Royal Caribbean is second cruise line to cancel US-based sailings; 4 ships affected

Jan 7, 2022

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Following an uptick in COVID-19 omicron cases, Royal Caribbean is pausing cruises on three of its vessels and delaying the scheduled return of a fourth, making it the second line — after Norwegian Cruise Line — since the industry’s largely successful restart to cancel several sailings out of the U.S.

“As a result of the ongoing COVID-related circumstances around the world, and in [an] abundance of caution, Royal Caribbean International is pausing operations for [Vision of the Seas, Serenade of the Seas, Jewel of the Seas and Symphony of the Seas],” the line said in a statement. Affected voyages include:

  • Vision of the Seas’ sailings through March 7, 2022
  • Serenade of the Seas sailings from Jan. 8–March 5, 2022
  • Jewel of the Seas sailings from Jan. 9–Feb. 12, 2022
  • Symphony of the Seas sailings from Jan. 8–22, 2022

The line was strategic about the ships it selected, opting to delay the restart of Vision of the Seas, which hasn’t yet come back into service since the 2020 shutdown. Its return will now be delayed until March 7, 2022. The line also chose Serenade of the Seas, which was scheduled to enter dry dock shortly and, therefore, would have been out of service for a time anyway. It will now return, post-dry dock, on April 26, 2022.

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Passengers on affected sailings are being notified, and they will be given compensation options, which include full refunds.

TPG asked Mark Tamis, Royal Caribbean’s senior vice president of hotel operations, why the line decided to proactively cancel sailings. He said the move allows Royal Caribbean to do two things. “One is [that] crew who test positive and are asymptomatic are able to serve their quarantine period on one of these ships. It also allows us to have these additional crew members who then can supplement the crew who are not able to work for those 10 days in order to make sure that we’re able to deliver a great vacation and a full experience — all the while protecting our guests, our crew, the ships and the places that we visit, as we have done since our healthy return to service.”

The cancellations are not because the cruise line is concerned that passenger health is compromised on board more than it would be on land. In fact, of the 1.1 million passengers who have sailed on all Royal Caribbean group lines (Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Silversea Cruises) since the return to cruise in 2021, Tamis says they’ve had only 1,745 cases of passengers testing positive (about 1.6% of the guest population). The crew is all vaccinated, with tests at least weekly, and all passengers but the youngest must be vaccinated and test negative to sail.

The issue at hand is operations. The cruise line wants to ensure that its guests get the full vacation experience they paid for, for which it needs a full complement of crew. And with the frequent testing catching asymptomatic crew cases of COVID-19 that otherwise would go unnoticed, the line needs a place to house crew members while they wait out their isolation. 

By taking four ships out of service, healthy crew can help support their coworkers on operating ships and COVID-19 positive crew have a place to stay, away from paying guests, where they can quickly return to their ship when their quarantine period is up.

It was not a decision Royal Caribbean takes lightly. “We feel terrible when we have to cancel a vacation,” Tamis said. “When we have to do something like this, we feel awful.”

Other cruise lines are in the same boat, so to speak. On Wednesday, Norwegian Cruise line canceled voyages on eight of its vessels, some of which hadn’t even come back into service yet.

Other cancellations of cruises from foreign ports have come in recent days from lines that include MSC, Costa, Oceania and Regent.

Although it’s unlikely we’ll see another industrywide shutdown, we’re keeping a close eye on other lines that might be considering cancellations soon.

Featured photo of Symphony of the Seas courtesy of Royal Caribbean

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