As a result of “ongoing COVID-related circumstances around the world,” Royal Caribbean International, “in an abundance of caution,” has cancelled scheduled cruises on four ships.
According to a Jan. 7 posting under "Cancelled Sailings" on Royal Caribbean's health and travel alerts webpage, the following ships are pausing operations:
- 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
“We regret having to cancel our guests’ long-awaited vacations and appreciate their loyalty and understanding,” the company wrote. “Our top priority is always the well-being of our guests, our crew and the communities we visit.”
Guests will automatically receive a full refund to the original form of payment, the company says, which will include any non-refundable deposits.
"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 have also received emails, notifying them of the change. “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,” the email reads.
Concerns over rising Omicron infections have already prompted cancellations of sailings elsewhere this week, signalling new challenges for the pandemic-ravaged cruise industry.
Royal Caribbean cancelled its Spectrum of the Seas cruise in Hong Kong on Jan. 6 after nine guests on a Jan. 2 voyage were linked to a local COVID-19 cluster. (Those passengers tested negative but the ship returned to Kai Tak Cruise Terminal in Hong Kong on Jan. 5 to test all guests and crew).
Additionally, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) announced on Jan. 5 that a number of sailings across its fleet have been cancelled “due to ongoing travel restrictions," impacting seven ships.
“As the global public health environment continues to rapidly evolve and destinations around the world modify their travel requirements or implement new travel restrictions, it is possible that itineraries may need to be modified,” NCL said.
NCL sister company Regent Seven Seas Cruises also altered the itinerary of its 120-night World Cruises departing San Francisco Jan. 5.
The changes come after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on Dec. 30, raised its travel warning for cruises to the highest level, “Level 4,” as the agency investigates dozens of ships that have had COVID-19 outbreaks amid a worldwide surge of the Omicron variant.
The CDC now calls cruising a high-risk activity, even among those who are fully vaccinated.
But the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) disagrees, calling the CDC’s move “perplexing” given 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,” as CLIA explained in a statement on Dec. 30, 2021.
“No setting can be immune from this virus—however, it is also the case that cruise provides one of the highest levels of demonstrated mitigation against the virus,” CLIA said.
“Protocols encompass the entirety of the cruise experience, incorporating testing, vaccination, screening, sanitation, mask-wearing and other science-backed measures.”