Royal Caribbean Shares Update on Cruising Start Date and the Future of the Buffet

Royal Caribbean is hoping to beat its competitors to the open seas.

Assuming it will be safe to cruise again in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, which has shut down cruising since March, Royal Caribbean on Thursday said it will start sailing again on Sept. 16, a few days ahead of Carnival and Norwegian.

Carnival and Norwegian had previously announced a Sept. 30 start date.

But whether it’s Sept. 16 or Sept. 30, it all depends on the course of the virus – which has spiked again in record numbers in Florida, the launching pad for many cruise lines – as well as a skeptical public that has read about numerous instances of virus outbreaks on cruise ships.

In the meantime, a Royal Caribbean executive seemingly settled the argument over whether buffets will return.

“Rest assured,” Linken D’Souza, the company’s vice president of food and beverage operations, said according to, “the buffet will exist.”

Previously, there had been much speculation about the return of the buffet due to concerns over the virus.

Buffets, however, will not look like they have in the past.

“We’ve worked through a variety of different scenarios,” D’Souza said, “from employee service to individual portions to individual tons for self-service to finger [gloves] that you can [use to] pick up hot dishes. … There may be some small modifications that allow us to ensure that we have a really great, healthy return to service, but your favorites and what you’re used to at the (buffet) will still be there.”

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What It’s Like to Travel to Jamaica Right Now

At least for now, many travelers are putting their Caribbean vacation plans on hold and taking a wait-and-see approach as COVID-19 travel restrictions evolve over the coming months.

There are, of course, exceptions to that rule, as Jemica Archer of Jacksonville, Fla.-based TruBlue Travels would be quick to point out.

Her clients, whose original vacation plans to Jamaica were impacted by the coronavirus, “were adamant that even with the new protocols in place and the country’s borders just reopening on June 15, they still wanted to go sooner rather than later,” she said.

Archer noted that she was “a little nervous” about rebooking clients so early in Jamaica’s reopening process, particularly because requirements for entry at reopening destinations seem to be “changing every day.”

She added, “There are so many different variables that go into trying to manage these reservations.”

Seventy-two hours prior to the trip, the couple was required to fill out a non-resident authorization form, which can be found on the Jamaica Tourist Board website, detailing their personal, health and intended stay information.

They then received an email confirmation authorizing their plans from the Jamaican government.

“This didn’t happen to my clients, but I’ve gotten feedback that if you don’t have the form completed the airlines can deny entry – so it’s very important that travelers complete the authorization forms,” Archer said.

The clients flew out of Jacksonville and connected through Miami and into Montego Bay,” she said, adding that they were not bothered having to wear masks on the plane because it was a short-haul flight.

Once on the ground at Montego’s Bay Sangster International Airport, passengers were taken directly to a sanitation station with “separate tables spread out for sanitizing and to complete forms,” Archer.

All told, the process at the airport, which required wearing masks, took nearly three hours, Archer’s clients told her. During the process, they repeatedly sanitized their hands and were given COVID-19 tests by Jamaica health professionals.

Once at the resort, they were required to remain in quarantine at the property for 48 hours until they received notification on their COVID-19 tests. While at the property, the clients were required to wear masks in all public areas, not at the beach or pool.

“If your results are negative, then you can do excursions and explore,” Archer said. “But you’re not supposed to leave until you get those results back.”

In the event that tests come back positive, “you have to leave the property and go to a government facility for 14 days at your own expense,” she said.

During their stay, the couple contacted Archer to help rearrange excursions, as some previously booked were not yet operational again.

Although her clients booked a five-day vacation, which, due to the quarantine, gave them only three days to explore the island, Archer said the trip was worth it to them because of their love of Jamaica.

Because of the two-day quarantine, Archer recommends that travelers book longer stays – although Jamaica protocols may be revised on July 1, possibly make the issue a moot point.

She is not advising her clients to immediately travel to destinations that have very recently reopened their borders to tourism. “I would prefer people give it some time and see how this all plays out,” Archer said.

But she is insisting that they buy travel insurance. “In these uncertain times, and with the timelines changings for country openings,” Archer said she is insisting that her clients buy travel insurance. “All you can do is advise and encourage travel insurance. I would rather lose the booking than take the risk. I’m requiring it for all clients.”

