It's incredible to see how much progress Royal Caribbean has made in less than a year with its restart plans, but there are still a handful of issues the cruise line is working through.
Royal Caribbean is on the brink of having the last ship in the fleet restart operations (Rhapsody of the Seas), which is an important milestone for a company that was decimated by a "black swan" event in the form of the global health crisis.
While the cruise experience has improved rapidly with higher guest satisfaction scores, more ships back in service, and rolled back Covid protocols, there are still a few notable issues that Royal Caribbean is tackling.
It's important to note that these issues are not just Royal Caribbean problems. Nearly every form of travel leisure has their fair share of challenges. The reason why I'm bringing these issues up is to help anyone with a cruise manage expectations properly.
There has been many bumps on the road to Royal Caribbean's restart, but they've been able to navigate them well, and it stands to reason these issues are likely temporary as well.
Here are the challenges Royal Caribbean has to tackle at the moment, which anyone with a cruise this summer should be aware of.
Covid isn't gone by any means, and that means there are still Covid cases on cruise ships.
To be fair, there's always been some level of Covid cases on any Royal Caribbean sailing, but Royal Caribbean's protocols have limited the spread to ensure it doesn't become a ship-wide problem.
Covid cases are going to be an ongoing problem for a while, just like every facet of life. Just like in society, we're learning to live with it, but that doesn't mean there won't be cases popping up onboard.
Based on reader feedback, it seems guests are reporting seeing or experiencing Covid cases on individual sailings and it's almost certainly a reflection of a general rise in Covid cases around the world right now.
YouTube vloggers Travel Spree unfortunately caught Covid and had to be isolated while on their Symphony of the Seas cruise.
RoyalCaribbeanBlog message board user anxiouscruiser shared their experience testing positive for Covid while onboard Serenade of the Seas, "it sucks but I knew the risk when I chose to cruise. I just wish it didn't happen to us."
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s weekly review, there has been a week-on-week increase in the number of counties with high levels of COVID-19. As of May 11, 2022, the current 7-day moving average of daily new cases (84,778) increased 30.7% compared with the previous 7-day moving average (64,863).
In short, more Covid cases in society is going to likely translate to more Covid cases onboard cruise ships. Unlike on land, cruise ships at least have requirements and protocols that do their best to mitigate the spread of Covid.
What this all means is you should be cognizant of the fact there are more Covid cases, and take whatever precautions you deem fit. Perhaps that's wearing a N95 mask while indoors, or changing shore excursion plans to prioritize outdoor tours.
Every company is dealing with not enough workers, and that includes cruise ships.
On some ships, certain venues or forms of entertainment are not yet open so that they can better utilize crew members. In other cases, there may simply not be enough crew members to manage every situation that can arise.
There's an interesting message board thread discussing the general issue on the Royal Caribbean Blog message boards.
While many guests are understanding of the general problems all business have in hiring, they also feel moving to full capacity with less than a full compliment of crew causes guest satisfaction problems, "I think we all understand the troubles of staffing right now, but Royal Caribbean should match their ships capacity with their staffing.," said carlosalonsor.
"I think Royal Caribbean just found it a bit harder to staff up than they expected to," smokeybandit opined. "For those who do want to return, lots of red tape to get them on board again. Then there are those who have found a happy life off a ship or those that are just hesitant to return for various reasons."
Royal Caribbean Blog reader Robert Joseph Dulo shared a similar issue with staffing shortages on Explorer of the Seas last week, "The staff and the ship could not handle the capacity with many service and food issues."
"I left them detailed survey responses and hope they look closely at them as my experience was similar to others that I talked to. I hope they make the appropriate changes or they will start to lose cruisers, especially me. They seemed to not be ready for higher capacity."
Even if Royal Caribbean could snap their fingers and hire everyone they need right now, there's still the issue of visa delays, quarantine rules in some countries, vaccine requirements, and more.
The good news is Royal Caribbean is indeed trying to hire as many new crew members as they can, with recruitment drives in countries around the world. It does not appear to be a problem the cruise line is not aware of by any means.
In the meantime, bring extra patience with you, along with sunscreen, a camera, and a good book.
Supply chain problems
Tangentially related to the first two issues, you may run into certain items not available onboard your cruise.
Primarily, we've seen this in the past in the form of certain brands of liquors not available. Remember the CocoCay-branded beer? That was an early victim of supply chain issues.
Just like staffing problems, this is not likely an issue that will go away overnight. In its first quarter 2022 earnings, Royal Caribbean Group said they're managing supply chain challenges, mainly related to fuel and food costs.
In my experience, how much of an impact it has on your sailing will greatly depend on which brands of types of food and drink you prefer, as well as general demand onboard. Each sailing has a different assortment of guests onboard, and the ships are doing their best to supply accordingly.
What this means for your cruise?
After reading about these issues, what should your takeaway be for an upcoming sailing?
Certainly the problems Royal Caribbean is facing are the sort of things the company has to mitigate and address in order to improve, but if your cruise is coming up in the next few weeks, it's possible it could impact your cruise.
At a minimum, it's food for thought. Throughout the restart of cruise operations, there have been hurdles for passengers to navigate. So while today's problems are a concern, it's not like there haven't been things Royal Caribbean has overcome in the past year.
It may also be an opportunity to gauge how comfortable you are with embracing a certain level of flexibility. Nothing is perfect, including cruise ships, so if the prospect of your favorite liquor not being available, or a longer wait for drinks at bar truly irks you, then perhaps you should put off your cruise until the situation improves.
As cruise fans, we love this kind of a vacation and no one ever wants to be disappointed. It's why I think it's critical to be as honest and up-front with what others are seeing so we can all make the right decision to sail or not.
The sort of problems Royal Caribbean has are also being dealt with at plenty of other land-based travel destinations. So the grass is not greener necessarily elsewhere. But that doesn't mean a cruise right now is superb either.
An educated consumer tends to have a better experience overall, and this article is intended to ensure you are up-to-date with what's happening.