Royal Caribbean talks Symphony of the Seas, new app progress, big demand in Caribbean and more


During Royal Caribbean's second quarter 2018 financial call with investors, the company shared some interesting anecdotes, facts, and insight into the ever changing cruising environment.  While most of the information discussed in these earnings calls deal primarily with financial indicators, cruise guests can glean some insight into how Royal Caribbean runs its business.

Symphony of the Seas debut has been spectacular 

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (RCL) Chairman and CEO Richard Fain started off the call with investors beaming about the positive response Symphony of the Seas has received in her inaugural season in Europe.  Fain indicated that not only is the ship booked well, but guests are raving about the experience and the high level of service they are experiencing.

"Her performance for a first time ship in a new market. For her to perform so amazingly well when she is the fourth in a series, is a testament to the innovations the team has incorporated and the power of the Royal Caribbean International brand.

This ship has remarkable new wow's, new shows, and new activities, but what truly sets her apart is the careful execution and high level of service which have been pivotal in achieving these record-breaking ratings."

Smart phone update

Of particular interest to Royal Caribbean cruisers is an update was given on the progress being made with the cruise line's new smart phone app and technology innovation, known as Project Excalibur.

Fain offered an update on where the project stands, and seemed bullish on the prospects of rolling the app out to most ships in the fleet by the end of 2019, as well as the progress being made.  There were no specific updates in terms of when certain functionality will be completed, but it did sound like they wanted to get it right the first time, instead of just pushing out an app that may or may not work well.

"The program is on track and the progress is impressive. We have taken a methodical, hands-on approach to this implementation, rolling out new upgrades on a monthly basis or even more frequently. We're finding that this 'softly softly' approach allows us to move more quickly, but also to correct the errors early before they impact a lot of vacations.

We continually add features to the app, and we remain on our trajectory of having half the fleet connected by the end of this year and most of the rest by the end of next year.

The most complete version of the app today is on Symphony of the Seas, and in December, that distinction will be taken over by Celebrity Edge.

One interesting milestone is the introduction of frictionless arrival.  We have been rolling this out on a limited basis and expect that it will be operational on a large scale basis on Symphony of the Seas and on Celebrity Edge later this fall.

By the way, we recently trademarked the term 'frictionless', so don't expect to see that being used by any other cruise line."

Higher onboard revenue is up (again)

If you spend time listening to these earnings calls, one trend that continued again this quarter was higher spending by guests, namely in the form of drink packages and other packages that can be purchased online or onboard.

In short, a lot of Royal Caribbean's revenue can be traced back to guests not only booking cruises in droves, but also because they are spending more than ever once onboard.

RCL Chief Financial Officer Jason Liberty spoke about onboard spending during his summary of the quarter, "The beat was driven by stronger than anticipated close-in demand, and better than expected onboard revenue spend.

Onboard areas, such as beverage, specialty dining and internet, helped deliver a 5.5% year-over-year increase in onboard revenue."

Mariner of the Seas singlehandidly helped drive up Caribbean demand

If there is one ship not named Symphony of the Seas that has hit a home run for Royal Caribbean, it is definitely Mariner of the Seas.  Mariner of the Seas has the distinction of being a very popular choice with consumers that are looking for short cruises, and has been a boon for the cruise line in terms of being booked well and driving up revenue.

In providing an overview of the Caribbean cruise market, Jason Liberty spoke about the impact Mariner of the Seas has had, "Demand for the Caribbean sailings has been strong, with bookings trending ahead of last year's very storng numbers. Our Caribbean capacity is up in the back half of the year, due mainly due to the addition of the reimagined Mariner of the Seas for the short Caribbean market.

Our strategy behind modernizing the Mariner of the Seas was to offer the best alternative for a short Caribbean getaway as a response to consumer trends. The younger generations are opting for shorter, more frequent vacations and the Mariner of the Seas is very well positioned for this segment with onboard activities, dining options, and entertainment similar to those on Oasis class ships.

Mariner of the Seas is booked very well and we are particularly excited about 2019. While we generally don't expect to recieve many bookings for short Caribbean sailings that are more than six months away, Mariner of the Seas' load factors in the first half of 2019 are closer to those of seven-night products than they are to shorter products."