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Paris Gradually Reopening to European, International Travelers

Paris is one of the most popular tourist destinations globally and the city is working diligently to welcome European and international travelers back as soon as possible.

According to a teleconference hosted by Atout France, officials announced the country is open to tourists from the European Union and plans are in place to gradually begin opening borders to international visitors on July 1.

Hotels, Cafes, restaurants and major tourist attractions in Paris have all started reopening and will be ready to welcome guests when they arrive. As a result, the travel industry has implemented strict health guidelines and a certification process to make tourists feel safe.

Starting September 1, large events of 5,000-plus people—trade shows, conventions, meetings and more—will be allowed to resume, and popular events such as the Tour de France and Fashion Week have been scheduled for late summer-early fall.

As for flights to Paris, Air France is expanding its summer schedule, but will still be down by around 80 percent capacity. On July 6, the carrier will relaunch service to Chicago, San Francisco and Boston, while continuing to serve other major markets like New York City and Los Angeles.

The problem for U.S. citizens is the European Union is reportedly barring them from lists of acceptable visitors, based on how each country handled the coronavirus outbreak. While China, Cuba and other nations are on the list, American travelers would be banned.

Officials said the list would be revised every two weeks to meet the coronavirus outbreak’s everchanging parameters around the world. Current restrictions on nonessential travel to all 27 member states plus Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein were introduced on March 16 and extended twice through July 1.

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Icelandic Tour Companies Covering Tourists’ COVID-19 Tests

PHOTO: Reykjavik, Iceland. (photo via patpongs/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

While not a member of the European Union, Iceland is nonetheless part of the passport-free Schengen zone, the external borders of which the European Commission has seen fit to reopen as of July 1, 2020.

Iceland will be among the first places to reopen its borders to international travelers post-pandemic. The Nordic nation relies rather heavily on tourism revenue, and the impact of COVID-19-related travel bans was substantial. The National Statistical Institute of Iceland estimated that the island suffered a 28-percent decline in tourism takings from foreign visitors.

Iceland’s latest border travel policies offer inbound visitors the option to either take a COVID-19 test upon arrival or adhere to the standard fourteen-day quarantine. Those who are tested receive their results within 24 hours via the ‘Rakning C-19’ contact-tracing app (which they’re required to download) and, once cleared, are free to head off to their excursions around the country.

Airport testing measures have been introduced as the safest conceivable way to restart the tourism sector, but industry leaders worry that the screening fees of around US$114 may prove off-putting for potential tourists who are considering Iceland as a summer destination.

“Iceland has managed the pandemic exceptionally well, and that is due to widespread testing. We are dedicated to protecting the health of our fellow citizens and visitors, and testing ensures maximum safety,” remarked Styrmir þór Bragason, Founder and CEO of eco-tourism company Arctic Adventures.

þór Bragason said that tour specialists received a flood of inquiries following the announcement of Iceland’s reopened borders, but that those would-be travelers remain wary and retain some pandemic-related concerns.

Realizing that paying for mandatory COVID-19 testing represents an extra stressor for travelers, Artic Adventures is alleviating that burden by covering the testing fee for its foreign guests, and it’s encouraging other Icelandic tour operators to do the same. Some, it says, are already following suit. “Our goal is to make this process easier by covering costs and revitalize our tourism sector,” þór Bragason said.

“Testing costs aside, Iceland should be an attractive destination for pandemic travelers this summer. It is one of the least densely populated countries in the world, which makes social distancing quite easy,” he explained.

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San Marino

The Republic of San Marino, Italy, is Europe’s third-smallest state (after Vatican City and Monaco), yet has enough charm and natural beauty to attract over two million visitors each year. Perched 700 meters above sea level atop Mount Titano, the republic is a favorite day-trip destination for those visiting other parts of central Italy. After a steep climb to the historic center, visitors will find a whirl of souvenir stalls selling locally minted coins and stamps, as well as tiny restaurants and shops — not to mention a fantastic view.

San Marino has a collection of eclectic museums boasting public and private collections of art, history and general oddities. The Wax Museum and Museum of the Emigrant are both great places to go in order to become acquainted with San Marino’s long history. The Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art houses over 750 works of art dating to the early 20th century and including drawings, watercolors, photographs and sculpture. In addition to the Reptilarium and Aquarium of San Marino, places like the Museum of Torture Instruments and Museum of Curious Objects house many peculiarities not found anywhere else and give a sense of humor to this tiny Italian republic.

