The cruise lines have managed to get rid of masks and make the onboard experience mostly normal, but some hurdles remain.
The cruise industry has faced a perfect storm (so to speak) as it has operated ships at or close to full capacity during the pandemic.
While vaccines have kept covid from causing serious illness, they have not eliminated the virus on cruise ships. That’s even with all passengers age 12 and over plus all crew members being vaccinated and all passengers being tested for covid no more than two days before their sailings.
First, they’ve had trouble finding enough crew to work their ships, and once they hire people, the visa process has slowed down getting them onboard. Second, the cruise lines have been dealing with onboard covid breakouts among the crew.
When a crew member tests positive for covid, the employee must quarantine until testing negative. That means some crew on every ship is unavailable due to positive tests.
The cruise lines have made progress on the first issue but are struggling with the second.
Image source: Shutterstock
Carnival Has Good News
Of the major cruise lines, Carnival has been the most open about its staffing shortages. The company has had to cancel some popular onboard events and close its Italian specialty restaurant on most ships due to staffing issues.
It’s a problem, however, that has been steadily improving and Carnival’s loyalty ambassador, John Heald, commented on it, Cruisehive reported.
“We have to acknowledge the wonderful cooperation of United States Customs and Border Protection, who are allowing many crew members from all over the world, from the Philippines, from Indonesia, from South Africa, from across Europe, from India, to come back to work with expired visas, and then they’re actually renewing them while they are on the ship,” he said.
Getting more crew onboard has enabled Carnival to restore more normal hours in its Camp Ocean kids club. That popular service has not yet fully returned to normal as some hours remain restricted.
Royal Caribbean has not been as vocal about its staffing issues, but the cruise line’s problems have generally led to slower service in bars and restaurants, not full-on closures.
Covid Remains a Crew Problem
Every Carnival and Royal Caribbean ship sailing from U.S. ports has opted into a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention program that sets the rules for operating. This includes monitoring the level of covid onboard and disclosing that to the public via a color-based system.
Green means nobody on the ship has tested positive for covid while yellow means that results are pending or inconclusive or less than 0.3% of passengers and crew have tested positive.
Orange means that more than 0.3% of people onboard have tested positive and it triggers a CDC investigation (which doesn’t actually seem to mean much). Red means that not only have people tested positive, but one of these criteria have been met:
Sustained transmissionMultiple factors that overwhelm onboard medical and/or public health resourcesVariants of concern are identified among on board cases.
A red designation could lead the CDC to implement mask protocols and order more testing, and it could also require the cruise lines to offer full refunds to any passengers who are scheduled to cruise on that ship.
Currently all Carnival and Royal Caribbean ships sailing from U.S. ports — in fact all ships from every cruise line except for one under the CDC program — currently sit at orange status. That means that a certain percentage of the crew must quarantine to prevent the disease from spreading. That leads to further crew shortages, which can compound the original problem.
Nonetheless, it’s important to note that the vast majority of crew and passenger positive tests have not led to serious illness or hospitalization, but they have contributed to staffing shortages.