Royal Caribbean will base a cruise ship in California after a 10-year-long hiatus.
At a webinar on Wednesday, the line announced that recently refurbished Navigator of the Seas will homeport in Los Angeles, beginning next year, offering a series of Mexico sailings.
The voyages will vary in length, featuring three- and four-nighters with calls on Ensenada and Catalina Island; five-night cruises visiting Cabo San Lucas; and seven-night sailings with stops at Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas.
"We are going back to the West Coast," said Vicki Freed, Royal Caribbean's senior vice president of sales and trade support & service. "Los Angeles, here we come...."
This will be the first time the line has based a ship in the Golden State since Mariner of the Seas left Los Angeles back in 2011 due to violence in Mexico and dwindling profits.
Earlier this month, Royal Caribbean Blog speculated that the move was coming after spotting the ship listed on the Port of Los Angeles' website. Navigator of the Seas was also blatantly missing from Royal Caribbean's list of upcoming itinerary offerings.
Oddly, the port's website lists Navigator of the Seas' sailings beginning as early as September 2021, but Royal Caribbean has said they will run from summer 2022 through spring of 2023.
"California was calling us home once again, and what better way to reintroduce Royal Caribbean than to bring our next-level cruise vacations to the City of Angels and make it a year-round adventure starting just in time for summer," Michael Bayley, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean International, said in a statement.
The ship, which received $115 million in enhancements in 2019 as part of the Royal Amplified program, boasts a refreshed pool deck, featuring a tropical theme with three pools and two new water slides: Blaster, the longest at sea, which offers one- and two-person rafts; and Riptide, the only headfirst mat racing slide at sea, which includes a see-through section for added thrills.
The vessel has also seen the addition of Playmakers sports bar, complete with drinks, pub grub and plenty of TVs; the Lime & Coconut bar, which serves up signature cocktails and rises three decks, comprising lounge seating and a rooftop sun deck; and Hooked, an intimate New England-style raw bar seafood restaurant.
Hooked first debuted on Symphony of the Seas, and Navigator of the Seas is now the only other ship in the fleet on which it's located.
Bookings for Navigator of the Seas sailings, which will depart from Los Angeles' World Cruise Center in San Pedro, are scheduled to open at the end of March 2021.
Returning after a decade
Royal Caribbean's announcement that it will cruise from Los Angeles regularly after more than a decade is significant, as industry insiders have speculated about its West Coast return for years.
While other cruise lines returned, Royal Caribbean stayed away, claiming it was able to make more money elsewhere.
In 2015, Freed pointed out the low rates competitor cruise lines were getting. "We always look at the West Coast. But we continue to look at the rates that the other cruise lines are getting, and we offer an experience that we can't afford to be selling at those low rates.
"If and when we see the rates start to bounce back, and we feel we can get paid for what we offer for our product, then we’ll be back there. But right now, unfortunately, it's a bath out there. They're selling four-day cruises at $199 per person, and we’re not just talking Carnival.
"We spend more on food, more on entertainment and more on our overall onboard experience [than other lines], and so we cannot be the low-price leader out in any market."
The line also cited the logistical challenges of returning its ships to the West Coast, much of which had to do with the rise of cruise popularity in other areas of the world, such as Europe and China. Sending ships to those locations meant fewer ships to go to other ports. (The West Coast has always been a seasonal market for ships repositioning from other regions.)
This was the big announcement?
The day before Royal Caribbean revealed its plans to return to Los Angeles, Freed told travel agents to expect a big announcement, referring to it as "the news we've all been waiting for."
While cruises from the West Coast are significant, many readers were disappointed the news was not worthy of the hype preceding it.
Because several travel agents reported being told by Royal Caribbean that the big announcement was being delayed or canceled, we suspect that larger news was originally on the docket.
During a question and answer session, listeners specifically asked about test cruises, Alaska sailings and whether the line's restart date will be pushed back further.
Freed and her team said that there is currently no date set for test voyages, but the line continues to work with the CDC. There has been no change to indicate that Alaska cruises from Seattle will happen, but officials remain hopeful. As for the resumption of sailings from the U.S., the line maintains that it has no plans to push cancellations into June at this time.