Hundreds of shops, along with two outlet malls and two larger shopping centers, are sprinkled throughout San Marino’s nine municipalities. Designer-name clothing and accessories can be found at the two outlets, Queen Outlet and San Marino Factory Outlet, while the narrow streets of downtown are peppered with countless shops and artisan boutiques.

Products like olive oil, honey and wine are locally produced in the San Marino region, making for the gastronomy of the area rich in flavor. Whether dining at a hotel restaurant or a local sidewalk trattoria, eateries like Restaurant Bolognese, Tre Monti and Il Beccafico will serve up authentic Italian dishes paired with a local sangiovese or moscato wine.

The closest airport to San Marino is Rimini International Airport (RMI), which is about a 30-minute drive from the center of San Marino. There is also no train station in the republic, as the closest one is in Rimini as well. Renting a car is recommended to get to the city. Once inside the walled area at the top of Mount Titano, the area is easily walkable.

San Marino has a Mediterranean climate with continental influences, having warm summers and mild winters. The best time to visit is during the spring and autumn months, when the weather is warm and pleasant, and the natural scenery is in full bloom.

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What You Need to Know for Travel to Cancun This Summer

There was no need for a massive advertising blitz.

Cancun has reopened to tourists.

And tourists know it.

“I’ve been stuck in New York City in my apartment for three months, so I decided that (being) on the beach somewhere open was probably a good call,” web designer Sam Leon, 31, told Reuters News Service after arriving in Cancun on Saturday.

Thinking about following the same philosophy? Well, here’s what you need to know when traveling to the Cancun and Riviera Maya area this summer.

For better or worse, since the area reopened June 8, it has been devoid of fellow tourists. There are 17 hotel-resorts on the beach already open, but the influx is – and was expected to be – slow. Each hotel had to set a capacity far lower than what it can hold. The area expects to be at 73 percent capacity by July 1.

“The most important thing right now is to revive the state’s economy, but we have to be careful with the health of our people,” Carlos Joaquin, governor of Quintana Roo state (which includes Cancun), said last week.

The area is in a four-phase plan. At the moment, restaurants, hotels, theme parks and golf courses can operate at 30 percent capacity. The beaches are closed, as are nightclubs and casinos. If Mexico can get through one weekly phase without COVID-19 cases rising, it will move into the next phase, which would put capacity at 60 percent.

So a full recovery for Mexico’s tourism sector – which represents 8.7 percent of gross domestic product and employs 4.5 million people – is not expected for a while. But already the anecdotal evidence of the resort area’s popularity is there. When flights from the United States and Canada to Cancun began again, they doubled in a week as the tourist hotspot reopened for business.

According to Riviera Maya News, flights to the airport increased from 30 at the beginning of last week to 62 as of Friday, June 12, including both national and international airlines such as American, United, Sun Country and Air Canada. Flights originated from New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Chicago, Houston, Toronto, Miami and Dallas.

Darío Flota Ocampo, general director of the Tourism Promotion Council of Quintana Roo, said flights are still a long way from arriving full, but the increase in the number of flights is evidence that airlines see the potential for recovery.

“Although hotel occupancy is very low, the reality is that they were waiting for the reopening,” he said. “We are going to see in the next 15 days the reinstallation of many airlines between the United States and Cancun. Some flights to Cozumel are also starting and a gradual increase in the occupation of hotels and reactivation of different tourist products will begin to normalize.”

When the first excited tourists arrived at the Moon Palace beach resort near Cancun last week, however, “The customers all took off their masks as soon as they came into the hotel,” Gibran Chapur, vice president of Palace Resorts, told USA Today. “You can’t be all covered up when you are on vacation, thinking you have to be in reclusion. If you wanted to do that, you would have stayed home.”

As expected, there are restrictions. Passengers won’t be allowed to sit up front with taxi drivers; buffets will no longer exist and, at least at Palace resorts, the hotels will probably do away with physical menus at restaurants. Instead, patrons will snap a picture of the QR code at the restaurant, and the menu will pop up on their smartphones.

“Menus are probably the dirtiest things in a hotel. Everybody touches them,” Chapur says.

