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Cruise ship passenger shares what it's like on 4 cruises in a row during Omicron

In:
11 Jan 2022

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."

Read moreWhy you need to be flexible if you want to go on a cruise right now

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."

Read moreBack-to-back cruises tips and advice

How many people are going on these cruises?

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. 

Freedom of the Seas Live Blog - Day 2 - St. Maarten | Royal Caribbean Blog

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

Freedom of the Seas successfully completes test cruise | Royal Caribbean Blog

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 had to cancel my cruise because I caught Covid, here's what happened

In:
10 Jan 2022

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.

Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas restarts cruises from Tampa | Royal Caribbean Blog

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

Holiday Inn Port Of Miami-Downtown Hotel Review | Royal Caribbean Blog

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

Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas restarts cruises from Tampa | Royal Caribbean Blog

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 Royal Caribbean will now offer limited Covid-19 testing at the cruise terminal on embarkation day | Royal Caribbean Blogwith 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. 

Royal Caribbean Post Round-Up: September 5, 2021 | Royal Caribbean Blog

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. 

2022 Royal Caribbean Cruise Planning Guide | Royal Caribbean Blog

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

Brilliance of the Seas | Royal Caribbean Blog

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.

Cancellation

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

Symphony of the Seas Live Blog - Day Four - Costa Maya | Royal Caribbean Blog

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. 

Royal Caribbean cancelled cruises in 2022

In:
09 Jan 2022

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 28, 2022, Royal Caribbean announced more Spectrum of the Seas cancellations for cruises from Hong Kong on these dates: February 04, 07, 10, 12 and 14, 2022. 

On January 18, 2022, Royal Caribbean had to cancel Spectrum of the Seas’ Hong Kong sailings scheduled on January 21, 23, 26, 28 and 31, 2022.

The sailings were canceled following an update to local COVID-19 prevention policies by local authorities on January 14, which requires a 14-day suspension of all cruise operations.

On January 14, 2022, Royal Caribbean cancelled three sailings on Independence of the Seas (one was a chartered sailing). She will return on January 29, 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

Spectrum of the Seas will restart cruises from Hong Kong on July 30 | Royal Caribbean Blog

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 extends ability to cancel cruise for a credit until July 31, 2021 | Royal Caribbean Blog

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.

Royal Caribbean extends ability to cancel cruises, shortens final payment window, and extends Covid-19 assistance program | Royal Caribbean Blog

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.

Read moreWhy you need to be flexible if you want to go on a cruise right now

Can I cancel my Royal Caribbean cruise?

Why you shouldn't cancel your upcoming Royal Caribbean cruise | Royal Caribbean Blog

If you would rather cancel your cruise, regardless of if Royal Caribbean decides to cancel it later, you have a few options.

Up until final payment date, you can cancel your cruise and get a full refund for money paid by cancelling, minus any change fees if you booked a non-refundable deposit.

Alternatively, Royal Caribbean's Cruise with Confidence program allows guests to cancel their cruise up to 48 hours before your sail date for a 100% future cruise credit.

Read moreHow to cancel a Royal Caribbean cruise

Royal Caribbean cancels cruises on 4 cruise ships for a few weeks due to Covid-19

In:
07 Jan 2022

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.

World's largest cruise ship restarts sailings today | Royal Caribbean Blog

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.

Serenade of the Seas | Royal Caribbean Blog

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."

Royal Caribbean announces Vision of the Seas will sail from Bermuda | Royal Caribbean Blog

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?

Jewel of the Seas | Royal Caribbean Blog

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 test cruise to Alaska should begin today | Royal Caribbean Blog

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. "

Omicron impact

Royal Caribbean says Omicron variant fears have only had a short-term effect on bookings | Royal Caribbean Blog

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.

Symphony of the Seas 2021 cruise recap | Royal Caribbean Blog

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.

Is a Royal Caribbean Walt Disney World shore excursion a good idea? | Royal Caribbean Blog

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

Florida Governor dismisses Norwegian Cruise Line threat to pull cruise ships from Florida | Royal Caribbean Blog

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.

