Royal Caribbean International has closed bookings through early January. The goal? To reduce capacity as the nation — and the cruise industry — deals with an uptick in COVID cases.
“No Sailings Have Been Canceled”
It was readers of the Royal Caribbean Blog (which is not affiliated with the cruise line) who first noticed that certain sailings appeared to be closed for booking. By Wednesday evening, the line’s official Twitter feed — in responding to questions from a guest — confirmed the news and explained why.
Hi again! I got more info on this & wanted to update you. We did close bookings through early January to ensure guests who are already booked can enjoy even more space & peace of mind while onboard. No sailings or guests who currently hold reservations have been canceled. -Brit— Royal Caribbean (@RoyalCaribbean) December 22, 2021
“We did close bookings through early January,” tweeted a rep, “to ensure guests who are already booked can enjoy even more space and peace of mind while onboard.” The message went on to say that, “No sailings or guests who currently hold reservations have been canceled.”
While additional bookings for the sailings in question are closed, the line says that room changes and upgrades are still possible, based on availability.
Why This Is A Smart Move
When the cruise industry began sailing again after the extended shutdown, each line made it clear they were sailing at reduced capacity. But in the months since, as it has been proven that the newly-developed health and safety protocols were effective, lines have slowly been increasing the capacity at which they are sailing.
During a third-quarter earnings call, Royal Caribbean International CEO Michael Bayley reported that at least one ship, Freedom of the Seas, was sailing at approximately 85 percent capacity. And the plan at that time was to have all of the fleet’s ships at full capacity by the summer of 2022.
But that was before the recent increase in COVID cases in general and the Omicron variant in particular. This week, 55 passengers and crew members aboard Odyssey of the Seas tested positive despite being vaccinated. This came on the heels of 48 people testing positive aboard Symphony of the Seas.
Other cruise lines have also experienced outbreaks in recent weeks, including Norwegian Cruise Line’s Breakaway. In fact, a look at the color-coded chart the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention uses to track COVID cases shows that more than two dozen ships are currently listed with a Yellow status. According to the agency, this means that “the ship has met the threshold for CDC investigation.”
Across the cruise industry, health and safety protocols are being tightened. Several lines have banned smoking in casinos, and most have become more stringent regarding mask wearing while guests are indoors.
What remains to be seen is whether other cruise lines might follow in Royal Caribbean’s footsteps and decrease capacity in order to allow for more social distancing and, presumably, reducing the risk of outbreaks spreading.