Mexico recently launched its ‘Mexican Caribbean Clean & Safe Check Certification’ for hospitality service providers—everything from hotels and resorts, spas, water parks, golf courses and food and beverage establishments to travel agencies, tour operators and transportation outfits—to prove that they’ve brought their health and safety protocols and practices up to par for effectively combatting the spread of COVID-19.

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Turks and Caicos Islands to Reopen July 22

With safety protocols in place, the Turks and Caicos Islands will begin welcoming travelers on July 22, 2020.

“We are eager and excited to reopen our borders and safely welcome travelers back to the picturesque Turks and Caicos Islands later this summer,” said Pamela Ewing, director of tourism for the Turks and Caicos Islands Tourist Board. “In the meantime, we are taking every precaution to ensure the Islands are safe and to enhance the exceptional experience and care afforded by the destination and our world-class hospitality partners. Our intention is to cautiously reboot the tourism sector, laying the foundation for short- and long-term recovery.”

Details of the safety protocols will be announced within the next several weeks.

Meanwhile, the destination’s airline partners will resume flights from the U.S., Canada and Europe when the Providenciales International Airport opens on July 22, tourism officials said.

The Grand Turk Cruise Center, however, will remain closed until Aug. 31, 2020, “subject to guidance from relevant health authorities,” tourism officials said.

Other Caribbean destinations are also set to begin welcoming travelers again. The U.S. Virgin Islands will reopen to leisure travelers on June 1, with Saint Lucia welcoming visitors back on June 4.

The Turks and Caicos Islands comprise 40 islands and cays, only nine of which are inhabited. Over the years, the destination has gained a reputation for its pristine beaches, which are arguably some of the most beautiful in the world.

Las Vegas’ Fremont Street Experience to Reopen June 3

The Fremont Street Experience in downtown Las Vegas – truly an experience unto itself – is set to reopen to visitors on June 3.

A countdown clock has been installed at the attraction, which is a pedestrian mall featuring entrances to hotel-casinos, retail shops and street performers, and notable for its canopy covering that beams visuals off the world’s largest screen.

A ‘Countdown Clock’ has been installed on the screen.

The Fremont Street Experience, like its Las Vegas Strip brethren, has been closed since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic. Strip hotels and casinos are scheduled to start reopening on June 4.

“The health and well-being of our guests, tenants, resort partners and employees remain a top priority to Fremont Street Experience,” Patrick Hughes, president and CEO of Fremont Street Experience, said in a statement. “We look forward to welcoming guests back to Fremont Street Experience soon.”

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the Viva Vision Canopy is the world’s largest single video screen at 16,433,152 pixels. The lights draw more than 23 million visitors every year.

The lights draw more than 23 million visitors every year.

In fact, the Fremont Street Experience just added new visuals barely three months ago, and has been waiting to show them off.

How Florida Keys Aims to Keep Travelers Safe Upon Reopening in June

After closing to visitors on March 22, the Florida Keys had recently announced that the destination will be accepting visitors again starting on June 1.

Naturally, there are plenty of people hesitant to resume traveling amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has already caused many travel restrictions and the closure of popular tourist destinations. The lack of tourism is financially devastating many businesses in the travel industry, so many destinations such as the Keys have decided to cautiously reopen to visitors.

In an interview with TravelPulse, the president of the Monroe County Tourist Development Council, Stacey Mitchell, reassures travelers that the safety of tourists, locals and employees will be the Key’s top priority upon reopening.

In fact, it is because of safety concerns that the Monroe County TDC decided to reopen on June 1 rather than a popular tourism time period like Memorial Day Weekend.

“We are opening up per the state guidelines, in phases,” said Mitchell. “And right now we’re in Phase 2, which allows businesses to open at 50 percent maximum whether it be restaurants or retail shops, and we really wanted to give residents a chance to get used to being out and about. Rather than just go ahead and open up the entire county to residents and visitors, we are doing so in a measured slow roll.”

While many businesses are eager to make up for lost time, Mitchell made it clear that businesses that are hesitant to reopen at this time are not required to do so.

“The private sector can determine when they feel comfortable reopening or not,” said Mitchell.

Additionally, hotels, restaurants and stores will continue to enforce social distancing to both employees and guests and have updated their cleaning procedures and disinfecting measures to ensure that COVID-19 will not spread. Visitors will also be expected to continue to wear face masks.

