One sailing of Independence of the Seas has been cancelled due to Covid-19.
Guests sailing on the January 22, 2022 2-night cruise were informed today about the cancellation.
In the email, Royal Caribbean says the cruise was cancelled, "as a result of ongoing Covid-related circumstances."
If you're wondering why one two-night cruise was cancelled, it may have to do with two chartered sailings that were scheduled to sail before and after it.
An 8-night charter cruise on Independence of the Seas was supposed to set sail on January 22 was cancelled as well.
The January 14 sailing of Independence of the Seas had been a chartered 8-night sailing, known as "The Super Cruise XIV", put on by Capital Jazz.
On the charter website, the group said their charter was cancelled on January 7, "The supercruise program scheduled for January 14-22, 2022 has been canceled due to the recently issued CDC level 4 alert for cruise ships."
It also appears the January 24 cruise was a charter that was cancelled. This was the K-Love charter cruise, scheduled for January 24 - 29, 2022.
According to the K-Love website, it was cancelled due to Covid concerns, "Unfortunately, the current health and wellness challenges make it impossible to deliver the K-LOVE Cruise experience at this time."
In the case of both charters, it appears the group organizing the cruises cancelled the sailing.
Independence is the latest cruise ship to be cancelled due to Covid-19.
Crew members that test positive for Covid-19 are isolated and quarantined.
If a cruise ship has too many crew members that test positive, the cruise line pulls the ship out of service so that it can give the crew time to recuperate before restarting cruises again.
All cruise lines are working around the issues caused by Covid, as the Omicron surge has seen cases rise everywhere. Almost 900,000 people testes positive for Covid-19 in the United States on Thursday, which is almost 10 times the amount that tested positive a few weeks ago.
Unlike land-based businesses that have barely any health protocols, cruise lines have the most stringent and most scrutinized industry of all, reporting directly to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with their testing protocols and numbers.
Royal Caribbean, and other lines, require mask wearing, pre-cruise tests, and social distancing. All crew members are fully vaccinated, and all passengers 12 years old and older are required to be fully vaccinated.
Will my cruise be cancelled?
Royal Caribbean intends to sail as many of its ships as possible going forward, so you should plan on your booked cruise to happen until something changes.
Covid-19 is impacting all businesses in a way that it can wreak havoc on having proper staffing levels.
The bottom line is any scheduled cruises you have scheduled now are still planned to happen.
In a press conference today, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, Chairman of the Council for Norwegian Cruise Line’s SailSafe program, & Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings President and CEO Frank Del Rio, provided an update and answered questions from travel agents relating to Omicron and the future of cruising.
This briefing comes just days before the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) expires on January 15. With this new phase, cruise lines will move from mandatory to voluntary protocols.
Noting the success of the cruise lines, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky expressed her approval of cruise ship performance under the CSO, saying "the industry has stepped up".
In a decidedly optimistic tone, Dr. Gottlieb, who is also co-chair of Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line’s joint Healthy Sail Panel, discussed a number of cruising topics especially as it relates to the spring and summer season. Here are some of the key points from the discussion.
Why is the cruise industry being singled out?
An important part of the discussion today related to why the cruise industry is being held to a higher standard than other recreational activities such as theme parks, hotels or airlines.
Dr. Gottlieb noted that cruising, unlike many other leisure activities, has testing, protocols and vaccinations requirements. It is a tightly controlled environment. When you go to a hotel or restaurant, there is no way to measure risk.
The cruise industry is the only one that has rigorous testing and reporting for Covid. Consequently, the media and some politicians grab hold of this, sensationalizing the issue. The companies’ commitment to health and safety has paradoxically provided the data and information to create fear in some cruisers' minds.
When will Omicron Peak?
Dr. Gottlieb expressed his opinion that Omicron is currently peaking, especially on the East coast and more specifically, in some areas like New York, which may already be starting their decline.
There are some regions of the country, such as the Midwest and Southwest that are a little farther behind in terms of their curve and will peak in another 2-3 weeks.
This latest wave was very quick to spread and should have a similarly rapid pace in decline, which would be good news for consumer confidence and the cruise industry.
Omicron’s Decline and Other Variants
“Pandemics don’t last forever” Dr. Gottlieb noted. And, while it is hard to predict the future, he said that the broad consensus among experts is that this is the last major wave of infection.
With a combination of immunity from previous infections, effective vaccines, boosters, added to a growing number of therapeutics being produced, the future looks much better. Additionally, scientists are working on variant specific boosters that will help to restore protection against infection and transmission.
Looking to spring, Dr. Gottlieb feels like the numbers will decline significantly. And at this point, if we see another variant, it should not be serious like Omicron.
What will Covid will look like in the future?
As we look further out, Coronavirus will become endemic, perhaps by fall, and will begin to act more like the seasonal flu showing up in late winter. In fact, it should be less virulent than the flu, as it will mutate less.
Continued improvements in medicines and greater immunity will mean that the virus will have less of an impact over the long term.
Foretelling the end, Dr. Gottlieb says it won’t end in a “giant bang, but rather a whimper”.
It is safe to travel this summer?
As part of the discussion, Mr. Del Rio inquired about cruising this summer to Alaska and Europe, adding that travel agents have been getting a lot of inquiries about these destinations. Dr. Gottlieb is confident about cruising this summer, and he is planning a cruise, along with his young children.