Lessons learned from 2017 hurricane season

Towards the end of the call, an analyst asked Royal Caribbean's leaders about any lessons learned from the 2017 hurricane season that they can apply to the 2018 hurricane season.  This was an opportunity for Royal Caribbean to talk about the impact the cruise line had on the people affected by the storms, and the positive public relations and humanitarian response that Royal Caribbean saw.

Richard Fain spoke about the lessons learned, "We felt our response last year was really ended up being quite good. Probably built up a fair amount of good will from the way we handled it, and I'm not sure that from a pure financial point of view we learned much that would significantly change the outcome if you had, again, a hurricane that exactly tracked as our ships itinerary and exactly hit the ports of call on the days that they would be most impactful. So we constantly try and learn, and obviously there are always some lessons to be learned, but overall, I think we felt that last year we did pretty well.

I do think though that people should be impressed by how well the destinations responded afterwards. These were horrific events for them, but now people are reporting back and travel agents, which are always an important source of information as well as internet chatter, shows how well they've recovered and I think that may help us a little bit in terms of assuaging the concern that people had that if they went to some of these destinations afterwards they would encounter a bad experience. And that simply hasn't been the case."

Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas changes itinerary to avoid Hurricane Beryl


 Royal Caribbean informed guests sailing on the July 8th sailing of Oasis of the Seas their itinerary has been changed due to Hurricane Beryl’s projected path. 

Thanks to Royal Caribbean Blog reader Nick Vitani, we have a look at the email sent to guests booked on the affected sailing. 

Instead of sailing to the Western Caribbean as originally scheduled, Oasis of the Seas will opt for an Eastern Caribbean itinerary that will visit Nassau, St. Thomas and St. Maarten.

Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas changes itinerary to avoid Tropical Storm Alberto


Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas will skip a scheduled stop in Cozumel due to the effects of Tropical Storm Alberto.

Guests were informed of the change while onboard the ship by the Captain. Royal Caribbean Blog reader Paul Crow reported Majesty of the Seas will spend the night in Havana, Cuba, which is where she is currently docked.

Majesty of the Seas was scheduled to visit Cozumel on Saturday as part of a five night sailing from Tampa, Florida.  

Tropical Storm Alberto is the first named storm of the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season, although the storm is not expected to become a hurricane. 

Photos: Royal Caribbean provides hurricane relief to people of Caribbean


Royal Caribbean has been using its cruise ships to bring much needed aid to the hurricane-ravaged islands of the Caribbean.

Adventure of the Seas returned to Puerto Rico  carrying much needed humanitarian supplies. In addition, the ship has worked with the local government to take evacuees from Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and St. Croix.

Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas recently dropped off hurricane relief supplies in St. Marteen and St. Thomas after Hurricane Irma. In addition, the company worked with the local government to evacuate residents.

Royal Caribbean's Empress of the Seas was the first ship to visit Key West after the devastating effects of Hurricane Irma. In addition, to stopping in Key West the ship brought much needed supplies to the area.

Royal Caribbean International’s Adventure of the Seas recently dropped off hurricane relief supplies in St. Marteen and St. Thomas after Hurricane Irma. In addition, the company worked with the local government to evacuate residents.

Royal Caribbean changes Allure of the Seas' itinerary due to Hurricane Irma


Royal Caribbean announced it has changed the scheduled itinerary for Allure of the Seas due to the recently developed Category 2 hurricane.

Hurricane Irma is expected to begin a northwest turn just before Saint Maarten on Wednesday, according to Royal Caribbean Chief Meteorologist James Van Fleet.

Given the storm's location and for the comfort and safety of our guests and crew, Royal Caribbean felt it necessary to alter the currently scheduled Eastern Caribbean itinerary for Allure of the Seas September 3 to a Western Caribbean itinerary. The new itinerary is outlined below.