Luckily for travelers, many of the activities that draw visitors to the Keys such as snorkeling and scuba diving allow them to follow safety guidelines.

As Mitchell pointed out, “The lifestyle [in Monroe County] is conducive to activities like riding a bike and when you’re under the water scuba diving, you’re basically socially distancing!”

Unlike other areas in Florida, Mitchell is not worried about the beaches in the Keys being packed with overzealous guests as the Keys’ beaches tend to draw more watersport enthusiasts than sunbathers.

“The Florida Keys aren’t really known for our beaches. We’re known for our nearshore waters, but not for traditional beaches like you’d see in California or the Jersey Shore. We have great water access for watersport activities and our natural resources are conducive to practicing social distancing measures,” said Mitchell.

“People who come down here want to go snorkeling, they want to go scuba diving, they want to go fishing, they want to go paddle-boarding, they want to go kayaking out in the mangroves. Because we have such interactive marine resources, our visitors aren’t apt to just lie on the beach like a traditional beachgoer. There’s just so much more to see and do.”

Through phased reopening and enhanced safety initiatives, the Florida Keys can begin its tourism rebound under a new normal.

Reopen Plan Set For Services at Yellowstone National Park

With the final three entrances to Yellowstone National Park set to reopen on Monday, June 1, so too will limited services associated with visiting the park including lodging, camping, food and retail shops run by Xanterra Travel Collection.

The National Park Service began opening Yellowstone on May 18 (South and East entrances), and just announced this week that the remaining three entrances (North, Northeast and West) will open on June 1.

Opening and closing dates are subject to change based on future conditions and public health guidance as well as the ability to maintain a safe environment for visitors, employees and NPS staff.

At this time, only cabins with private baths are scheduled to open at the following locations:
Old Faithful Lodge (June 8-Oct. 4)
Old Faithful Snow Lodge (June 8-Oct. 25)
Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel (June 1-Nov. 1)
Lake Yellowstone Hotel (June 17-Oct. 4)
Lake Lodge (June 17-Sept. 2)
Canyon Lodge (June 19-Oct. 12)

Xanterra campgrounds are currently scheduled to open as follows:
Madison (June 15-Oct. 18)
Bridge Bay (June 17-Sept. 7)
Grant Village (June 17-Sept. 13)
Canyon (June 19-Sept. 20)
Fishing Bridge RV Park will remain closed through fall of 2021

Select dining outlets as outlined below will be open with “take out” options only. Based on current public health guidelines, dining room seating and dinner reservations are not available.
Mammoth Hot Springs Area
Terrace Grill (June 1-Oct. 12), take out only food and beverages including beer and wine
Old Faithful Area
Geyser Grill at Snow Lodge (May 22-Oct. 25), take out only food and beverages including beer and wine
Old Faithful Lodge Bake Shop (June 8-Oct. 4), take out only light meals, snacks and non-alcoholic beverages
Old Faithful Lodge Cafeteria (June 8-Oct. 3), take out only food and beverages including beer and wine
Canyon Area
The Eatery at Canyon Lodge (June 19-Oct. 12), take out only food and beverages including beer and wine
Yellowstone Lake Area
Wiley’s Canteen at Lake Lodge (June 17-Oct. 4), take out only food and non-alcoholic beverages
Lake Lodge Lobby Bar (June 17-Oct. 3), take out only beverages including beer, wine, and cocktails
Grant Village Area
Grant Village Dining Room (June 17-Sept. 13), take out only food and beverages including beer and wine

Select Xanterra gift stores in the following locations will be open, but with controlled access to comply with distancing standards:
Mammoth Hotel (June 1-Oct. 12)
Old Faithful Snow Lodge (May 22-Nov. 1)
Old Faithful Lodge (June 8-Oct. 4)
Lake Yellowst1otel (June 17-Oct. 4)
Canyon Lodge (June 19- Oct. 12)
Lake Lodge (June 17-Oct. 4)
Madison Campground (June 15-Oct. 18)

Tours and activities will be limited to guide boats, boat rentals, backcountry shuttle, and dock slips at the marina, horseback rides at Canyon Lodge Corral, and bike rentals at Old Faithful Snow Lodge. Road-based tours, Scenicruise tours, Stagecoach rides, or the Old West Cookout will not be offered.

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