Not subject to no-sail order
Because American's ships hold fewer than 250 people (passengers and crew) each, they are not subject to the US no-sail order. The line aims to resume service initially on three ships: American Song on the Columbia and Snake rivers, American Harmony on the Lower Mississippi and American Constellation in Alaska.
'We're working on a safe, comprehensive plan to put ships back into service that will satisfy the communities and keep guests safe and crew safe,' Paul Taiclet, VP hotel operations, American Cruise Lines, told Seatrade Cruise News.
This seems different from the stream of continuously changing cruise line announcements about when operations are 'scheduled' and is perhaps a more credible possibility given American's small vessels and its close relationships with local communities and states. The addition of Vikand heightens the line's health precautions and protocols.
Partnership with communities
'We feel our ships are perfectly designed to be one of the first to return to service. We're partnering with the communities and ports, which is so important,' Taiclet stressed. 'We're working closely with the towns and town councils to make sure they're comfortable with what we're doing. It's a collaboration.'
The plan is for American Song to embark June 20 in Portland, Oregon, on a Columbia and Snake rivers itinerary to Clarkston, Washington. American Harmony would sail June 28 from Memphis, bound for New Orleans. American Constellation would follow in June/July in Alaska.
Customers want to travel
According to Taiclet, American has gotten a 'very favorable response' from customers booked on these sailings, along with people on canceled cruises who are eager to travel.
'Our guests like the idea of staying within the United States and some live within driving distance of the ports,' he said.
Occupancy reduced to 75%
American's return to service plan is being shared with ports, communities and guests. It includes pre-arrival screening and pre-boarding screening, shipboard procedures and how shore excursions would be handled.
Ship occupancy will be reduced to 75% initially to ensure social distancing, and Taiclet said there is plenty of public space along with private stateroom verandas. There will be pre-trip screening and pre-boarding screening. Sanitation protocols will be enhanced.
Dining capacity will be reduced, and there will be no buffet service. In-stateroom dining can be arranged.
Shore excursion motor coach capacity will be held at 50%. American charters its coaches for exclusive use and they follow the ship. The vehicles will be sanitized before every boarding. The line includes tours on the Lower Mississippi and in the Pacific Northwest so participation is high, ensuring a more controlled environment.
Personal protective equipment will be provided on the ship and for guests at each destination, where recommended. Certain shipboard staff will be required to wear PPE.
Procedures are being developed with Vikand Solutions. American appointed this experienced provider of healthcare services to manage medical operations, support shipboard virus prevention, screen/test guests and crew before embarking and collaborate with ports and shoreside healthcare facilities.
'We'll use best practices we have developed in the cruise industry and customize them for American Cruise Lines. These will be very strong protocols,' said Peter Hult, CEO and president of Vikand.
Adding a medical facility and nurse to each ship
Vikand will engage with health authorities in the ports, provide each vessel a nurse, supported by a shoreside doctor and the company's 'deep bench' of medical professionals, and take care of health situations, assessment and an outbreak plan. COVID-19 testing will be available on board, with protocols to be determined as the science evolves. Rooms on each ship will be set aside for isolation, if needed.
Before COVID-19, American did not have medical centers or nurses. As a domestic, inland operator, it was not required to do so. The company is now taking these extra proactive steps to ensure a higher level of safety.
Additional training for crew will cover the new operating protocols and heightened sanitation practices. PPE will be provided for positions like housekeeping and galley staff.
According to Taiclet, the crew are 'eager to get back to work and get back to the ships.'
Taiclet stressed American will operate only if states want that, too. The initial three itineraries involve Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana; Oregon and Washington; and Alaska. American is following each one's health authorities' determination of when, where and how it is safe to open.
American also works closely with the US Coast Guard. As a US-flag operator, it has an ongoing dialogue with the agency and Taiclet believes USCG supports the line's safe return to service.
'The most important thing is that we do this safely for the guests, the ports and the crew,' he said.
Depending how the initial cruises go and the timeline for opening other parts of the country, American hopes additional ships could resume in July with most of the fleet sailing in August.
Vikand's Hult congratulated American's initiative.
'I don't think they're afraid of being first, something we really value in our partners,' he said.