After onboard cases of COVID-19 rocketed in December and subsequently forced cruise lines to cancel voyages, two of the largest companies – Royal Caribbean and Carnival – are increasing their efforts to protect cruisers against the spread of the virus.
Both companies are also changing several itineraries because ports have implemented new testing requirements for guests.
According to a report by RoyalCaribbeanBlog, the cruise line has put new mask rules in place that will remain in effect through February 14, 2022. In an email, Royal Caribbean pinned the extension of the mask rules on the Omicron variant.
"With the recent uptick of COVID-19 in the world and added Omicron variant concerns, we feel it prudent to temporarily tighten our onboard health protocols to require masks indoors at all times, unless actively eating or drinking while seated,” the company stated.
Royal Caribbean passengers will also be required to wear face masks while indoors (except when drinking or eating) whether they’ve been vaccinated or not, and the cruise line is curtailing smoking in the casino.
Carnival to use app for COVID-19 verifications
Carnival officials believe they've found a COVID-19 "solution" for its operations from U.S. homeports. In an email to ConsumerAffairs, the company stated that it will begin a pilot program at its Port Canaveral, Fla., port using an app called VeriFLY starting Jan. 22. Carnival said using the app will allow Carnival guests to upload their proof of vaccination and testing information so that it can be verified before sailing.
The upshot of that should be a more streamlined embarkation experience at the terminal. Once the pilot at Port Canaveral is complete, Carnival intends to move quickly to implement the solution across its fleet.
Carnival is also expanding its in-terminal testing capabilities for vaccinated guests prior to embarkation for 3- and 4-day voyages. The company said it will continue to operate under its current protocols -- which include sailing vaccinated voyages, requiring pre-embarkation testing, and following onboard indoor mask requirements -- until further notice.
There's some good news for Carnival fans, though. On Jan. 13, Carnival restarted operations and returned to its year-round schedule from Charleston, S.C. To date, Carnival has 19 of its 22 U.S.-based ships in guest operation, sailing from eight homeports on the Atlantic, Gulf, and West coasts.
CruiseHive reports that Norwegian Cruise Line recently notified travel agents that two ships were forced to change their itineraries.
“Destinations may suddenly modify their travel requirements and restrictions, requiring us to revise our itineraries and potentially skip scheduled ports of call. Furthermore, under certain circumstances onboard services may be impacted or limited to provide the safest environment possible,” the message read.
“As always, we will do our very best to communicate any changes with you as soon as the information becomes available, however, many of these modifications may come at very short notice, or even during the voyage.”
Carnival has itinerary changes of its own that travelers should know about. The local government of Grand Cayman has severely limited the number of incoming passengers to protect the health and safety of visitors and its own citizens. Until the country feels safe about its chances, it’s forcing ships to reduce capacity to 1,600 people, about 60% for most ships.