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Empty cruise ship is sailing without passengers and it's a more relaxed atmosphere for crew members

06 May 2024
Matt Hochberg

What's it like when a cruise ship sails without any passengers onboard?

No passengers on Mariner of the Seas

It's quite rare for a cruise ship not to be full with paying passengers to enjoy all the fun activities, restaurants, and ways to relax. The cruise industry is quite profitable, but it requires its ships to sail with every cabin sold in order to generate revenue from the cruise fare, but also the lucrative add-ons guests inevitably purchase.

For the last few days, Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas has been on her way from Port Canaveral, Florida to Galveston, Texas without a single passenger onboard, and that is quite rare.

The ship is in the process of transitioning from one homeport to another, and the Cruise Director has been sharing bits and pieces of what it's like.

Cruise Director Marc Walker

Marc Walker is a legend among cruisers, for having been a well-known and well-liked Cruise Director.  The Cruise Director's job is to ensure guests are having a great time by orchestrating entertainment from morning to night, every day of the cruise.

The ship's entertainment includes live musicians, dance parties, trivia, competitions, and activities.  The Cruise Director is even responsible for the ship's Adventure Ocean youth programming, more commonly referred to as "kids camp".

Even though there are no passengers onboard, crew members are still working onboard, albeit in a different atmosphere.

A laid back approach to work

Mariner of the Seas Royal Promenade

On Mr. Walker's Facebook page, he's been sharing photos of glimpses of what's happening on Mariner during this usual sailing.

The cruise began like all Royal Caribbean sailings, a buffet lunch.

Windjammer buffet
Photo by Marc Walker

Even though there were no passengers onboard, the ship's buffet that is usually for passengers was opened up to crew members.

"The crew for the next 4 days will experience the Windjammer Marketplace for breakfast, lunch and dinner! We have an amazing F&B team here," Mr. Walker posted.

Captain Tor
Photo by Marc Walker

In fact, the ship's Captain even joined in by serving his fellow crew members.

Crew members
Photo by Marc Walker

Later, his entire staff got to pose for a photo on the helipad, which is a rare opportunity for everyone working under the Cruise Director to gather in one spot.

This included:

  • Theater Cast
  • Ice Cast
  • Adventure Ocean
  • Activity Staff
  • Technicians
  • Stage Staff
  • Musicians
  • Sports Staff
  • Senior Staff 

One policy that changed for crew members on this sailing without guests is that uniforms aren't necessary.

Mr. Walker posed in a t-shirt for one photo.

Marc Walker
Photo by Marc Walker

Work is still happening on Mariner. After all, it needs to be ready for passengers when it arrives in Galveston.

The non-revenue sailing means not only do crew members not have to wear their uniforms, but they can address areas that might be difficult to get to ordinarily.

Workers on elevator
Photo by Marc Walker

Mr. Walker shared a look at one of his meetings, where the crew went through their routine, but in casual clothing.

Meeting of crew members
Photo by Marc Walker

Mr. Walker did not document everything that's different about life on a cruise ship without passengers. It's merely a glimpse of his work.

Over the years, other ships have done similar activities and we've seen guest areas opened up to crew members as a way to reward them.

Photo by Lera Synchro

There were auctions for being able to stay in a passenger cabin, enjoy guest activities, and crew member parties.

Why are there no passengers onboard

Mariner of the Seas sailing away

You might be wondering why Royal Caribbean doesn't have any paying passengers on this particular sailing.  After all, there's probably some people who would want to pay to take a one-way cruise to Texas.

The cruise line hasn't said why, but the answer is likely based in maritime law.

Royal Caribbean wants to shift where Mariner of the Seas homeports, from Port Canaveral to Galveston. Changing homeports is common within the cruise industry, because the needs one cruise market can change.

Mariner of the Seas pool deck

This game of "cruise ship musical chairs" isn't instant, and it takes a few days for a ship to get from one homeport to another.  In the meantime, that means no cruises from either homeport.  Moreover, if they had paying passengers on the open-jaw sailing, it would take even longer to get from Florida to Texas, because the ship would need to make port stops along the way.

So why can't the ship just sail from Port Canaveral to Galveston with no stops, so that it can transition to its new home and make some money along the way? It's against United States maritime law.

All of Royal Caribbean's cruise ships are flagged in a foreign country, including Mariner of the Seas. 

The Passenger Vessel Service Act (PVSA) of 1886 requires foreign flagged cruise ships to call on a foreign port if sailing a closed-loop cruise form the United States.

This means, cruise ships cannot sail from Port Canaveral to Galveston without visiting a port of call outside the United States.

The justification for both the PVSA is to protect the U.S. Merchant Marine (the licensed (officers) and documented (trades) personnel on the ships) and to protect U.S. shipyards that both build and repair the ships.

Frankly, my opinion is it's an outdated and protectionist law, but it's the law of the land.

Since there's no passengers onboard, the PVSA regulations do not count.

Matt started Royal Caribbean Blog in 2010 as a place to share his passion for all things Royal Caribbean with readers. He oversees all the writers at Royal Caribbean Blog, and writes a great deal of content on a daily basis.  He has become one of the foremost expert on a Royal Caribbean cruise.

Over the years, he has reached Pinnacle Club status with Royal Caribbean's customer loyalty program.

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