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Royal Caribbean Keeps One Covid Change Passengers May Not Like

Royal Caribbean cruise line has decided that one policy change made during the pandemic era will stay in place.

The covid pandemic forced the cruise industry to make a lot of changes -- some superficial and others that altered long-term policies. 

Some of these changes, like making muster drills mostly virtual, delighted customers. Others, like improving air filtration, happened behind the scenes, benefiting cruise passengers even if they weren't aware that anything had happened.

Royal Caribbean International (RCL) - Get Free Report, Carnival Cruise Line (CCL) - Get Free Report, and Norwegian Cruise Line (NCLH) - Get Free Report all moved largely in lockstep during the pandemic. In July 2021, when all three cruise lines returned to service from U.S. ports, they had to deal with oversight from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Those rules mandated that all passengers age 12 and older had to be vaccinated, and all passengers had to provide negative covid tests. Mask rules varied a bit, but for much of the past year and a few months since the cruise lines were able to start sailing again, masks were required in a number of areas, including cruise terminals.

Now, the CDC has basically stopped regulating the cruise industry. It offers guidance but it no longer tracks covid on cruise ships, and most rules have gone away. 

And while Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Norwegian have seen operations largely return to normal, not every pandemic-era change has gone away.

Royal Caribbean Lead JS

Royal Caribbean Keeps a Change Passengers May Not Like

Royal Caribbean cruises have largely returned to the exact experiences they were before covid. Vaccinated passengers still have to provide proof they got their shots and unvaccinated cruisers must still show negative tests, but once you board, the experience has mostly returned to normal.

Royal Caribbean has decided, however, that it's not going roll back one change, which was first reported by Royal Caribbean Blog. The cruise line discussed the matter in an email to travel agents Sept. 27.

"As we continue to shape the future of cruising, a few experiences may look a bit different to some of your clients. With this, we will no longer be accepting prebookings for onboard entertainment. All guests who would like to attend our entertainment onboard must book these at the Box Office or on the App once onboard," the email said.

Some customers may be angry about this because it creates a sort of rush to book theater shows, Aqua Theater performances, the comedy club, and other onboard entertainment as customers board. 

This could mean people book a cruise and end up unable to see a show they really wanted to see.

In reality, many people don't show up for their reservations, so not getting one generally means that you can line up on a standby basis and still get in.

Royal Caribbean Has Turned a Covid Corner

Royal Caribbean, like Carnival and Norwegian, has struggled to get back to its precovid levels of business. The company has returned its entire fleet to service and has slowly built back to sailing its ships at full capacity. 

Chief Executive Jason Liberty outlined some financial information on the company during its second-quarter-earnings call.

"Another major milestone for the group this past quarter was that our business turned operating cash flow and Ebitda positive," he said. 

"...This achievement further strengthened our liquidity position and positions us well to continue methodically and proactively improving the balance sheet and refinancing near-term maturities as we seek to return to 2019 metrics and beyond swiftly."

Liberty made clear that he expected the company to fully recover.

"This outperformance in Q2 versus our expectations was driven by continued strength in our onboard revenue and accelerating load factors, which hit nearly 90% in June and delivered 82% for the quarter," he said. 

"This combination led us to achieving higher total revenue per guest versus 2019 levels."