It’s a busy time for Royal Caribbean as the cruise line suspended bookings for cruises departing through mid-January 2022. The cruise line did this in response to the COVID-19 Omicron variant. At the same time, CEO Michael Bayley posted an update.
Despite that he believes Omicron could very well be the end of COVID-19, the cruise line will be lowering capacity onboard its ships. This comes after Odyssey of the Seas, and Symphony of the Seas came in the news this week, both with approximately 50 cases onboard. Yet, as Michael Bayley explains, that needs to be taken into context.
Over the last weeks, Royal Caribbean has been seeing increased positivity rates on the 21 cruise ships back in operation. The cruise line is sailing with 50,000 to 60,000 guests each week and a 70-80% capacity across its fleet.
This week, Symphony of the Seas was in the news as it reported 48 positive cases, mostly guests, accounting for less than 1% of the total number of persons on board. Odyssey of the Seas was the next in line to hit the spotlight after it reported 55 positive cases, mainly crew members, also approximately 1% of the 5,000 total people on board. While that may seem like a lot, it is still significantly less than a state such as Florida with 5%.
Michael Bayley: “We are seeing increases in positivity rates with some ships currently close to 1 per cent (please note Florida positivity rate is 5 percent which is pretty good relative to others). It really does seem as though the virus (if vaccinated) has morphed to something more like a mild cold !”
Is There a Cause for Concern?
While the caseloads might be minimal, and infections seem to be asymptomatic or minimal, the cruise line did make the choice of limiting the capacity for cruises from mid-January onwards.
According to a statement provided to Cruise Hive from Royal Caribbean: “Cruises departing through early January 2022 are unavailable to new reservations because our ships will continue sailing with a limited capacity to accommodate physical distancing. These sailings were removed from our website as we’ve done with previous cruises in 2021.”
For now, it seems to be a case of better safe than sorry. Then again, recently, some ports in the Caribbean have denied entry to Royal Caribbean ships. However, according to Bayley, these are isolated cases and not something that is causing too much concern for the cruise line.
“As all this continues we see various destinations responding to their concern over the new variant which has resulted in isolated cases of ports closing temporarily for cruise access if either the destination or the ship has elevated positivity rates.”
Bayley seems to have a point. Cruise ships have extreme measures to stop or limit the spread of COVID-19 onboard. The fact that Royal Caribbean manages to catch most cases while asymptomatic or with only minimal symptoms speaks for itself:
“With a typical sailing having anywhere from 95 to 98 percent fully vaccinated onboard population and all guests tested before boarding and all crew tested weekly with front of house staff now being tested every 3 days and everyone wearing masks the vast majority of the time, along with social distancing, sanitizing etc we now have a “positivity” rate way below the national rate and way below our big home port states such as Florida, California, Texas etc.”
So is there cause for concern? Omicron is already impacting cruises, and as several countries implement lockdowns and widespread restrictions, we can expect to see more ships being impacted. However, it is likely not enough to have implications for cruises to take place.
The Cruise Industry Faces Challenges with Confidence
As it stands, cruising has proven to be safe and fun. Yes, there are still obstacles in the way, but as Bayley says, it could be the beginning of the end:
“So my hope is this really is the beginning of the end of this virus and what we are seeing is its morphing to fast spread and less harmful like the common cold ! (If vaccinated). So here is hope as we move into year 3 of this terrible period that 2022 will be the end of this all and life will return to a happy normal where we worry about stuff like kids schooling, car problems, bills and wot not ! So to all of our Guests, Crew, Employees, Travel and Destination partners I wish you Happy Holidays and Merry Xmas and a happy, healthy New Year to you and your families.”
For now, the cruise industry is sailing with more ships than it has done since March last year, guest satisfaction is high across the industry, and more ships are starting operations each month. As we move towards the new year, the hope is that we can finally say everything is back to normal in 2022.