The long overdue return of Caribbean cruising is not going to happen the way Royal Caribbean (RCL 2.73%) initially envisioned, but after waiting 15 months to get back into the water you won't see it or its shareholders complaining. The country's second-largest cruise line announced the return of seven-day Caribbean sailings on Monday. The voyages will begin on June 12. The booking window opens on Wednesday.
A big catch here is that the restart of its Adventure of the Seas ship won't happen at one of Royal Caribbean's popular ports in Florida, Texas, or California. In a clever turn to skirt the high hurdles set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for a return to U.S. sailings -- a move that keeps Royal Caribbean as well as peers Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH 3.31%) and Carnival (CCL 3.57%) (CUK 3.84%) out of commission closer to home -- this ship will depart out of Nassau in the Bahamas.
The restart of Adventure of the Seas isn't going to move the needle. It's on a limited itinerary, as ports of call in Grand Bahama Island, Cozumel, and Royal Caribbean's private CocoCay island can typically be done in a lot less than seven days. However, it will still be an important milestone in terms of industry morale.
Customers on all three cruise lines have seen their sailings canceled since mid-March of last year, and understandably so. COVID-19 was vicious on crowded cruise ships during the early stages of the pandemic. Many potential passengers who opted for enhanced future credit have already had their make-up sailings nixed, too. Royal Caribbean's return to sailing in the Caribbean -- we've already had select industry sailings out of Europe and Asia for months -- is an encouraging sign.
Royal Caribbean isn't exactly on borrowed time. It has raised more than enough money to get through 2021. Earlier this month it sold another 16.9 million shares. It just needs to start sailing so passengers and shareholders alike don't get even more antsy about the industry's future.
Sailing out of Nassau is a short-term fix, and that will be a deal breaker for some cruise fans. It also won't be the same cruising experience that folks remember before the COVID-19 calamity. All adult passengers will need to be fully vaccinated, and the same goes for the ship's crew. All minors will need to present negative test results. Mask wearing will be required in public areas except when eating or in the water. Guests will also need to be careful on shore excursions as mask-wearing violations carry a fine of $200 or 30 days in prison in the Bahamas.
This isn't a pleasant scenario, but the silver lining here is that the industry itself may be in better shape by the time mid-June rolls around. With vaccinations ramping up and cases kept in check it wouldn't be a surprise if even stateside cruises resume this summer. We're already at 43% of the senior population in the U.S. being fully vaccinated, and that's a target audience for off-season sailings.
Cruise lines should be among the last of the consumer discretionary stocks to recover. Thankfully for Carnival, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Royal Caribbean investors, the three companies have built up their liquidity smokestacks to make sure they are sailing into the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. If Royal Caribbean chooses an odd way to dip its feet back into Caribbean waters it's only because it has time to cannonball its way in later.