In terms of sailings, a yes to Europe, especially Western Europe as they have been following a similar pattern to the United States in this last wave. The numbers should be much lower by summer, as should be the case in Alaska.
There are a few areas of concern though. He is more cautious as it relates to regions with less immunity, either through lower spread or less effective vaccines. He cited possible concerns with developing nations who have not had the same access to vaccines, as well as China, which has had far less infection outside of the area of Wuhan.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the manner for cruise lines to transition away from the Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) once it expires.
The CDC promised its CSO will move to a voluntary program when it expires on January 15, 2022. When it does, cruise lines can continue being part of the program if they so choose.
As reported first by Seatrade Cruise News, by volunteering to be a part of the program, cruise lines will follow all the CDC recommendations and guidance, and cruise ships will continue to receive a color status from the CDC.
Cruise lines that do not opt-in will have their color status to gray on the CDC website, which means the agency has neither reviewed nor confirmed their health and safety protocols. These gray-color coded ships will be subject to other CDC orders and regulations to the same extent as other vessels subject to US jurisdiction.
The CDC is asking cruise lines to opt in by January 21, 2022.
Changes to the voluntary program
Under the voluntary program, the CDC is relaxing certain aspects of its monitoring.
The threshold for CDC investigation will go from 0.1% passenger cases or one or more crew cases to 0.3% of passengers and/or crew. The definition of yellow, orange, and red status will be updated to reflect the higher threshold.
The CDC will also eliminate the need to conduct test cruises (simulated voyages), along with the conditional sailing certificate application process.
Other changes the CDC has made include:
Testing requirements will continue, and ships with at least 95% of fully vaccinated crew and passengers may continue to reduce or eliminate certain public health measures onboard, such as mask use and physical distancing.
Self-service beverage stations will continue to be allowed regardless of onboard vaccination status
Self-service food operations will begin to be allowed
Negative air pressure for quarantine cabins will not be required — these cabins must still be in a separate HVAC zone.
Isolation cabins must still have negative air pressure.
Port agreements between US port and local health authorities will still be needed.
CDC will continue to conduct routine unannounced inspections and announced outbreak investigations.
Seatrade reports the CDC will update their website on January 14 with the new program details.
The CDC will still require cruise ships to wear masks onboard ships, regardless of if the lines opt-into the voluntary program or not.
CDC Director: 'the industry has stepped up'
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told Congress yesterday she was pleased with what the cruise lines are doing under the CSO.
"I think the Conditional Sailing Order and the fact that the industry has stepped up and is now interested in doing and exceeding... the the compliance with the sail order without the order even necessarily needing to be in place, as is a real testimony to how well that has worked and how we've worked collaboratively with the industry."
Moreover, Dr. Walensky believes cruise lines will opt-into this voluntary program, "the cruise ship industries will continue to understand that this is a really safe practice for those industries."
Cruise industry reaction
Following the CDC's announcement, here is the official statement by the the Cruise Line Industry Association (CLIA):
Today’s announcement by the CDC regarding the planned transition of the Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) to a voluntary program recognizes the cruise industry’s unwavering commitment to providing some of the highest levels of COVID-19 mitigation found in any industry. Cruise is the only segment of travel and tourism that requires, prior to embarkation for both passengers and crew, exceedingly high levels of vaccination (approaching 100% compared to only 63% of the U.S. population) and 100% testing of every individual (21 times the rate of the U.S. on land).
When cases are identified as a result of the high-frequency of testing onboard, cruise ship protocols help to maximize onboard containment with rapid response procedures designed to safeguard all other guests and crew as well as the communities that the ships visit.
Further, cruise is the only sector that continuously monitors, collects, and reports case information directly to the CDC.
Given this oversight and the uniquely high vaccination rate required on board, the incidence of serious illness is dramatically lower than on land, and hospitalizations have been extraordinarily rare even during a time landside hospitalizations are peaking. CLIA ocean-going cruise line members will continue to be guided by the science and the principle of putting people first, with proven measures that are adapted as conditions warrant to protect the health of cruise passengers, crewmembers, and destinations.
It looks like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will follow through on its promise to allow the Conditional Sailing Order to expire next week.
At a U.S. Senate Hearing on Tuesday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told Congress the Covid-19 regulations will move from mandatory to voluntary on January 15.
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) asked the Dr. Walensky what the cruise industry can expect, citing the enormous lengths they have gone to in order to adhere to Covid-19 protocols.
Senator Murkowski wanted "assurance" that the CDC recognizes the work cruise lines have done to protect passengers, crew members, and the communities their ships visit, is what is necessary to allow the Conditional Sail Order to expire, "I understand the conditional sail order is is set to expire in a few days in recognition that the companies have practices that adhere to or even exceed the guidance in the order."
"I'd like some assurance from you that that they can count on that, that this is clear guidance and messaging to those within the industries and to those who are counting on being able to to have a season this coming summer."
Dr. Walensky confirmed the CSO will not be renewed, "We anticipate that this order will not be renewed and that the cruise ship industries will continue to understand that this is a really safe practice for those industries."
