SINGAPORE - Royal Caribbean International's Quantum of the Seas on Thursday (Dec 3) became the second ship to start cruises to nowhere from Singapore, complete with stepped-up safety protocols to keep Covid-19 at bay.
It follows Genting Cruise Line's World Dream, which launched Singapore's first pandemic cruises to nowhere on Nov 6.
These round-trip cruises without ports of call are taking place under a pilot programme announced by the Singapore Tourism Board in October.
Royal Caribbean will have up to two sailings a week, departing on Mondays and Thursdays, with tickets starting at $374 per person for a three-night cruise.
The operator is offering three- and four-night Ocean Getaway cruises on the ship at a reduced 50 per cent capacity.
The first voyage, a four-night cruise carrying over 1,300 people, leaves on Thursday at 9pm. Its second, a three-night cruise leaving at 9pm on Monday, will carry over 1,700 passengers.
At full capacity during the pandemic, the Quantum of the Seas can serve up to 2,000 guests - half of its usual of over 4,000 passengers.
"We want to trial our product, and the demand is there, as we are already 99 per cent sold out for most of December," said Ms Angie Stephen, managing director for Asia Pacific at Royal Caribbean International.
"We'd like to start slow, and ramp up in a safe manner," Ms Stephen said, adding that tickets for January are already 50 per cent sold out.
She added that the demand has "exceeded expectations", and that the company will likely see a surge in bookings for the Chinese New Year period in February and the March school holidays.
Boarding began at 2pm on Thursday in staggered time periods. As part of strict health and safety measures in place, the process involved having passengers check in online in advance. Passengers were also required to take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) Covid-19 test prior to arriving at the cruise centre, the costs of which were absorbed by Royal Caribbean International.
This procedure differs from that used on Genting's World Dream cruise, which involved passengers taking an antigen rapid test for Covid-19 at the Marina Bay Cruise Centre.
Those boarding the Royal Caribbean cruise had their boarding passes scanned and suitcases underwent a disinfection process called electrostatic fogging.
The ship is also kept spic and span. Apart from deep sanitation between sailings, the ship's corridors and public areas are disinfected daily, while frequently touched areas in lifts, escalators, stairways, and promenades are cleaned every two hours.
Passengers must abide by safe distancing measures on board at all the entertainment and dining venues, and capacity limits apply. They will be given a full run of the ship's many amenities, but bookings must be made in advance for key attractions such as the RipCord by iFly, a sky-diving experience in a glass chamber, and the FlowRider, a surf simulator.
Also available for reservations are the North Star, which offers a 15-minute spin in a glass capsule that rises almost 100m above the sea to provide a 360-degree view.
Mask wearing is mandatory on board, and passengers must have the Trace Together mobile application or token on their person at all times.
"With all of these protocols on board, our guests can cruise with confidence knowing that safety is the priority for Royal Caribbean and with all these measures in place, the likelihood of a case on board is expected to be very minimal," Ms Stephen said.
"We want our customers and our guests to enjoy their well deserved holiday, but also to be protected in a very safe and healthy environment."
If a Covid-19 positive case is detected during the cruise, the Quantum of the Seas has a hospital on board - complete with a PCR testing laboratory and intensive care units equipped with ventilators, where cases can be isolated and treated.
The cruise is manned by approximately 1,200 crew members who are tested for Covid-19 every seven days. This is 70 per cent of its usual crew capacity.
Meanwhile, the World Dream has up to three sailings a week, with two-night and three-night cruises to nowhere available.
The two companies are part of a "safe cruise" pilot that caters to Singapore residents at a reduced capacity. Together, passenger capacities on the Quantum of the Seas and the World Dream will represent only about 30 per cent of the usual winter cruising season, the Singapore Tourism Board said in November.