'I felt extremely well supported': Passenger shares what happens after testing positive for Covid on Royal Caribbean cruise ship

In:
07 Jan 2022

What is it like if you go on a cruise ship and test positive for Covid-19? 

Frequently asked questions about cruising on Freedom of the Seas from Florida | Royal Caribbean Blog

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.

Testing

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."

Freedom of the Seas Live Blog - Day 3 - Sea Day | Royal Caribbean Blog

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."

How Royal Caribbean provides medical care at sea | Royal Caribbean Blog

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."

Quarantine

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."

Communication

Photo tour of new Junior Suite on Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas | Royal Caribbean Blog

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.

Contact tracing

Royal Caribbean trademarks name for contact tracing wristband | Royal Caribbean Blog

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."

Disembarkation

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"

Friday Photos | Royal Caribbean Blog

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."

Sunshine Class | Royal Caribbean Blog

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."

Media begins to question why CDC has singled out cruise ships

In:
07 Jan 2022

When the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) raised its warning for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, avoid cruise ships, it arrived without any other similar warnings for other forms of travel or leisure in the United States.

Royal Caribbean releases cruise ship health protocols for U.S. sailings October 16-31, 2021 | Royal Caribbean Blog

While a lot of negative press surround the cruise industry followed, at least some media outlets are beginning to question why the CDC singled out just the cruise industry and ignored other forms of leisure travel, sporting events, or other large gatherings.

Certainly the CDC only has jurisdiction over the cruise industry and not airlines, theme parks, or casinos, but that doesn't stop the CDC from issuing warnings about Covid-19 related impact to those endeavors.

Read moreWhy does the CDC regulate the cruise lines?

Royal Caribbean CEO gives update on cruise ship restart, Covid on ships, limiting capacity and more | Royal Caribbean Blog

Laura Elder, the Managing Editor for the Galveston County Daily News, questioned why the CDC warned against travel on a cruise ship, but not airplanes.

"Note the CDC has issued no such warning about air travel, in a game in which we all pretend and wink that being in close quarters on an airplane is different than being in close quarters on a ship and that people are flying mainly for essential reasons and not for fun."

"The CDC has issued no such warning about sporting events or anything else that involves large gatherings."

"So why the cruise industry in particular?"

Photos: Royal Caribbean cruise ship brings needed supplies to St. Vincent following volcano eruption | Royal Caribbean Blog

The Boston Herald also did not see the logic in warning the public against only cruise ship travel in a recent editorial, "If you can fly once vaccinated and masked, why not cruise? And if COVID exposure by airline staff and passengers is taken into account by the CDC, why not do the same for the cruise industry?"

The dichotomy between cruise ships and the rest of travel in the eyes of the CDC perplexed the cruise industry just as much as anyone else.

A statement by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) echoed this contrast, "The decision by the CDC to raise the travel level for cruise is particularly perplexing considering that cases identified on cruise ships consistently make up a very slim minority of the total population onboard — far fewer than on land — and the majority of those cases are asymptomatic or mild in nature, posing little to no burden on medical resources onboard or onshore."

Royal Caribbean eager to welcome guests back on its cruise ships | Royal Caribbean Blog

The same week the CDC issued its warning, it also reduced its recommended quarantine and isolation periods in most cases from 10 days to five, with a subsequent five days of masking when around other people.

In December, several major airlines and lobbying group Airlines For America asked CDC director Rochelle Walensky to reconsider the 10-day guideline, describing it as “extremely disruptive” and calling for a five-day maximum quarantine.

The Boston Herald editorial illustrated the public's desire to travel by air is no different than by cruise ship, "This, however, is 2021, not 2020, and vaccines and boosters are readily available. Hospitalizations among the vaccinated are low. It’s why people are flying again, after getting vaxxed and tested and masking up and getting tested again."

"The agency is advising those who do travel on a cruise ship to make sure they are fully vaccinated and boosted, if eligible, and get tested before and after their trip.

"They should have left it at that."

