The cruise line has steadily relaxed its procedures and has quietly made a major change.
When Royal Caribbean (RCL) – Get Free Report cruise ships began sailing from American ports after the cruise industry’s covid-related shutdown, there were a lot of rules. The first sailings in July 2021 actually had a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated passengers with masks required in common areas and basically any indoor space where people weren’t eating and drinking.
As that first summer turned into fall, the rules changed and vaccinations became mandatory for any guest ages 12 or over. Mask rules sort of changed each month and social distancing went away as ships moved to fuller capacities, but vaccination requirements were a key part of the conditions under which the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) allowed the cruise lines to operate.
For a very long time (basically a year) to get on a cruise ship, you had to not only prove that you had been vaccinated, but you also had to present a negative covid test. That began to change in July 2022 when the CDC essentially decided it would stop monitoring covid on cruise ships.
Once that happened testing requirements loosened, masks went away, and vaccination rules were ultimately dropped. For a while, Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Line (CCL) – Get Free Report, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCLH) – Get Free Report, and other major players still required unvaccinated passengers to provide a negative test. More recently, that was also dropped and now Royal Caribbean has basically stopped any sort of covid precautions.
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Royal Caribbean No Longer Checks Vaccination Cards
Before you can board a Royal Caribbean ship you must answer whether you have been vaccinated, whether you have had your vaccine booster, and whether you have any symptoms of illness. Just a few weeks ago, when I boarded Royal Caribbean’s Celebrity Summit, the person checking in asked to see my vaccination card.
There was no thorough check or attempt to match the card to my identification (as there was when vaccination was required) but there was at least a perfunctory effort. That policy did not seem to be consistent, but it appeared that there was at least some level of verification (perhaps unvaccinated people were looked at more carefully for referrals to medical screening, but that’s just a guess).
On my latest sailing on the same ship, no effort was made to check my vaccination card and it appears that policy has been fully dropped. Now, anyone can say they’re vaccinated (if they would want to lie about that on the health form) with no fear of being caught.
It’s not a major change, and it’s possible the policy has been the de facto rule since vaccine requirements were dropped, but very clearly Royal Caribbean has, aside from requiring crew members to be vaccinated, decided that covid is no longer a thing to worry about.
Dropping Covid Rule Has Been Good for Business
Having vaccine requirements and mask-related rules may have been the right thing for passenger safety, but it was not good for business. Some people chose not to get vaccinated, others couldn’t get vaccinated, and some people dId not want to cruise until all rules were dropped.
Now that basically all covid rules have gone away, Royal Caribbean has seen business (albeit not pricing) return to near (or better than) historical levels.
CEO Jason Liberty actually never said “covid” during his remarks in the cruise line’s third-quarter earnings call (as he often previously has). Instead, he focused on how business has returned to strong levels.
“Over the past several months, our teams have been very busy and focused on generating strong quality demand, combating inflation, and most of all, delivering the best vacations in the world as we return our business closer to historical load factors while maintaining price integrity and generating $3 billion in revenue and almost $750 million in adjusted EBITDA in the third quarter,” he said.
Royal Caribbean’s business has basically returned to pre-pandemic levels, he explained.
“As our third quarter results clearly demonstrate the strength of our vacation platform, which includes our leading global brands, the best and most innovative ships in the industry … Our entire fleet is operating globally in our key destinations, demand for our experiences was very strong, and we achieved 96% load factors overall with the Caribbean at close to 105% at record pricing and high satisfaction scores” he added.