to date. The idea of homeporting outside of the U.S. was a reaction to the slow movements of the CDC. He believes more cruises will move back to the U.S. as CDC guidance eases. He also speaks about the differing schedules of resuming cruising as test cruises and revenue cruises begin. He also debunks the idea that cruise ships are floating petri dishes by reminding people that cruise ships not only are big and well-equipped, but they are also operating at decreased capacity to ensure an even higher level of safety.
Peter Knego, Owner of MidShip Century and Cruise Ship Historian, speaks about how amid this resumption, many cruise ships are being retired and scrapped. Almost the entirety of the Cruise & Maritime fleet, except the Astoria, is in India waiting to be scrapped. The NCL Skyward, which used to be a cruise from Miami to the Caribbean, is on her way to India along with the Pacific Star. Several other ships are in other ports around the world waiting to be taken apart. Knego says the pandemic played a major role in the increase of ships being retired and taken apart as companies can no longer afford to operate them. He also offers a hidden gem aboard Millennium with connections to the Titanic’s sister ship, the Olympic. And lastly, he discusses the ongoing confusion of vaccination requirements on cruise ships, which could limit where they could sail from.
By Amanda Morris for PeterGreenberg.com