Ms. Elder agreed that the CDC should have left things alone, "But as the CDC works that out, it should refrain from using its power to single out the cruise industry, which has done all that it was asked and more to reduce the spread of the virus."

Royal Caribbean updates: Spectrum of the Seas cancellation, CDC plans and more!

In:
05 Jan 2022

This week has barely started and already there's lots of cruise news happening.  Since so much of it overlaps, I wanted to provide a round-up of what's changed recently.

Spectrum of the Seas will restart cruises from Hong Kong on July 30 | Royal Caribbean Blog

There are smaller updates from across the fleet that I think are kind of interesting, neat, or otherwise good to know.

If you ever have a news tip, feel free to email it to [email protected] for possible inclusion in a future update!

Spectrum of the Seas sailings in Hong Kong cancelled

Spectrum of the Seas will restart cruises from Hong Kong on July 30 | Royal Caribbean Blog

If you read a headline about Royal Caribbean cancelling cruises today, don't worry, it's not as bad as it sounds.

Royal Caribbean cancelled the January 6 sailing of Spectrum of the Seas from Hong Kong.

Hong Kong | Royal Caribbean Blog

There weren't any actual Covid cases onboard. Rather, nine passengers on the previous sailing that departed on January 2 were identified as close contacts to someone that tested positive on land in Hong Kong.

The contacts have tested negative but the cruise ship will return to Kai Tak Cruise Terminal in Hong Kong on January 5 to test all guests and crew who must take a second test on January 8th.

CDC still plans to make Conditional Sail Order voluntary

Cruise industry calls on CDC to let cruise ships sail again | Royal Caribbean Blog

Despite the Omicron variant, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the plan is still for the Conditional Sail Order (CSO) to become a voluntary program next week.

As you may recall, the CDC temporarily extended the CSO for an additional two and a half months back in October.

According to Cruise Critic, the plan is still for the CSO to expire on January 15, per the federal agency.

There actually is an update to the CSO - Royal Caribbean News and Rumors - Royal Caribbean Blog

"After the expiration of the Temporary Extension & Modification of the CSO on January 15, 2022, CDC intends to transition to a voluntary program, in coordination with cruise ship operators and other stakeholders, to assist the cruise ship industry to detect, mitigate, and control the spread of COVID-19 onboard cruise ships," a CDC spokesperson told Cruise Critic via email.

Once the Temporary Extension & Modification of the CSO expires on January 15, the CSO will shift to a voluntary basis, where cruise lines and other stakeholders will work together without a federal mandate to do so to ensure proper protocols are followed.

NCL cancels cruises on sailings on 8 ships

Norwegian Cruise Line | Royal Caribbean Blog

 Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd announced a change to scheduled sailings on 8 ships due to the impact of the Omicron variant.

The reason for the cancellation has to do with crew staffing related to Covid cases onboard.

The Norwegian cancellations announced Wednesday include:

  • Norwegian Pearl departures through January 14, 2022
  • Norwegian Sky departures through February 25, 2022
  • Pride of America departures through February 26, 2022
  • Norwegian Jade departures through March 3, 2022
  • Norwegian Star departures through March 19, 2022
  • Norwegian Sun departures through April 19, 2022
  • Norwegian Spirit departures through April 23, 2022

Royal Caribbean trademarks Royal Beach Club name

Royal Caribbean snuck in one more trademark filing before the end of 2021.

The cruise line registered a trademark for the phrase, "Royal Beach Club", which is the name of its private beach club experience it is developing in Nassau, Bahamas.

The first Royal Beach Club is set to open in Nassau, Bahamas, perhaps as early as 2023.

Read moreRoyal Caribbean looks forward to big plans in 2022 and 2023

This new project is not intended to be for all guests on a ship to do. Rather, it will supplement the Nassau offerings. The beach club will be built on 7 acres on the western end of Paradise Island.

The Royal Beach Club will be able to accommodate about 3,500 together with 250 workers. 

Royal Caribbean extends stricter face mask protocols until January 31, 2022

In:
04 Jan 2022

Royal Caribbean's stricter face mask protocols that were added as a result of the Omicron variant will be around for at least another few weeks.

