SEATTLE - The wait is almost over for the return of Seattle’s biggest tourism attractions: cruises.
Royal Caribbean is conducting a series of test cruises. The company’s Serenade of the Seas cruise line began its simulation on July 7.
"We’re really excited to get back to cruise and committed to doing it right," said Stephanie Jones Stebbins, managing director of the Maritime Division for the Port of Seattle. "The point is we are starting up and we know 2022 is going to be a really strong season."
Jones Stebbins said Port of Seattle has been working closely with Royal Caribbean, local and state health departments on the test cruises. It’s a chance to try new health protocols set by the CDC before welcoming back guests. Fully vaccinated staff and volunteers are onboard the Serenade of the Seas for the simulation.
"And there’s members from health agencies watching to make sure that all the protocols are working. They will actually have some guests pretending to have COVID so that they can run through those protocols," said Jones Stebbins. "Children, as we know, are not yet eligible to be vaccinated. So, in order to have these family cruises, there will be some number of children who can’t get vaccinated onboard. So, that’s why these test cruises are important to test that and it is a requirement of the CDC."
Modified meal service, entertainment venues and other amenities are also going through testing. Once Royal Caribbean passes the tests, it can reopen with the safety measures in place at limited capacity. The reopening for Serenade of the Seas is scheduled for July 19.
Jones Stebbins said even with the safety restrictions, it will be great to see the return of cruise tourism in Seattle.
"It’s about $900 million into our economy every year. So, we know every time a ship comes in, it’s about $4.2 million dollars into our local economy. So, that’s really important to have that coming back," said Jones Stebbins.
Once the ships reopen, the CDC will require guests to maintain social distance and wear a mask. Same goes for the port.
"The passengers will still be wearing masks as they go through our terminals and check in. We will still have social distancing, making sure that we’re very careful as passengers are processed and get on the vessel," said Jones Stebbins.
Test cruise dates for Ovation of the Seas have not been set yet. However, Royal Caribbean said it’s expected to welcome back guests on Aug. 13.
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