Cruise News Update: Carnival, Royal Caribbean and NCL

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Get ready for this week’s cruise news update from Cruise Hive, where we bring you the top news stories from the cruise industry. As usual, we have it all covered, with articles about Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Line, the Alaskan city of Sitka, and a cruise ship protest in France.

Cruise News Update

As the war between Israel and Hamas continues to affect the itineraries of global cruise lines, Cruise Hive has ongoing coverage of the suspension of cruise operations in the region and the replacement of port calls as ships are rerouting away from the war zone. Stay updated on all of it by clicking here.

There’s no better way to stay on top of all the cruise news than with Cruise Hive. We’ve got all of the cruise news you want to know about, including Royal Caribbean shortening the final payment date on longer cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line altering an itinerary due to a refueling stop, Norwegian Cruise Line absorbing guests’ VAT charges in France, a group of environmental protesters targeting a small ship in Brittany, an Alaskan town rejecting a plan to cap cruise guest arrivals, and a massive investment approved for a Bahamas shipyard.

Cruise Line Shortens Payment Date on Longer Sailings

Cruisers who book a Royal Caribbean sailing of 15 days or longer have less time to pay their cruise fare in full, under a new payment policy taking effect on all new bookings. The cruise line changed its final payment due date to 120 days prior to embarkation, up from the previous 90-day payment deadline.

The 90-day full payment requirement was in effect for all bookings on cruises five nights or longer; shorter cruises of 1 to 4 nights required payment by 75 days before sailing. The new policy is only valid on longer cruises, and there has been no change to payment dates for shorter sailings of up to 14 days.

The cruise line offered no reason for the shortened payment schedule, but some cruise insiders believe the move could be to discourage last-minute cancellations.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship
Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship (Photo Credit: marleyPug)

Longer itineraries generally are booked farther out from the departure date than short cruises, but some guests do not make full payment until the final deadline, for various reasons. Those who cancel at or near the 90-day deadline leave the cruise line scrambling to fill their cabins close-in to sail date.

The lion’s share of Royal Caribbean’s cruises are of lengths less than 15 days. Most of its sailings that are 15 or more days are repositioning cruises, such as transatlantic crossings, when ships are deployed to Europe for the summer and then return to home-port in North America for winter sailings in the Caribbean.

Ship’s Port Call Changes Due to Refueling Needs

Guests booked on a Royal Caribbean cruise aboard Wonder of the Seas in early January 2024 will not call at St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands, as planned, but instead will visit San Juan, Puerto Rico. The reason? To refuel the ship.

Cruisers booked on the January 7 departure of the 7-night Eastern Caribbean & Perfect Day cruise from Port Canaveral, Florida, were told of the refueling change, along with some additional alterations in port calls.

Wonder of the Seas, currently the largest cruise ship sailing and able to accommodate 5,734 guests in double occupancy, has also swapped the port call dates for St. Maarten and CocoCay, Royal Caribbean’s private island destination in the Bahamas.

Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas
Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas (Photo Credit: Darryl Brooks)

CocoCay was to be the first port call, then St. Thomas, and then St. Maarten, followed by two days at sea. Under the new itinerary, the two sea days come first, then the call to St. Maarten, followed by the refueling call at San Juan. Guests will visit CocoCay on the last full day of the cruise.

Royal Caribbean is refunding any shore excursions booked for St. Thomas, while tours on St. Maarten and at CocoCay are being adjusted to the new call dates. The cruise line offered no specific reason why the ship needed to refuel in San Juan versus in another port.

Norwegian Epic Guests Get a Break on VAT

Guests sailing aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Epic in the Western Mediterranean this week will pay no Value Added Tax (VAT) on drinks or dinners ordered as part of a pre-purchased beverage or specialty dining package, while the ship is in France or sailing in French waters.

The decision, a welcome one for cruisers, applies only to packages booked before the cruise began, and not to those bought onboard after embarkation. The cruise line notified guests about its generosity mid-cruise, and said any VAT charges already applied to onboard accounts would be refunded.

Norwegian Epic Cruise Ship
Norwegian Epic Cruise Ship (Photo Credit: lorenza62)

The absorption of VAT on drinks and food applies only to France, and not to similar purchases made in other European countries that charge the tax, such as Spain and Italy, both on Norwegian Epic’s itinerary.