03-SepSundayFort Lauderdale, Florida 4:30PM
04-SepMondayAt Sea
05-SepTuesdayCozumel, Mexico8:00AM7:00PM
06-SepWednesdayAt Sea
07-SepThursdayFalmouth, Jamaica8:00AM3:00PM
08-SepFridayLabadee, Haiti10:30AM6:30PM
09-SepSaturdayAt Sea
10-SepSundayFort Lauderdale, Florida6:00AM 

Pre-booked shore excursions for our previous ports of call will be cancelled and refunded to the guest’s original form of payment while onboard. Guests will also have the ability to book shore excursions for our new ports of call at the Shore Excursions desk onboard Allure of the Seas.

Royal Caribbean noted they do not expect to make any further itinerary changes, but it may happen depending on the path of the storm.

James Van Fleet will continue to offer more frequent updates on his twitter account.

Royal Caribbean monitoring path of Hurricane Harvey for Liberty of the Seas


The Port of Galveston issued an update today regarding the forecasted path of Hurricane Harvey and its impact on Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas.

The Port of Galveston issued an update on their Facebook Page to indicate no changes have been made yet to Liberty of the Seas' itinerary, but Royal Caribbean is monitoring the path.  At this time, Liberty of the Seas will keep her original schedule for Sunday’s turnaround in Galveston, TX. Should the cruise line make any changes to Liberty of the Sea’s itinerary, Royal Caribbean will make sure to inform their guests and travel partners.

Royal Caribbean will provide an update tomorrow, August 25th by 12:00 PM EST.

A look back at how Royal Caribbean weathered Hurricane Andrew


Hurricane season in the Atlantic begins on June 1st, and the start of this potentially impactful time of year got us thinking about a major hurricane that directly impacted much of Royal Caribbean's operations.  Hurricane Andrew ravaged South Florida, and the story of how Royal Caribbean responded to the storm is an insightful reminder of the lengths at which the cruise line goes to keep its guests and employees safe.

The story of how Royal Caribbean dealt with Hurricane Andrew is documented in the book Under Crown and Anchor: Royal Caribbean Cruise Line: The First Twenty-five Years, 1970 - 1995. This blog post borrows greatly from the author's retelling of historical events, as the events that unfolded that summer in 1992 are incredible to read about again.

Before the storm

Weather forecasters at the National Weather Service had been following the path of Andrew long before it would strike Florida, with a prediction of landfall at four o'clock on August 24, 1992. Majesty of the Seas was on her usual schedule of being docked at Berth 5 in Miami the day before.  Majesty departed port an hour late, but Captain Eigil Eriksen stayed with his plan to get away from the storm's path as quickly as possible.

Shortly after Majesty left, Miami's port and airport were closed, along with Royal Caribbean's headquarters building.  Royal Caribbean's Vice-President, Purchasing, Properties & Logistics Ed Bollinger headed up a a small group of 15 employees from reservations and operations that flew to Atlanta to set up a contingency headquarters at the Hyatt Hotel.  The plan was for them to maintain communications in the event Miami's facility was incapacitated or destroyed. Royal Caribbean had adopted a hurricane preparedness plan after seeing the destruction Hurricane Hugo had leveled upon the United States Virgin Islands in 1989, and this was plan unfolded precisely as was laid out for the impending arrival of Andrew.

In the meantime, other Royal Caribbean workers spent the weekend before the storm preparing the headquarters building at 1050 Caribbean Way. Royal Caribbean's headquarters is the only major Miami cruise-line office positioned within reach of its vessels.  Ordinarily, this helps provides a tremendous ship-to-shore link, but with a storm heading directly for Miami, it was now a liability.  Literally everything that makes Royal Caribbean function is in that building: operations, reservations, ticketing, public relations, corporate offices, human resources, entertainment. The building was considered, "hurricane proof," but Director of Facilities Barbara Cirino described the risk posed succinctly: "Our data center was surrounded by water in a building made of glass."  Ultimately, Richard Fain made the decision to take the facility down completely.

Forty-eight hours before the storm, a Hurricane Team Meeting was called. At thirty-six hours, ground-floor files were removed and plastic bags and labels distributed.  At thirty hours, mail delivery was halted, food removed from the cafeteria, and filing cabinets wrapped.  Over 4,000 sandbags were filled and on standby in a neighboring warehouse.