Dr. Walensky pointed out how impressive the cruise lines have been with their dedication to these protocols, "I think the Conditional Sailing Order and the fact that the industry has stepped up and is now interested in doing and exceeding, as you know, the the compliance with the sail order without the order even necessarily needing to be in place, as is a real testimony to how well that has worked and how we've worked collaboratively with the industry."
Senator Murkwoski wanted some insight into the summer, since it greatly affects Alaska cruises. Dr. Walensky was not ready to make any predictions about what to expect in five to six months from now.
Walensky: "What I can't predict is what the summer will bring."
Murkowski: "I understand that, but for right now, you expect this guidance to stay in place."
Walensky: "That's my anticipation."
The Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) began as the No Sail order in March 2020, when the entire cruise industry shutdown due to Covid-19.
Since then, the CDC and cruise lines worked together to craft new health protocols that would keep everyone onboard safe from spreading the disease unchecked.
All the cruise lines operating from the United States have since adopted this framework so that they can safely operate during the pandemic.
The CSO was extended on October 25, 2021 with the understanding it would expire on January 15. Cruise lines had said they intend to follow the CSO regardless of if it's required or not.
Since then, the Omicron variant shot up Covid numbers around the world, including cruise ships. There was concern that Omicron would change the CDC's minds.
Dr. Walensky pointed out the up tick in cases, "just over the last two weeks with Omicron, we've seen a 30 fold increase in cases on ships during this season because of Omicron."
Senator Murkowski pointed out the work cruise lines have put in over the last two years, "in fairness, the industry itself has undertaken extraordinary precautions as one industry, to make sure that people are protected from from this virus."
When the CSO ends on January 15th, it will transition to a voluntary program where the CDC will continue to oversee the industry as it always has in the past.
What does this mean for cruise ships?
The CSO transitioning to a recommendation may or may result in any noticeable changes in the short term.
Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines have already committed to follow the CSO regardless of if it's required or not. Cruise lines first indicated they would follow the CSO following Florida's legal victory against the CDC in summer 2021.
Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley said in July 2021, "We will continue to voluntarily follow all CDC guidelines and recommendations."
Some cruise fans were hoping the end of the CSO would mean a relaxing of certain health protocols, but there's been indication yet that is going to happen. Certainly not while the Omicron variant is driving up case counts and capturing the attention of the world.
Showing its dedication to assisting crew members, one of the Royal Caribbean cruise ships that was taken out of service will be used to house crew members from other ships that have tested positive for Covid-19.
Almost since the onset of the Omicron variant, Royal Caribbean has done its best to care for crew members that are sick.
Unlike land-based companies that just send their workers home with little to no support, Royal Caribbean has taken the extraordinary step of taking two of its ships out of service to serve as Covid wards, where these crew members can rest and get the care they need in order to be healthy and return to work.
Serenade of the Seas is one of three ships operating in this role, alongside Rhapsody of the Seas and Vision of the Seas.
Assisting crew members across the fleet
A Royal Caribbean crew member, Martina, talked about Serenade's new role in a YouTube video she posted shortly after Serenade of the Seas stopped sailing with passengers.
"In order to relieve the pressures of the amount of Covid cases around the fleet, Serenade will perform a supporting role," Martina explained.
"We will be what they call a quarantine or a hospital ship for Royal Caribbean crew members that are Covid positive."
She said they would accept the non-serious cases among crew members, "They will be embarked on the Serenade of the Seas in order to get better, be well taken care off, be able to recuperate in a healthy and more isolated environment without putting pressure on the other ships still trying to sail."
Why move crew members off the ship? A Royal Caribbean spokesperson recently said the idea is to keep crew healthy crew members away from the sick ones, while simultaneously caring for all of them.
According to Royal Caribbean, transferred crew members, who are all fully vaccinated, are in isolation and are being monitored by an onboard medical team. After each crew member completes their 10-day quarantine, they return to their assigned ships.
Besides helping the crew, having less crew members on operational vessels means a better chance of cruise ships not being denied entry into a port of call due to exceeding the threshold of people onboard with Covid-19.
Martina sees this as an opportunity, and not bad news, "I don't see it as bad news. I see it as a role that I'm proud that the Serenade can take, because as you can see, it doesn't mean that cruises are stopping, not at all. We're just using our resources, I think, in a smarter way."
Why was Serenade picked to help?
Martina thinks perhaps the reason Serenade of the Seas had her cruises cancelled is because the timing works well for an upcoming refurbishment.
Serenade of the Seas is scheduled in a few months to take a break from cruises in order to undergo a multi-week refurbishment. These refurbishments typically occur once every few years, and is a front to back maintenance visit to a shipyard.
Martina speculates that since Serenade had to leave the fleet anyway, taking her out of service a little earlier made more sense, "Since this date was coming up so soon and we were anyways just eight cruises away to stopping operations regardless for the dry dock, we're just pausing before."
Martina also points out that since Serenade started up in Alaska last summer, a lot of crew member contracts were about to expire around this time.
People that cruise a lot have been the steady base for the cruise industry throughout Covid-19, and some are going over and over again because of how much they are enjoying it.
Greg Brockman lives in Iowa, but is sailing on his fourth Freedom of the Seas cruise in a row, with number five coming up next weekend.