Royal Caribbean expands mask requirement to Adventure of the Seas sailings | Royal Caribbean Blog

The policy requires cruise ship passengers to wear face masks while indoors, regardless of vaccination status except while eating or drinking. 

The mask rules will remain in effect for sailings departing on or before January 31, 2022, at which point it will be reevaluated. 

This includes at venues reserved for vaccinated guests only.

Royal Caribbean first tightened the mask rules on December 17, 2021 for a period of time through January 5, 2022.

Royal Caribbean releases Alaska cruise ship protocols for August sailings | Royal Caribbean Blog

Masks are NOT required to be worn:

  • In open-air areas of the ship, unless you are in a crowded setting.
  • In the pool or any activity where they may become wet.
  • In your stateroom when you are with your traveling party.
  • While visiting our private destination, Perfect Day at CocoCay, unless you are in a crowded setting.
  • By any guest under the age of 2.

Masks ARE required to be worn:

  • While indoors in public areas of the ship, unless seated and actively eating or drinking.
  • While visiting public ports of call, where local regulations may require them.

Read moreWhat it's like to go on a cruise with Royal Caribbean's stricter mask rules

In addition to the face mask rules being extended, Royal Caribbean's ban on smoking in the casino will also be extended.

"In alignment with the expansion of the mask policy, smoking will not be permitted in the casino for all cruises departing on or before January 31, 2022."

Mask rule matches other lines

Carnival announces agreements with Port Canaveral, Miami & Galveston to restart cruises | Royal Caribbean Blog

Other cruise lines have added similar rules to combat the rise in Omicron variant Covid cases.

Carnival Cruise Line requires its passengers to use masks on all sailings until at least the end of January 2022. Carnival also banned smoking in its casinos until further notice.

Holland America matched Carnival's stricter mask rules and indoor smoking policy.

Norwegian Cruise Line also added a face mask rule for sailings through the end of January.

Passenger reaction

Coast Guard wont fine you for not wearing a mask on a cruise ship, but you will get kicked off | Royal Caribbean Blog

Cruise ship passengers have generally has mixed reactions to the stricter mask rules, usually aligning with whether they have ever supported mask wearing or not.

On the RoyalCaribbeanBlog message boards, Swar liked the fact smoking has been banned in the casino because as a non-smoker, they hope it stays around, "The casino is so much better without the smoke! I hope it is a permanent change. Not a smoker, but used to do cigars."

Oliver Max took the stricter mask rules in stride, "I leave on a cruise from Galveston on Sunday. It’s a little disappointing but I’m not going to let it ruin my vacation. I’m still going to have fun."

What it's like to go on a cruise with Royal Caribbean's stricter mask rules

In:
03 Jan 2022

As the Omicron variant began to generate higher case counts on cruise ships, Royal Caribbean enacted stricter rules about face masks on its ships.

The new rules require all passengers to wear their masks indoors, even in vaccinated areas, and the question of how much these new rules impacted the cruise experience began to arise.

I sailed on Navigator of the Seas about a week after the stricter mask rules went into effect, and wanted to share my experience with these new protocols for anyone going on a cruise soon.

Keep in mind that my experience is not indicative of what your experience will or will not be. I hope it sheds some insight into what the written policy really means in practical terms.

What is the stricter mask rule?

 

On December 17, 2021, Royal Caribbean announced passengers on all sailings through January 5, 2022 will be required to wear masks indoors at all times, unless actively eating or drinking.

Before this change, fully vaccinated passengers could go maskless in designated areas.

This policy is in place for all sailings departing before January 5, 2022, at which point it will be reevaluated.

Masks are not required to be worn outdoors, in the pool, in your stateroom, or at Perfect Day at CocoCay.

My experience with the new rules

When Royal Caribbean announced the new rule, it sounded as if you would have to wear your mask indoors at all times, and possibly even between bites or sips of food.

In practice, the rule has not been quite that restrictive.