Nordic Empress

Photo by Chris&Steve

While all of Royal Caribbean's ships were at sea by now, Nordic Empress (later known as Empress of the Seas), was moored for the day in Nassau. Ordinarily, Nordic Empress would spend the next day off CocoCay before arriving in Miami on Monday morning. Prior to Royal Caribbean shutting down headquarters, the plan was for her Nordic Empress to return to Miami and disembark her passengers before conditions deteriorated.

However, with the change in plans back at headquarters, Captain Kjell Smitterberg agreed to depart Nassau hour hours early.  Nordic Empress left at midnight, leaving behind three passengers who were unwilling to sail anywhere near a hurricane.  She skipped CocoCay and raced for the mainland.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Andrew moved closer. A week earlier, Andrew had been clocked at forty knots, but the day Nordic Empress sailed from Miami, Andrew's winds had accelerated to sixty-five knots. Nonetheless, the National Weather Service claimed Andrew was, "remaining poorly organized."

The following day, Andrew's winds escalated to ninety knots and its center began moving westward at fifteen knots.  Wind speed accelerated to over one hundred knots.

Andrew's Arrival

Photo by National Hurricane Center

By Sunday, the lobby entrance was chained and padlocked, with a sandbag rampart laid across the still. The team of Royal Caribbean employees evacuated the area to secure their own homes.  Later that afternoon, Dodge Island (the location of Royal Caribbean's headquarters) was evacuated and closed down.

Out at sea, Nordic Empress was seemingly followed by Hurricane Andrew, with both taking a westward track towards Miami. At nine o'clock, Nordic Empress received new instructions to change course ninety degrees, taking her south.  Captain Smitterberg headed through the Straits of Florida and spent the next two days idling along Cuba's northern coast through calm seas. 

Of course, the guests aboard Nordic Empress were still worried, since many of them were from the greater Miami area.  The ship's radio-telephone capacity was taxed with everyone trying to call home.  Smitterberg understood the concern, and circulated a printed document advising guests of Miami's shutdown and that were were well out of harm's way.  Additionally, he announced, Tuesday, rather than Monday flights home were being booked at that very moment. 

Luckily for Miami, Hurricane Andrew missed Miami from the worst damage. 

Monday morning, it was discovered the port had suffered minimal damage, and Royal Caribbean's headquarters had weathered the storm beautifully. Remarkably, power had never been lost.  It was essential that the Data Center be air-conditioned before the computers be turned back on, which the team did, all the while with just the windows and doors open until the air conditioning could kick in. Tap water was undrinkable because an above ground main had been fractured and no city water was potable.  

Royal Caribbean's team worked through until 2:00am Tuesday morning, bringing the building back up. In all, the facility suffered approximately $200,000 worth of damage with mostly wind damage causing leakage of subsequent rain.

After the storm

Photo by Ed Bollinger

The day after the hurricane, Tuesday August 25, Nordic Empress was due at Miami's pilot station at 0600 hours.  Miami was under a citywide curfew until 7:00am, which meant Royal Caribbean employees dealt with a number of delays reaching the terminal because of the police. 

Pier 5 had been damaged, so Nordic Empress moored at Berth 4 instead. Passenger disembarkation was slow. Line handlers were scarce and Customs and Immigration personnel arrived late for the vessel's return.  

Nordic Empress would remain tied up at Pier 4 for the rest of the week.  Her next scheduled 4-day cruise was canceled.  While disembarking Florida passengers could drive home, those with air destinations were stranded: Airport schedules were chaotic, partly because evacuated planes from Miami had to return before service could resume.  So many out-of-state passengers simply remained on board. Reservations had alerted most Miami-bound passengers of the cancelation of their 4-day Nordic Empress cruise, however, those who showed up were permitted to embark.

Yet a third category of impromptu passenger was welcomed on board, homeless company people.  Their houses and possessions had been destroyed, and all sense of stability had vanished. For those directly impacted by the storm, Nordic Empress was their temporary home.

Richard Fain organized a great deal of Royal Caribbean's response effort in those hours after the storm.  At an early emergency meeting, Fain called for a company day-care center within twenty-four hours.  The plan was put into place the following day at the adjacent Terminal 12.  By week's end, a hundred children were accommodated. In the company cafeteria, the distribution of donated clothing was organized.