What's it like to go on consecutive cruises during the height of the Omicron wave, and has anything changed in his approach to being on a cruise? Given that Greg is one of thousands of loyal cruise passengers that loves being on a ship, his thoughts on getting onboard today seem intriguing to consider.
From his stateroom on his Royal Caribbean ship, Greg talked about what it's like to stay onboard a cruise ship right now.
Booking five cruises in a row
Even before the pandemic, booking more than one cruise at a time may have seemed eccentric to someone that has not been on a cruise. In today's hyper focused media attention of cruise ships, the decision to sail over and over again can do more than raise an eyebrow.
Greg is sailing on Freedom of the Seas from Miami for a total of 17 nights starting December 31 to January 17.
He first booked cruises only in January, but decided to add more, "As time went on, I was able to add the three night on to the end extending my time until the 17th. Then, in November when there were many price drops, I added the New Year’s Eve sailing ."
What's the atmosphere on the ship right now?
What does it feel like to be on a cruise ship, and what are passengers and crew members saying?
Greg says he's seeing people having fun, "For the most part, the general vibe on board the ship is that of relaxation and enjoying the cruise."
Greg thinks the key to a fun cruise despite all the changes recently is having the right view, "From what I have seen, the passengers having the best time on each of the sailings have been those coming on board who are happy with any perks or benefits they receive but they are not coming on board expecting to be waited on every moment of the day."
"The frustrations tend to happen when people come on board with expectations of everything being just like it was two years ago and being disappointed and frustrated."
Greg was impressed by how upbeat the crew members are given that they are short staffed, "The crew all seem to be maintaining a very positive and energetic outgoing attitude."
"You can tell some of them are very exhausted working longer shifts and covering for other crewmembers who have tested positive and are no longer on board."
"But they are always smiles and happy to see you when you pass by."
Speaking of the crew, I wanted to know more about how the crew members are doing, and he indicated a lot of the senior officers seem to be stepping in to help out, "They all are maintaining excitement, enthusiasm and passion for what they do."
"Ivan, the Food and Beverage manager, oversees the largest department on board the ship and has been hit the hardest with crew members testing positive. I frequently see him all over the ship chipping in and picking up duties whenever some thing is needed."
Greg was impressed by how Freedom's Guest Services manager, Dolly, took extra care of his experience, "She just spoke with me last night knowing that I was a consecutive cruiser and staying in the same cabin for multiple cruises. She asked if I would be interested in a complementary cabin upgrade for the next sailing but wasn’t sure if I would be interested in moving multiple times between each sailing."
"This is something I absolutely did not expect but was very appreciative of. Just one more way the crew is trying to go above and beyond whenever they can with the resources available."
How does the back-to-back process work?
Given all the protocol changes onboard, what changes have been made to going on more than one cruise in a row?
All of the consecutive cruisers have an antigen test done on the day prior to debarkation, which is complimentary.
On the morning the test is scheduled, consecutive cruisers meet around 7:30 am and wait in the Star Lounge until the negative test result has been received. At that point, they are allowed to leave the lounge and go on with your day.
On the turnaround day, everyone again meets in the Star Lounge at 9:30 AM waiting for all other passengers to disembark. At that point the cruisers are escorted through the security checkpoint to officially depart the ship and proceed into the cruise terminal.
The passengers then complete the facial recognition process (required by U.S. Customs and Border Protection) and then get back in line to re-board the ship.
Greg said extra Royal Caribbean delayed the back-to-back cruisers from returning immediately in order to conduct sanitization, "On the last two sailings, the ship did additional cleaning and sanitizing and we were asked to wait in the terminal about 20 minutes before we were allowed to proceed back on board the ship."
Across Greg's four sailings, he's had a good chance to look at trends among passengers, including how many are on each sailing.
According to Greg, there have been less passengers on each cruise since the New Year's Eve holiday sailing.
"Passenger count has been decreasing on each of the sailings since New Year’s Eve. The December 31 sailing had approximately 2000 passengers on board, this was down from the 2400 they initially expected."
"The next sailing was expecting around 2100 passengers and ended up with 1850 actually boarding. The third sailing was expecting 1800 passengers and ended up sailing with about 1450. We are expecting 1800 for the current sailing."
Freedom of the Seas has a capacity of just under 4400 passengers.
It's also worth noting January is also a traditionally slow month for cruises, since the holidays are over and school is back in session. Plus, many people just took a vacation at the end of December.
On December 30, Royal Caribbean Group told investors the company "experienced a decline in bookings and increased cancellations for near-term sailings but to a lesser degree than that experienced with the Delta variant. "
Load factors for sailings in the first half of 2022 remain below historical levels, as expected.
Advice for anyone going on a cruise ship right now
I asked Greg what advice would he give someone going on a cruise today while the Omicron variant is on the top of everyone's mind.
His primary suggestion was for everyone to pack patience, "be prepared to be flexible, and do not board with expectations of benefits or perks because of past cruises."
"Follow the rules and don’t argue with the messenger. They are following their instructions. Just know the crew is doing everything they can to ensure you're having an amazing vacation and a safe and healthy environment for you, your family and their family (fellow crew members)."
"I absolutely feel safer onboard a Royal Caribbean ship that almost anywhere right now. "
I should be on a cruise heading towards Mexico right now. I’d probably be sipping a drink on the pool deck watching the gorgeous sunset on the sea.
