Royal Caribbean Cancels Cruises due to COVID Surge
Royal Caribbean International announced that will temporarily suspend cruise operations on three of its ships sailing from Florida while also delaying the return to service of a fourth ship all due to the current surge in coronavirus cases linked to the Omicron variant. The cruise line became the second large cruise company to announce that it was adjusting its schedule following Norwegian Cruise Line which last week canceled cruises and delayed ships, while other cruise ships continue to adjust itineraries to manage the current outbreak of cases.
“Despite stringent health and safety measures, including vaccination and testing requirements for guests and crew, and extensive contingency planning, we have had to move forward with this decision,” Royal Caribbean wrote in a message sent to travel advisors at the end of the week announcing the changes to its cruise scheduled. The company said it wanted to ensure that passengers get the best cruise experience on the trips that operate.
The cruise line’s Oasis class cruise ship, one of the largest in the world, the Symphony of the Seas canceled its sailings till late January. A total of three weeks of cruises were canceled for the ship. In addition, two of the company’s older cruise ships, the Jewel of the Seas, which was operating from Port Everglades, and the Serenade of the Seas which was sailing from Tampa are also canceling cruises. The Jewel of the Seas is now expected to resume cruising in late February while her sister ship will remain out of service going to a planned dry dock overhaul before resuming sailing at the end of April.
A fourth cruise ship, the Vision of the Seas, also had its return to service delayed. It had been due to begin commercial sailings in late January but now will remain out of service till the beginning of March. Reports indicate that this ship is being used to quarantine crew members who test positive on the company’s other ships.
In Asia, Royal Caribbean was also required to cancel a cruise aboard its ship that is operating cruises to nowhere from Hong Kong. The city increased its travel restrictions in response to new cases of the virus. Royal Caribbean’s Spectrum of the Seas was called back to Hong Kong after health officials determined that nine passengers aboard the ship were close contacts of someone who had tested positive for the virus.
At the end of 2021, Royal Caribbean issued a statement highlighting its experience with COVID-19 aboard its ships. “Since cruising restarted in the U.S. in June 2021, the Royal Caribbean Group has carried 1.1 million guests with 1,745 people testing positive – a positivity rate of 0.02 percent. Furthermore, the vast majority of those cases had no symptoms or only mild symptoms, with only 41 people needing hospitalization,” the company wrote in the December 30 update but did not provide specific numbers about any increases in cases due to Omicron.
"Omicron is having a big short-term impact on everyone," said Richard Fain, Chairman & CEO. The company confirmed that it experienced a decline in bookings and increased cancellations for near-term sailings saying that load factors for sailings in the first half of 2022 remain below historical levels. However, sailings for the second half of 2022 continue to be booked within historical ranges.
Royal Caribbean followed Norwegian Cruise Line which canceled individual sailings on its ships, the Norwegian Pearl and the Norwegian Getaway, with both ships currently expected to resume sailing at the end of this week. In addition, they also delayed the planned restart dates for six additional cruise ships to between late February and April.
An increasing number of cruise lines have also had to change planned itineraries. Carnival Cruise Line announced that one of its cruise ships, the Carnival Legend, would be rerouting into the Caribbean from a scheduled Panama Canal cruise and shortening the cruise by four days. Similarly, last week Silversea Cruises substitute long trips to the Caribbean and Central America for its planned world cruise and Viking announced that it would omit the Pacific Ocean portion of its world cruise scheduled to depart this week.
The cruise industry continues to insist that it has the health protocols in place to address the current increase in cases and that it will adapt to manage the situation.