Additionally, company-subsidized assistance programs were established for employees in need.  For those without insurance, Royal Caribbean underwrote low-cost construction loans; storage was arranged for household goods; counseling was offered for the traumatized; a check-cashing service was instituted until damaged ATM machines were repaired; generators below cost were provided; and special car-rental rates were established for employees without working automobiles.

In addition to being a hotel, Nordic Empress proved to be an irreplaceable source of ice.  Miami had none.  All employees received a daily ration of a gallon of ship's fresh water and five pounds of ice. Twice daily, ice and food were sent from the vessel up to the day-care center and to the cafeteria, where employees ate free for the week. Other Nordic Empress ice went to hospitals.

So taxing was the demand on Nordic Empress's freshwater supplies that Captain Smitterberg had to return to sea.  The city's water mains were still tainted and the vessel's reverse osmosis converter needed pure seawater to operate.  Royal Caribbean requested permission from U.S. Customs for Nordic Empress to depart temporarily, so passengers on board enjoyed a bonus cruise to nowhere. The vessel sailed Wednesday evening and returned the following morning. Overnight, she sailed 374 nautical miles up and down the coast, and her freshwater tanks were brimming.

Nordic Empress would sail on her regular 3-day cruise Friday afternoon, leaving in her wake a port and company headquarters returned to operational status.

Looking Back

The story of Hurricane Andrew and how Royal Caribbean dealt with the storm is a testimony to the resilience of the people that survived and rose beyond that cataclysmic event. At the time, it was America's worst natural disaster and yet Royal Caribbean handled each phase of the event remarkably well.

Every June, hurricane season approaches and the preparedness program devised and enacted for Hurricane Andrew continues to be a diligently rehearsed plan.

Empress of the Seas will be delayed returning to Miami due to Hurricane Matthew


Royal Caribbean announced that due to Hurricane Matthew, Empress of the Seas will be delayed returning to PortMiami on time.

Due to the storm, PortMiami is planning to close to all marine traffic on Thursday and reopen on Friday. Because of this, Empress of the Seas next sailing will now depart on Friday, October 7, 2016.

Boarding on Friday will take place as soon as Royal Caribbean receives notification from PortMiami authorities.

To compensate for the missed day, Royal Caribbean will provide each stateroom with an onboard credit in the amount of one day based on the cruise fare paid, which will be credited to guests' onboard accounts. As a gesture of goodwill, we will also be providing all sailing guests with a 25% future cruise credit. 

Guests onboard Empress of the Seas have reported, Empress of the Seas will go to Costa Maya with their extra day and arriving back to Miami on Friday.

Royal Caribbean International will continue to closely monitor weather conditions and will provide updates as soon as they become available.

Royal Caribbean changes itineraries for two Royal Caribbean ships due to tropical disturbance


Royal Caribbean was forced to change the scheduled itineraries for two of its cruise ships today, due to the predicted path of a tropical disturbance.

Royal Caribbean spokesman Owen Torres told Royal Caribbean Blog the change was made, "to ensure our guests enjoy a safe and comfortable cruise. Given the storm’s current location and projected path, we had no other option but to revise itineraries for Empress of the Seas and Liberty of the Seas."

Empress of the Seas revised itinerary will be

Monday, August 1: Miami, Florida
Tuesday, August 2: Key West, Florida
Wednesday, August 3: At Sea
Thursday, August 4: Nassau, Bahamas
Friday, August 5: CocoCay, Bahamas
Saturday, August 6: Miami, Florida

Liberty of the Seas revised itinerary will be

Sunday, July 31: Galveston, Texas
Monday, August 1: At Sea
Tuesday, August 2: Cozumel, Mexico
Wednesday, August 3: At Sea
Thursday, August 4: Nassau, Bahamas
Friday, August 5: At Sea
Saturday, August 6: At Sea
Sunday, August 7: Galveston, Texas

Royal Caribbean will continue to monitor the path and progress of the tropical disturbance in the Western Caribbean.