But fate had other plans for me and I had to cancel my cruise because I caught Covid before my cruise began.
I was scheduled to sail on the Brilliance of the Seas on January 8 for a 5 night sailing to Mexico. I snagged a super cheap cabin last month. My bags were packed and I was ready to go.
‘Tis the Season
I was happy to spend my Christmas back home in South Dakota with my family. My husband is deployed and this cruise was giving me something exciting to look forward to, which I was desperately needing after my husband deployed. My dad was nice enough to fly down to me in Florida to help me drive 20 hours back with our pups.
I couldn't watch TV or look at my phone without seeing news about rising Covid cases and the new Omicron variant. However, after 2 years of not catching Covid, I was starting to feel kind of invincible.
I went to multiple weddings, bachelorette parties, concerts and music festivals last year. My husband and I traveled to Ireland in October and we cruised to Alaska over the summer. With a combination of vaccines, some precautions and a little luck, we had avoided getting Covid throughout the entire pandemic.
With cases in the Midwest remaining fairly low, I felt pretty safe with our holiday gatherings. Almost everyone in our family was vaccinated and most had received their booster. I still wanted to lay low and avoid unnecessarily risk leading up to our cruise, just to be extra safe.
Cruises in the Media
With the rising cases of Covid across the US, I read many stories of vaccinated people getting Covid. The media started blowing up with stories about cruises getting denied in ports, returning early and sailings getting canceled.
Some family members asked if my sister and I were still planning to cruise. We both agreed that we were comfortable cruising. With vaccine requirements and health protocols, we agreed that being on a cruise is not more dangerous than living our normal lives.
We reviewed Royal Caribbean’s current cruise protocols and felt that the cruise line was doing everything they could to mitigate the spread of the virus. They also had great policies and procedures in place if you test positive onboard.
I made lots of cruise and travel plans over the next few months to keep myself busy while my husband is deployed. At this point, I was more worried about testing positive unexpectedly during my travels than I was about getting super sick.
Just a cold?
The holidays come and go - we’ve been busy with dinners, brunches and even a pretend royal tea party with my cousin’s three little girls.
My mom tells us one morning that she has a stuffy nose and scratchy throat. After a few days though, she is quickly on the mend; so that truly didn’t seem to be more than a cold.
Shortly after New Year's Eve, my sister wakes up with a mild sore throat. This isn’t surprising, as my cousin’s kids are always sick with colds because they’re little. My sister takes a rapid test at home before we see my grandparents for brunch.
Her test comes back clearly negative, so it must just be a cold.
A few days later, I woke up feeling more tired than normal. I hadn’t slept well so I figured that was why. I napped over my lunch break and went to bed early.
The next morning I woke up feeling a tad stuffy with some light congestion. I have allergies, so this isn’t unusual. Being tired for me isn’t unusual either, as I never sleep that great - and the holidays were exhausting.
My sister tested negative so I figured if anything, I had what she had. We’d been sharing some food and drinks before she got her cold.
It’s Tuesday morning. We planned to leave on Thursday to start making our way to Tampa from the Midwest. Our upcoming trek involved a quick visit with friends before flying down to the sunshine state and boarding our ship.
Around 2pm, I started to feel a tad achy in my legs and lower back. It was nothing major, but I have become hyper aware of any symptoms at this point.
I started to get conflicting thoughts about whether I should take a home test or not.
My Internal Conflict
I’ve tested myself for Covid numerous times over the last year. Some of these tests were needed for travel; other tests were ones that I did at home when I didn’t feel well.
I thought back to all the other home tests that I’ve done last year. Honestly, I felt way more sick every other time I took a home test than I did today with these very mild aches. My nose wasn’t even stuffy this time.
I started to feel conflicted.
Was I being overactive? Should I waste a home test that I diligently searched around town trying to find? My sister didn’t have Covid, so why would I have it?
If it was Covid, that meant I couldn’t go on the cruise. Royal Caribbean’s policy is currently that you can’t board any of their ships if you’ve tested positive in the last 14 days.
Part of me just wanted to wait until Thursday when we would start our trip. I would probably feel better by then anyway. I work from home so I could easily lay low and get rest.
Honestly, I was scared to get confirmation of what I feared.
My legs were unusually sore. It’s been blistering cold in the Midwest so it certainly isn’t from being active outside or taking the dogs on their 5-minute walk around the block. I had influenza a few years back, and my legs had a similar achy sensation (although this was much more mild).
I started to think about the worst case scenario. If it was positive, at least I have a few days to cancel everything. I am at my parent’s home where it’s comfortable to be isolated.
I also knew in my heart that it would be best to find out now rather than hope whatever I had would run through me before on the cruise. I didn’t want to risk spreading anything to friends or family. It would be better to find out now at home than potentially find out on the cruise ship.
Home Test Results
Before taking the dogs for a brisk walk, I took out one of my home tests. Luckily, I had stocked up before Christmas in anticipation of the spike in cases.
I swabbed my nose as instructed and also swabbed my throat since that’s where my congestion was.
Every time I’ve hyped up myself that I probably had Covid, the tests always came back negative. I dropped my sample into a rapid test and ran downstairs to change before taking the dogs out.