The cruise line in September 2023 advised guests that VAT would be charged on food, beverage, and retail purchases that are made while the ship is within a country’s territorial waters or in port.

The countries’ governments charge the tax in an effort to level the playing field between those who visit on land vacations and those who visit by cruise ship.

Protesters Jeer Cruisers During French Port Call

Polar bears and walruses are not typically seen in the Brittany region of France, but guests who disembarked the World Traveller cruise ship in Douarnenez, France, got a glimpse of some anyway — in the form of protesters dressed as polar wildlife.

Boos and jeers greeted the ship’s 200 guests as they debarked for their scheduled port call in Douarnenez, a small town at the mouth of the Pouldavid River in northwestern France. The protesters’ goal was to highlight the negative environmental effects that cruise tourism causes, particularly in the polar regions.

Harbour of Douarnenez
Harbour of Douarnenez (Photo Credit: Bennekom)

World Traveller, a ship of less than 10,000 gross tons, is owned by US-based Mystic Cruises and is scheduled to operate an Antarctic voyage this winter, an expedition that the demonstrators called a “blatant example of last-chance tourism.”

Atlas Ocean Voyages, a Florida company that chartered the ship for its current 10-day Europe cruise, told French media that its small ships use only one-fifth of the fuel that traditional cruise ships use, and they take steps to control their environmental footprint.

Guests who stepped off the ship in Douarnenez appeared to take the protesters in stride. As one cruiser commented: It was a “useful educational experience.”

Alaskan City Says No to Cruise Arrivals Cap

Cruise lines serving the Alaska market can rest easy, for now, when they schedule future port calls in Sitka, a popular destination in the southeast of the Last Frontier State, after the city’s local government rejected a proposal to cap the number of cruise arrivals.

A citizen’s petition that called for the city to limit arrivals to 240,000 per year, and 13,350 per day, was denied. The port in 2023 welcomed about 550,000 cruise guests, breaking the previous year’s record of 383,000.

Sitka Cruise Visitors
Sitka, Alaska (Photo Credit: Jeff Whyte)

The petition was put forward as an effort to prevent overcrowding by tourists, improve safety, and protect Sitka’s small-town character. It also called for the creation of a port district and a cruise ship permit requirement.

The city’s municipal attorney argued against approving the petition, saying that its plan was “confusing, misleading, and incomplete.” Moreover, Sitka could not create a port district because only the Alaska State Assembly can allocate a public asset.

Nearly all cruise ships that ply the waters of southeastern Alaska call at Sitka, a port call that is home to the Alaska Raptor Center and Sitka National Historical Park. Another popular destination in the town is the Fortress of the Bears, where visitors can see bears from special viewing platforms.

Cruise Companies Investing in Freeport Shipyard

Carnival Corporation and Royal Caribbean Group were granted authorization to move ahead with a major expansion of operations at Grand Bahama Shipyard, one that will enable both cruise companies to have ships dry-docked for service in the Bahamas rather than finance costly repositionings to the traditional shipyards of Europe.

The $600 million project at the Freeport shipyard includes the construction of two floating docks, one of which will have lift capacity enabling it to service virtually any size cruise vessel. Grand Bahama Shipyard will be able to host five cruise ships at the same time once the docks are delivered in 2025 and 2026.

Grand Bahama Shipyard
Grand Bahama Shipyard (Photo Credit: John Panella)

The shipyard’s proximity to Florida’s three major cruise ports, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Port Canaveral, makes it an ideal location for dry-docking ships home-ported in those destinations. Grand Bahama Shipyard currently handles up to about 100 dry docks each year, and that number will substantially grow after the expansion is complete.

Along with the two new docks, other improvements include various infrastructure projects that will begin later this year. The shipyard’s expansion will be a boon to the Bahamas economy, as it will create both temporary and permanent jobs for local people.

Carnival Corporation’s cruise brands include 90 ships, while Royal Caribbean Group’s brands operate 63 vessels.

More Cruise Headlines

Now that you’re up to date on the big cruise news stories of the week, we’ve got even more cruise coverage for you on Cruise Hive, including a new signature show planned for Disney Treasure, Azamara adding a series of Grand Voyages, Explora Journeys christening its first luxury cruise ship, P&O Cruises unveiling its 2025-26 winter sailing schedule, and Holland America Line offering incentives for 2024 cruise-tours in Alaska.

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