Royal Caribbean will offer “fully vaccinated sailings” between Israel, Cyprus and the Greek Islands from May of this year, the cruise line has said.
Both crew and guests above the age of 16 will be vaccinated against Covid-19” on sailings aboard Odyssey of the Seas, a brand new mega-ship, it added.
Itineraries will depart the Israeli port of Haifa, with three- and seven-night sailings including stops like Santorini, Mykonos, Athens and Limassol.
The news comes as Israel has delivered at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine to over half of its adult population, and will be keenly watched by destinations and a travel industry desperately seeking clues as to how tourism may recover from its pandemic collapse.
Israel, Greece and Cyprus this month signed tentative accords in a move towards allowing vaccinated travellers to move freely between the countries.
“Thanks to the millions of vaccines we have bought, I am proud that Israel will be the first country in the world to launch Royal Caribbean’s new flagship,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who hailed “an important economic, touristic moment” for the state.
“We will continue our programme – the ‘green passport’ – so that we can get out of the Covid-19 virus in peace,” he added. “Just as we made Israel the world champion in vaccines, we will make it the world champion in economics and tourism in the post-Corona era.”
Further details on the health and safety measures to be implemented by Israel and Royal Caribbean will be announced at a later date, the cruise line said.
Debates around possible “vaccine passports” are heating up as several countries, including Iceland, Poland and Romania, now allow vaccinated travellers to bypass quarantine, while EU leaders at a virtual summit last week broadly agreed that vaccine certificates were needed.
It remains to be seen whether vaccination prevents transmission of the virus, however. A standardised international approach also seems some way off, and there are ethical questions around whether digital versions of such a ‘Yellow Card’ would create an unfair divide between the vaccinated and those who cannot or choose not to be vaccinated yet – for multiple reasons.
“It is not yet understood whether available vaccines prevent vaccinated persons from being infected or transmitting the disease to others,” Ireland’s Department of Health has said.
British over-50s cruise line Saga has said it will require all guests to be vaccinated this year, but other lines have so far taken a wait-and-see approach as they monitor the issue.
For now, all eyes will be on Odyssey of the Seas as it sets sail from Haifa complete with surf simulator, ‘North Star’ observation pod and “next-level” pool deck in May.
“Sailing from Israel is an opportunity we have had our sights on for quite some time,” said Michael Bayley, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean International.