In the midst of getting the pups ready to go, I glimpse over at the test on the counter. My mom jokes to me that I am not even sick, so why would I take the test?
I looked down to see 2 red lines on the rapid test.
I literally gasped. My heart sank.
It was positive.
I had a flurry of emotions. First I am surprised, as I really didn’t feel that sick. Then again, I guess I am not super surprised, the case rates around the US are rising like crazy. My mind is all over.
Even though I may feel fine now, my symptoms might worsen. I have no idea how long I’ve actually been sick.
I quickly realized there was no way we could cruise. Royal Caribbean’s Covid policy is clear: If you test positive within 2 weeks of your cruise, you aren’t able to sail.
I told my sister to take another rapid test, as I am sure she will test positive too. She takes another test and it comes up negative, again! I had her take a second one; that also comes back negative.
This was very confusing, as she had more respiratory, classic Covid symptoms than I did. Regardless, we wouldn’t be cruising with my positive test.
Luckily, canceling the cruise was very easy. I alerted our travel agent of the unfortunate news. She asks if I prefer a refund or cruise credit. Since this is Covid related, and per Royal Caribbean’s Cruising with Confidence program, we are eligible for a full refund so I opt for that.
The Right Choice
Obviously, it was a huge bummer that we caught Covid and couldn’t go on the cruise. In the end, it was the right choice to take the home test when I started to question if I was showing Covid symptoms.
In the grand scheme of life, we are lucky to have very mild cases, which I am confident is because we’ve had our vaccines and boosters.
My sister’s symptoms have lingered a bit longer than mine. Today, the day we should have been boarding our ship, she tested positive for Covid as well. I am feeling almost 100% today, although I was fatigued most of the week.
But, it was better to be safe and proactive than sorry. Testing positive at home is much more comfortable and easy than having Covid while traveling.
While Royal Caribbean has been able to get most of its cruise ships back into service, it has had to cancel a few sailings due to Covid-19.
The good news is the cruise industry is still able to sail and operate its ships with arguably the most comprehensive health protocols of any private business. However, canceled cruises are still happening in select cases.
In order to keep you up to date with which ships and dates have been canceled, here is a list of the Royal Caribbean cancellations in 2022.
Keep in mind things change a lot, and this list will be updated as quickly as possible.
Cancelled cruises in 2022
Here is a list of the cancelled cruises by Royal Caribbean so far.
On January 14, 2022, Royal Caribbean cancelled three sailings on Independence of the Seas (one was a chartered sailing). She will return on January 30, 2022.
On January 7, 2022, Royal Caribbean cancelled four ships:
Vision of the Seas’ return to cruising is postponed until March 7, 2022
Serenade of the Seas sailings from January 8 – March 5, returning after dry dock on April 26, 2022
Jewel of the Seas sailings from January 9 – February 12, returning on February 20, 2022
Symphony of the Seas sailings from January 8 – January 22, returning on January 29, 2022
Royal Caribbean cancelled the January 6 sailing of Spectrum of the Seas from Hong Kong because nine passengers on the previous sailing were identified as close contacts to someone that tested positive on land in Hong Kong. The local government required Royal Caribbean to cancel the next sailing.
Will there be more cancellations?
Royal Caribbean intends to offer its scheduled sailings as currently listed, but more cancelations are certainly possible given the fact the Covid-19 pandemic is still happening.
For the time being, there is not much discussion of the entire cruise industry shutting down again given the fact that vaccines and stringent health protocols are readily available.
Even the cancelled cruises listed above are expected to resume service on the specified dates.
If you have a cruise booked in 2022, the possibility of it being cancelled is possible, but not necessarily probable.
It's important to be realistic about expectations for not only the cruise happening, but also the onboard experience. Certainly changes, especially at the last minute, are likely, so be prepared for them.
The Covid-19 pandemic has forced Royal Caribbean to cancel scheduled cruises on 4 ships for varying lengths of time, with one as far out as April.
Royal Caribbean posted an update that it has cancelled the sailings, "as a result of the ongoing COVID-related circumstances around the world, and in an abundance of caution."
The affected ships and sailings are:
Vision of the Seas’ return to cruising is postponed until March 7, 2022
Serenade of the Seas sailings from January 8 – March 5, returning after dry dock on April 26, 2022
Jewel of the Seas sailings from January 9 – February 12, returning on February 20, 2022
Symphony of the Seas sailings from January 8 – January 22, returning on January 29, 2022
It's important to note that Vision of the Seas was not sailing with passengers and had yet to restart operations. It was scheduled to restart cruises on January 24, 2022 from Fort Lauderdale.
Passengers on affected sailings were sent emails to inform them of the change. Guests will receive a full refund, which will include any non-refundable deposits.
The cruise lines says they can expect to receive refunds within 14 days after we process the cancellation.
"We know how much time and effort go into planning your vacation, and we're sorry for the impact to your plans," Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley wrote in an email to passengers.
" We are working as quickly as possible, and we appreciate your patience."
Travel agents received similar emails that also touched on the impetus for this decision, "Our top priority is always the well-being of our guests, our crew and the communities we visit. Despite stringent health and safety measures, including vaccination and testing requirements for guests and crew, and extensive contingency planning, we have had to move forward with this decision."