Both on my sailings and on others reported by RoyalCaribbeanBlog readers since the new rule went into effect, it seems the rule has changed two fundamental things that used to happen onboard:

  • Eliminating the loophole of someone walking around with a drink as a way not to wear their mask
  • Walking into a vaccinated zone and removing your mask without food or drink

While more crew members are reminding passengers to put on their mask or pull it up, they are not patrolling hallways looking for mask compliance. I believe there is a renewed emphasis on ensuring masks are being worn indoors, but not to the point it's overbearing.

My experience on Navigator was if you are seated in a bar, restaurant, or lounge, as long as there was food or drink in front of you, you were fine without masks and not asked to put the mask on between bites or sips.

Across my seven nights onboard, I spent lots of time in the main dining room, pub, Schooner Bar, and casino.  In all scenarios, masks were required upon walking in, but as soon as I sat down with food or drink, there was no issue with my mask down.

My observation was nearly every other passenger was compliant with the mask rules indoors.  Just like airports, supermarkets, and schools, you would occasionally find someone who was not wearing their mask, but it was extremely rare and I assume a crew member would remind them to put it back on.

The issue of masks below someone's nose seems to be an issue greater than the cruise lines can solve, but I did observe some crew members asking passengers to fix their mask, especially in the casino.

Not only were guests doing a good job of wearing their masks indoors, but I noticed many passengers wearing their masks outdoors.  Granted, the low humidity and cooler temperatures of a December cruise on the West Coast make wearing a mask outdoors far more tolerable than if this was June.

In summary, I thought the new rule was not that much of a departure from what it had been before, especially in bars or restaurants when eating or drinking.

Casino

Spotted: Royal Caribbean bans smoking in casinos due to Omicron variant concern | Royal Caribbean Blog

Speaking of the casino, another change Royal Caribbean made was to ban smoking in the casino.

Previously, the casino was designated a vaccinated-only zone and you could take your mask off. In an effort to keep masks on, smoking was banned in the casino.

As a non-smoker, I certainly welcomed the change and while seated at a table or slot machine, masks were worn.

Unlike the bars or restaurants, I would put my mask on between sips of a cocktail, especially at table games where passengers and the dealer were close to each other.

Passenger reactions

My experience is going to vary from others, so I wanted to share other comments from folks that cruised over the last two weeks.

Neesa summed up her thoughts on the new rule by thinking about the bigger picture, "It is humbling on board, I am interacting with staff and feel compelled to comply as I want them to feel comfortable,  they are important and looking in their eyes I can agree, I'm doing it for them. I respect them and the job they are doing."

Flowrider was also on Navigator of the Seas and shared their mask rule observations, "Just got off the Navigator.  Mask was indoors the whole time, not outdoors.  When we were in line to be served food at Johnny Rockets or El Loco Fresh they asked us to put it on.  No mask required at the pool."

"Once we got off the ship in Mazatlan/Cabo/Puerto Vallarta we took masks off.  Nobody ever asked us to put the on except for obvious indoor settings, i.e. in a store/shop."

"MDR or Windjammer you wear it like before.  Sitting at the table the mask is off.  Walking around to buffet mask is on."

Oasis of the Seas Live Blog Day 2 - Sea Day | Royal Caribbean Blog

tonyfsu21 sailed on Oasis of the Seas last week, "masks indoors on ship. You can remove while dining and drinking at restaurants and bars. You DO NOT need to wear a mask outdoors on pool deck and other areas. Outdoor in ports (no mask) inside vehicle on way to an excursion you must be masked."

tonyfsu21 also talked about his experience in the casino, "I played the machines all night with a beer in hand and a lowered mask. In between beers walking around casino I had my mask on. Not really sure about the tables but I’m assuming the same. At the end of the day, there are no police and this is not like a prison it’s vacation and the staff knows that."

ChessE4 voiced their support of the new change, "With the explosion of COVID cases in Florida, I can see why masks would be required on cruise ships and elsewhere.  Things will get better, but we need to take note of our current situation."

Top untrue myths about Omicron variant and going on a cruise ship right now

In:
03 Jan 2022

Over the past week, Omicron variant news has dominated the news cycle and there's already been a number of changes in the cruise industry, but the exact news has been misconstrued in a few cases.

