Think cruisers are unhappy with new restrictions on ships? Guess again

Jul 2, 2021

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You might think that cruisers would be unhappy right now with some of the new rules on cruise ships.

In an effort to minimize the spread of COVID-19, some lines are requiring that passengers wear masks while in some public settings on vessels — something that’s no longer required at many travel destinations on land. In some cases, they’re also restricting passenger access to some onboard venues and limiting the type of touring that passengers can do on land.

Many lines also have implemented new health screening requirements for passengers including COVID-19 testing before and during sailings — screenings that cut into the time passengers have for relaxing on board cruise vessels.

But if cruisers are perturbed by such rules, it’s not showing in the comment cards they’re filling out at the end of sailings.

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Indeed, cruise line executives say they’ve been amazed by what they describe as sky-high passenger satisfaction scores for their initial comeback cruises in North America and elsewhere.

“It’s dramatic. Just say it’s dramatic,” Royal Caribbean Group chairman and CEO Richard Fain said this week of soaring satisfaction scores in recent weeks as the company has restarted cruising operations in Europe and North America.

Speaking one-on-one with TPG in an exclusive interview aboard a vessel that just restarted departures, Celebrity Edge, Fain wouldn’t say exactly how much passenger satisfaction scores were up as compared to the period before cruises around the world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But he suggested it was unlike anything the company had ever seen.

Royal Caribbean Group is the parent company of Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Silversea, all of which have restarted operations in recent weeks in either Europe or North America or both regions with a handful of vessels.

Royal Caribbean on June 12 launched its first Caribbean departures in 15 months out of Nassau in the Bahamas, and Celebrity has restarted sailings in recent weeks out of St. Maarten; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; and Piraeus, Greece. Silversea last week resumed sailings in the Mediterranean and also the Galápagos.

Celebrity Edge departed from Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades on June 26, becoming the first major cruise ship to resume operations from a U.S. port in 15 months. (Photo courtesy Celebrity Cruises)

Fain told TPG he sees several reasons for the spike in satisfaction scores.

For starters, cruisers are just over the moon to be able to get back to cruising — with or without restrictions. They’ve been cut off from what for many is a favorite pastime for more than a year, and they’re finally able to get out there again.

“People are so tired of being stuck up at home,” said Fain, who said he and other executives had been paying close attention to the comment cards coming in from passengers as the first ships restart. “The terms I hear are, ‘it’s liberating, it’s freeing.” So I think there’s that halo effect.”

Fain says many cruisers may have taken what he calls “the wonder of cruising” for granted before the COVID-19-related shutdown of the industry in early 2020.

“Now they realize, wait a minute, this isn’t something automatic here. This is pretty cool,” he said.

Fain said he believed another key factor in the high passenger satisfaction scores was the mood among the crew on the ships that are starting back up. Like so many workers in other industries, many have been out of work for more than a year, and they are as thrilled as passengers to be back at sea.

“The crew [members] are on cloud nine,” Fain said.

The happiness of crew on any given ship has long been known to be a factor in passenger satisfaction scores, he suggested.

“I’m very proud of the vessels [in the Royal Caribbean Group fleet], but the vessels are a tool,” Fain said. “The people who make the tool run are the crew. [They] always have been our strength for 60 years, and when they are as enthusiastic as they are [now,] that’s infectious.”

The upshot is this is an unusual time of ebullience on ships — both among passengers and crew.

As Fain suggested, it’s a kind of moment that we haven’t seen before and we may never see again.

“I don’t expect [the passenger satisfaction scores] to remain at this level,” he noted. “Some of this is unique to the pressure relief” of cruising starting back up after a long period of being shut down.

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Featured photo courtesy of Celebrity Cruises.

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