Royal Caribbean (RCL) – Get Royal Caribbean Group Report dropped its mask requirement for vaccinated guests as of Friday. Guests still need masks while boarding their ship — cruise terminals are federal transportation hubs that require masks — but can ditch them as soon as they get on board.
That’s because the cruise line’s ships, as will ones belonging to rivals Norwegian Cruise (NCLH) – Get Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. Report Line, and Carnival Cruise Line (CCL) – Get Carnival Corporation Report, now operate under new voluntary guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control instead of the CDC’s previous, mandatory Conditional Sail Order.
Under the new rule, cruise lines can opt into having mostly-vaccinated cruises. These require that 95% of crew and passengers be vaccinated. That’s not an issue with crew — Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Norwegian have been using 100% vaccinated crews — and it should not change much for passengers since vaccinations have been required on most cruises since cruising returned to U.S. ports in July.
The change in rules, and the slowing omicron variant, have allowed cruising to return to mostly normal. Royal Caribbean hinted that a true return to normal — including bringing back some beloved onboard activities — may happen soon.
Royal Caribbean Plots a Comeback
While cruises have returned, some typical cruise activities have not. You can’t social distance while playing laser tag or taking part in Royal Caribbean’s adult scavenger hunt, The Quest, so those things have not been part of cruises since they returned in July. The same has been true for Royal Caribbean’s Royal Promenade street parades and parties.
Nick Weir, senior vice president of entertainment for Royal Caribbean International, posted on Twitter a video of a street party rehearsal that took place recently. In the tweet, he added, “yeah, they will be back, hopefully soon…,” Matt Hochberg of the Royal Caribbean Blog reported.
Street parties include everything from 70s and 80s parties, to balloon drops, and other festive activities. These have not happened since the return to sailing because they require guests to pack together tightly. The changed guidelines make it possible for Royal Caribbean to bring these much-loved events back.
These are a “Times Square on New Year’s Eve kind of party,” wrote Hochberg, whose blog is not affiliated with the cruise line.
Royal Caribbean Tries to Bring Back Normal
Street parades and parties in the Promenade add a festive, celebratory feeling to a cruise. They’re not a huge part of cruising for most people, but they do attract a crowd and their return would also bring back a sort of communal sense of fun that sort of screams “we’re all on vacation.”
Royal Caribbean (and Carnival and Norwegian) have walked a bit of a tightrope during the post-shutdown days of the pandemic. They have to not only create a safe atmosphere — something arguably done by requiring not just proof of vaccination but also testing no more than two days before your cruise — but they also have to look like the environment is safe.
Two tested, vaccinated adults may pose very little risk of transmission playing at slot machines in a cruise ship casino without masks, but a picture of that creates bad optics for the cruise lines. That left all three major cruise lines having to balance actual health needs and perception.
Now, the CDC has loosened its mask recommendations on land as well. That makes it easier for the cruise lines to do the same onboard their ships. Bringing back street parades may seem like a small thing, but cruise bookings have been hurt somewhat by people not wanting to spend the money — even at depressed pricing — for an experience that’s not fully normal.
Changes like this bring normal a little bit closer. That should be good for Royal Caribbean and its CEO expects better days ahead.
“We have also seen a change in the mindset of consumers coming out of the pandemic with the desire to travel and reengage with the world being stronger than ever,” said Royal Caribbean CEO Jason Liberty during his company’s fourth-quarter earnings call. “In fact, the U.S. traveler organization research confirms that leisure travel will continue to increase at higher levels than business travel. All of this, coupled with consumer resilience and easing travel restrictions, provides tailwinds for our recovery.”