Between the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warning vaccinated passengers to not go on a cruise ship, and news reports about missed port calls making the rounds on social media, a lot of misconceptions about where cruising is right now have emerged.

Not everyone follows the daily changes in the cruise industry, so it can be difficult to keep tabs on what has or has not changed. And certainly a government warning gets a lot of attention, even if it's just a recommendation.

Before you read what Aunt Sally posted on Facebook as something she heard, here are three really important untrue myths about going on a cruise right now that are totally untrue.

Cruises are being cancelled again

When the CDC announced it had raised the warning level for going on a cruise ship back up to its highest level, that got some folks thinking cruises were cancelled again.

The CDC warning is just that, a recommendation and nothing has changed in terms of mass cancellations. In fact, not one scheduled Royal Caribbean cruise has been cancelled.


Example of incorrect reporting of the CDC's warning

This is not the first time the CDC has changed its warning level for the cruise industry, but just like its warnings for visiting different countries, these are just suggestions it offers to the general public.

No cruise line has made any hint of cancelling cruises, so ships are definitely still sailing.

Cruise ships can't visit any ports

Harmony of the Seas Live Blog - Day 4 - St. Thomas | Royal Caribbean Blog

Some Caribbean ports have denied entry to certain cruise ships due to some passengers having tested positive for Covid-19 onboard.  While that fact is true, the amount of ships and port calls affected has been quite small.

So how many ports have denied ships?

Royal Caribbean Group provided an update that as of December 30, 2021, 16 scheduled visits had been cancelled out of a total of 331 visits.

Royal Caribbean plans cruise ship return to St. Thomas following hurricane devastation | Royal Caribbean Blog

Certainly each country has the right to refuse a ship to visit, but these are being handled on a per-ship basis.

The company expects these disruptions to continue in the near term and then decline as the world adjusts to the current trends. 

No changes to Royal Caribbean cruises following Puerto Rico earthquake | Royal Caribbean Blog

Most importantly, cruise lines have arrangements with their departure ports that a cruise ship sails from and how the port, health district and cruise lines plan to respond in the event of an outbreak with medical care, transportation and housing, if needed. This was set up before any ship restarted cruises in 2021 as part of the CDC's Conditional Sail Order.

The important takeaway is that cruise ships are not being locked out of every port and stuck at sea.

Can't visit their own private islands

40 Perfect Day at CocoCay tips, tricks and secrets | Royal Caribbean Blog

This rumor was based in some truth, that has since snowballed into false information.

On December 30, guests on Freedom of the Seas reported their ship was unable to dock at Perfect Day at CocoCay because Bahamian officials refused to let passengers off the ship.

Similarly, Disney Cruise Line's Disney Magic was also held up from docking at Castaway Cay in The Bahamas.

First look at first new venues at Perfect Day at CocoCay | Royal Caribbean Blog

In the case of both ships, Bahamian officials allowed the passengers to disembark later that day.

It appears that this was some kind of a paperwork mistake on the side of The Bahamas, but nothing has been confirmed.

Regardless, since that day, other cruise ships have had no problems visiting Perfect Day at CocoCay.

Where to get reliable cruise ship updates

Certainly this post should help get everyone up to date, but what about tomorrow or next week? How do you avoid this false information entirely?

First and foremost, Royal Caribbean will always convey updates to your sailing via email when a change has been officially made. Your travel agent is also a reliable source of information to ensure nothing has changed.

I'm generally a fan of Facebook groups for sharing tips and experiences, but unfortunately there can be false or misleading information shared in some groups. Take any updates you get on social media with a grain of salt, unless there is printed evidence to the contrary.

You can also reach out to Royal Caribbean via social media as a way to double check something you may have heard about.

Read moreMy favorite Royal Caribbean cruise hacks

Lastly, you can check with the folks on the RoyalCaribbeanBlog message boards (yes, this is a self-serving tip). Our community is good at helping direct cruisers with questions and expectations.

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