For Serenade & Symphony of the Seas departing January 8, 2022, and Jewel of the Seas departing January 9, 2022, Royal Caribbean is providing passengers with a 100% Future Cruise Credit to book a new cruise by May 31st, 2022.
"This is amount is based on the total cruise fare paid (excluding taxes & fees, gratuities, and any RoyalUp upgrades). Certificates can be used on any Royal Caribbean International sailing that departs on or before December 31, 2022 (or one year from your original sailing - whichever is further out), as long as it's redeemed by May 31, 2022.
There is no indication yet why these specific ships have had their sailings cancelled.
Why these four ships?
After seeing Royal Caribbean cancelled sailings on just four ships, the question of why these, and not other ships, appears.
Vision of the Seas makes sense, since it was being used for crew quarantine procedures.
But the three other ships had been operating with passengers for some time.
Royal Caribbean did not specify why these particular ships were chosen, although cruise fans certainly have plenty of theories.
On the RoyalCaribbeanBlog message boards, Pattycruise thinks perhaps too many crew members testing positive is the reason, "Lack of crew members who are Covid free would be my guess."
Neesa agreed crew members were likely the reason, "This does not surprise me at all. The Holiday sailing capacity issue I feel is directly responsible for this. Everyday on the Odyssey more and more crew were missing. They need this pause to get the crew healthy again, just my humble opinion. "
The cancellations are the first mass-cancellations by Royal Caribbean since they restarted operations in June 2021, and reminiscent to many of what happened in March 2020.
Back in 2020, the entire cruise industry ceased operations for 30 days. The shutdown ended up going over a year after governments refused to let cruise ships sail.
On December 30, 2021, Royal Caribbean Group said that while there had been more Covid-19 cases onboard, none had been severe or needed the person to be taken to a hospital.
The surge in Covid-19 cases due to the Omicron variant has resulted in many industries suffering staffing shortages due to its employees contracting the virus.
While some ships are pausing operations, the majority of cruise ships remain in operation, thanks to the stringent protocols onboard.
Unlike theme parks, casinos, airlines and every other form of leisure travel, cruise ships implemented the strictest health protocols possible, including requiring vaccinations, mask wearing, pre-cruise tests for all and more.
Other cruise lines cancelled cruises too
Royal Caribbean joins Norwegian Cruise Line and others that also cancelled sailings on select ships.
Earlier this week, NCL announced it had cancelled sailings on eight of its ships due to "ongoing travel restrictions".
Norwegian Pearl departures through Jan. 14.
Norwegian Sky departures through Feb. 25.
Pride of America departures through Feb. 26.
Norwegian Jade departures through March 3.
Norwegian Star departures through March 19.
Norwegian Sun departures through April 19.
Norwegian Spirit departures through April 23.
In addition, Oceania cancelled cruises on its Marina ship, and Regent Seven Seas cancelled a 120-day world cruise.
What is it like if you go on a cruise ship and test positive for Covid-19?
With the Omicron variant driving up positive case counts around the world, cruise ships have not been immune to seeing more cases onboard as well.
While Royal Caribbean is still operating its ships with arguably the most stringent health protocols found anywhere, some guests are more concerned with what the onboard process is like if you were to test positive, rather than concern over getting sick.
While sailing on a New Years Eve cruise aboard Freedom of the Seas, Brandon Smith tested positive for Covid on the second day of his voyage, and documented the experience on his YouTube channel once he got home.
Just like all aspects of life right now, there are no zero-risk activities, but Brandon felt better about going on a cruise ship in terms of the procedures the cruise line has in place, "if I was going to be anywhere, if I was traveling, I think on a cruise ship, especially with Royal Caribbean, knowing that they've got all this taken care of is the best place to have a bad situation."
Brandon shared what happened when he tested positive for Covid on a ship, and what steps and changes you might expect to encounter should it happen to you.
Every single passenger on a cruise ship must take a Covid-19 test in the days leading up to a cruise ship sailing.
In the case of Brandon, he took his test two days before embarkation and it came back negative. In fact, he felt great walking onboard Freedom of the Seas, "I felt absolutely fine when I boarded."
"I was even well enough to go work out when I got on the gym around 6pm that evening went to dinner, luckily, by myself at that time. And then walking around the ship trying to figure out what the New Year's Eve celebration was that I wanted to do."
As the evening went on, Brandon started to feel the early effects, "Towards the end of the evening, I was starting to get fatigued. And at the time I didn't think anything about it. I was kind of disappointed in myself that I couldn't make it to the New Year's Eve celebration."
He returned to his cabin to rest, but woke up the next morning with a sore throat and found it difficult to swallow, "That was my first sign that something was amiss or awry."
"It progressively got worse. The headache kicked in, the fog, and a little bit of a cough started to creep in."
Sensing something was off, he called the medical center onboard to share his symptoms.
Every Royal Caribbean ship offers limited professional medical services through licensed (international or domestic) physicians and nurses. All ships have shipboard medical facilities that are built, staffed, stocked and equipped to meet or exceed guidelines established by the American College of Emergency Physicians Cruise Ship & Maritime Medicine Section.
