Royal Caribbean International has informed guests booked on a voyage onboard one of its ships of possible changes to itineraries, as well as onboard activities that could be impacted in the near future.
The letter comes in a week when several Royal Caribbean and other cruise ships have been denied entry to Caribbean ports of call due to increased COVID-19 caseloads onboard the vessels, new testing requirements, or even increased caseloads ashore.
Always the Possibility of Transmission Onboard
In a letter sent out to guests booked onboard a Royal Caribbean ship, the cruise line has given guests a heads-up of possible changes to itineraries and onboard activities. The letter starts by saying:
“With the increase in COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant, our public health guidance continues to evolve and we want to let you know what to expect as we prepare to welcome you onboard. As a result of Omicron, which we have seen is much more transmissible with much milder symptoms for those fully vaccinated, we have further strengthened onboard health protocols, such as the requirement to wear a mask indoors at all times unless eating or drinking, and temporarily not allowing smoking in the casino.”
While the onboard measures are one thing, the issue that most guests will have is that ports of call are being randomly dropped from itineraries. According to Royal, this is typically a joint decision by the cruise line and the port, based on caseloads onboard and ashore.
“When we make these decisions, we consider the number of COVID positive cases onboard, and also the number of cases in the destination community along with factors such as the community vaccination status. Should we need to cancel a port of call, we will always do our best to find an alternate destination or work through a resolution for our missed port.”
With increased caseloads onboard, the cruise line warns that Omicron could impact certain onboard activities as health measures are increased. We saw this last week when the mask mandate was updated, and smoking was banned in the casino:
“You should also note that some onboard activities, such as ice skating, rock climbing, laser tag, production shows, Adventure Ocean, etc., could be impacted during your sailing, as we adjust our plans to ensure that the health of both our guests and crew remains our priority.”
Royal Caribbean Protocols Can Deal With Cases
The events of the last week have made clear that transmission of COVID-19 onboard cruise ships is nearly impossible to counteract. Then again, the measures and protocols onboard ships were never designed to eradicate all cases, rather to find those cases as soon as possible, something the cruise lines are achieving in nearly all cases.
The cruise line has covered its bases with all crew members vaccinated, having received booster shots if possible, being tested every week for the back of house staff, and every three days for front of house staff. Additionally, 95% of guests are vaccinated, 100% are tested once or more before sailing, and nearly all cases onboard are asymptomatic or with light symptoms. Is there something to be worried about?
“Even with such a high onboard community vaccination rate and enhanced protocols in place, there is a possibility of positive cases arising during your sailing, just as there is an inherent risk of COVID-19 anywhere people congregate or gather. Our protocols anticipate this possibility and we implement them as needed to protect the health and safety of everyone.”
Until now, the cruise line has maintained that Omicron is a much less severe form of COVID-19. Whether or not this is true remains to be seen. What we do see, and something that has been left out of the letter, is the random testing requirements that multiple ports suddenly implemented in the last few days and how it intends to address this issue.
For now, the cruise line offers the possibility to reschedule a voyage for sailings departing through January 17, 2022, if guests prefer not to sail due to the information offered in the letter.