Is The Omicron Variant A New Threat To the Cruise Business?

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The CEO of the United Kingdom’s Health Security Agency, Jenny Harries, has issued a strong warning about the dangers that the new substantially mutated Covid-19 omicron strain poses to the country.

COVID-19 outbreaks are still spreading on cruise ships based in the United States. Last week, a Carnival Freedom cruise from South Florida was denied admission to Bonaire and Aruba after an unspecified number of passengers contracted COVID-19 despite having passed a COVID-19 test just days before embarking. 

At least 48 passengers and crew members on the world’s largest cruise ship, the Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas, tested positive for the disease, and they were all quarantined onboard.

After a weeklong voyage that included stops in Belize, Honduras, and Mexico, the Norwegian Breakaway cruise ship returned to Novel Orleans on Dec. 4 with 17 coronavirus infections on board, including one of the new Omicron variety. Although the local and federal health authorities were contacted, not all of the passengers disembarking were.

Alter The Rules

In reaction to the increase in incidents, some cruise firms have stated that they will change their rules. After dozens of people tested positive on Royal Caribbean’s Odyssey of the Seas and Symphony of the Seas, both located in Florida, the company declared it would not accept new bookings until January 10. 

Over the last week, the ships have seen an increase in cases at a faster rate than the United States as a whole.

What Cruise Lines Are Doing To Cope With The New Variant

The cruise industry is making news once again because of COVID-19 outbreaks onboard ships and ships being turned away from ports due to sick guests and crew.

This week, 48 passengers and crew members on Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas tested positive for COVID-19 (though it’s important to remember that this represents fewer than 1% of those onboard). 

The Queen Mary 2 of Cunard Line was forced to remove ten guests in New York City after they tested positive during normal onboard testing.

Due to COVID-19 instances on board, the Carnival Panorama was forced to abandon a stop in Cabo San Lucas when local officials ordered that all passengers be tested before being allowed to disembark. 

The Explorer of the Seas of Royal Caribbean was denied access to St. Lucia after many crew members tested positive on board.

Loss

Even though increasing fares appeared to temper a little enthusiasm among cruisers, the firm, which owns the Cunard and Holland America Line brands, said bookings for the second half of next year and the first half of 2023 were at the higher end of historical ranges.

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As the firm spent substantially on preparing its ships across its many brands for sailings,  Due to this new variant the company adjusted net loss expanded to $1.96 billion from $1.86 billion in the fourth quarter.

Mask Policies Are Getting More Strict

Remember when masks were optional on cruises during the summer? Keep your memories safe because maskless cruising is on pause for the winter.

For example, Royal Caribbean has strengthened its mask policy. Indoors (except when eating or drinking), all cruisers, vaccinated or not, must now wear masks, including in vaccinated-only public spaces. Carnival Cruise Line has also changed its mask policy to require (rather than encourage) the use of masks indoors for all passengers aged 2 and up.

Smoking is no longer permitted in Carnival’s casinos until further notice, due to the fact that passengers must remove their masks to do so. Similar regulations on masking and indoor smoking have been implemented by sister line Holland America.

On trips departing until January 31, 2022, Norwegian Cruise Line has changed its policy from allowing all-vaccinated guests to skip masking on board to mandating all passengers and employees to wear masks indoors.

Expect More Itinerary Changes

As destinations reassess their safety standards or close their doors to ships carrying sick passengers and crew, the cruise industry’s return to sailing in 2021 has already seen a lot of itinerary adjustments.

Norwegian Cruise Line and Azamara Club Voyages also preemptively canceled their winter 2021-2022 cruises from South Africa due to the omicron variation, in addition to the aforementioned day-of itinerary modifications.

With the surge of COVID-19 cases, cruise lines are likely to make more planned and unplanned itinerary alterations. Cruise lines will be forced to respond to ports that refuse entry or impose additional debarkation conditions on ships carrying sick passengers and crew, as well as change itineraries in advance for any countries that go into lockdown, update vaccine requirements, or restrict certain nationalities from entering their borders.

American Cruise Line Review

The first of three 100-passenger-capacity ships built by American Cruise Lines, the American cruise line has mixed reviews as it maintains the same four-deck profile as its smaller predecessors. It is very difficult to control the omicron as if the cruise is full of passengers. Some rules will be altered after the number of cases.  Although prices are steep, dining alone is worth the extra expense. Dinner options range from sliced duck breast to filet mignon and steamed lobster.