Royal Caribbean says depending on the ship and amount of passengers onboard, there are one to three doctors and three-to-five Nurses, available to passengers and Crew members 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
After arriving at the medical center, Brandon took a PCR test, "unfortunately, that returned the positive result that nobody wanted to see."
Once he tested positive, Royal Caribbean moves the passenger into a quarantined area of the ship.
In Brandon's case, he was escorted to a new cabin on deck 2 of the ship, which was an oceanview cabin.
"They first offered for security to pack up my belongings," but since Brandon was traveling alone, he was able to be escorted back to his original cabin to pack up his belongings.
Each of the crew members escorting Brandon is wearing full PPE outfits, with white gloves, shoe covers and face mask. They also carry a ionizer that resembles a hair dryer, which the crew member can spray a mist to cover the area where Brandon walks.
"They're also closing off all of the hallways and all of the areas that you're going through. So we do take the service elevator at that time. You don't go in the traditional guest elevator, take the service elevator to my floor."
"There's a gentleman in the service elevator, so they're protecting the crew so crew members can't come up or down the stairs that are located there."
"And then there's two security guards at the beginning and entrance of the hallway where my room is standing there, blocking the hallway so that people can't come in and see and be exposed to Covid-19."
Once in his quarantine cabin, Brandon describes his cabin experience, "It's kind of bare. They've really stripped the room out. There's not a separating curtain. The bed doesn't have a bed skirt. It's really been taken down to bare bones a little bit. I think just so that you they don't have as much to clean when they need when you leave the room."
"There's also red trash bags for biohazard, there's cleaning cloths, there's two large bottles of I think one was Clorox and one was another disinfectant that was there."
One thing that struck Brandon about the experience was all the communication he received from crew members to walk him through the process.
In the end, the guest services manager, the hotel director, security, and the medical facility all contacted him.
"I was getting or averaging around two phone calls in the morning and two phone calls in the afternoon, just checking up on me and seeing how I was doing."
Once he was settled in his new cabin, guest services informed him of the basics of his quarantine experience:
Complimentary room service
Complimentary pay-per-view movies
Complimentary internet access
"I had an extension I could dial if I needed to get up with my person there, and they also sent a lot of letters to the room. This started happening more on the evening before debarkation."
These letters detailed the future cruise credit he was going to receive for the missed days onboard, as well as the refund for a drink package purchase.
In addition, Royal Caribbean provided Brandon with documentation from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on how he should quarantine once he gets home.
One of the many steps Royal Caribbean takes if someone tests positive for Covid-19 is to conduct contact tracing.
Brandon said a member of the onboard security department contacted him to go over where he had been, "I walked him through where I was, how much time I spent with people."
"I was a little bit of a loner that evening. One of the benefits of going on cruises allows you can kind of pick and choose when you want to be extremely social or when you kind of just want to do your own thing."
"I got the impression that given the exposure that I had to other people, which was traditionally, less than 10 minutes, I kept my mask on. Most of the time I had dinner by myself, I was in the gym with. I think there was only two other people in the entire facility. There just wasn't a lot of opportunity for me to be around individuals or people that I could expose more heavily."
Getting Brandon off the ship and safely back home without exposing other crew members or passengers to Covid was the next step in his journey.
Brandon recalls the ship's Hotel Director called the night before the cruise ended to walk him through what would happen the next day.
On disembarkation day, Brandon said getting off the ship made him feel "a little bit like you're in the movie Mars".
He said he was among the last passengers to disembark the ship so that other passengers can disembark first, "They made sure everybody was off the ship and then they came to my cabin, knocked on the door and said, We're getting ready to escort you off."
He packed his bags and put them in the hallway, at which point his bags were wrapped in plastic wrap and put it on a luggage cart.
"Almost everybody's kind of dressed up and you're going through hallways with plastic."
"I was really surprised at how many rooms were set up for the potential of quarantine on deck number two."
"I believe it was only me and one other gentleman who was unfortunately making use of these rooms, but there were a lot of rooms that were set up that I was able to walk by and kind of peek in all with the same setup that my current room had as well."
He walked off the ship from the deck 1 gangway instead of the gangway passengers usually use on deck 4.
At this point, a U.S. Customs officer met Brandon to process his paperwork. He was then taken by private car to his vehicle in the parking garage.
"I was in good hands"
Looking back at what happened, Brandon was grateful to Royal Caribbean for taking such good care of him.
"I felt extremely well supported. They were communicative. They kept me in the loop on what was happening, and I got the sense that they knew what the next step was."
"They knew what the process was. They kept to whatever playbook or guidebook was that they have."
"And for me, as a passenger going through this quarantine Covid test experience, I felt really comforted knowing that all of that was taken care of. It was thought through and that I was in good hands."
Brandon's advice to anyone who is on a ship is don't be afraid to let someone know if you aren't feeling well, "Make sure that you are seeking medical treatment and not just waving it off. Just give it a whirl. Just see what they have to say.
"You might have to go through the quarantine experience, but you'll have the comfort in knowing you don't expose other people to it."
I asked Brandon having gone through the entire process, how he felt about getting back onboard a ship once he felt good again and tested negative.
"Being on a cruise still is a safe place to be."
"You can get Covid anywhere at the end of the day, and it's probably always going to be able to make its way onto the cruise ships. But it's reassuring to me to know that when that happens, they do have those policies and procedures in place."