How crowded are Royal Caribbean and Carnival cruise ships right now?
When Freedom of the Seas left Miami on July 2, 2021, it marked the Royal Caribbean International (RLC) – Get the Royal Caribbean group report return to North American sailing after being closed since March 2020.
This sail has less than 1,000 people, mostly loyal cruisers eager to get back to sea regardless of the rules (as well as a fair number of corporate executives.
This ship can hold 4,375 passengers at full capacity, according to Ship Technology and on this July sail it felt empty and the crew seemed to outnumber the passengers.
At night in the British Pub, the crowd was basically me, two other journalists and the occasional person walking around.
This perhaps made it too easy to have a drink, and while it was a wonderful experience, sailing only seemed normal when everyone on board went to the upper decks to encourage sailing and celebrate the 4th of July,
I sailed Freedom on this July sail, then again in September, October, November, December, then again in May.
I sailed Odyssey of the Seas and Wonder of the Seas between January and May.
Crowds gradually grew over the fall, but even December sailing (a three-day weekend, which in pre-pandemic times would be at or near capacity) still had limited capacity.
Royal Caribbean has steadily increased the number of people on its ships, with some slight pauses as new variants of covid emerged and Carnival Cruise Lines (CCA) – Get Carnival Corporation report followed much the same pattern.
Cruise line capacity returns
How crowded will my cruise be?
This is a question apparently asked by all experienced cruisers. In summer and autumn this response was “not at all” and later “not as much as usual”, but the number of passengers on board slowly returned to normal, even reaching it on some crossings.
Cruise lines usually don’t offer much commentary on why they might be limiting capacity when they technically don’t have any left.
Crew concerns, including the inability to board new crew members to allow full crossings due to slow visa processing times and keeping rooms open in the event of potential covid quarantines, have kept some ships below their full complement of passengers.
Demand, of course, also plays a role. Royal Caribbean Chief Financial Officer Naftali Holtz commented on his company’s current situation during its first quarter earnings call.
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“I would like to comment on capacity and load factor expectations for the coming period. We plan to restart operations on all remaining vessels by the end of June.
“We expect to operate approximately 10.3 million APCDs [available passenger cruise days] in the second quarter, and we expect load factors to be around 75% to 80%,” he said.
“Our load factor expectations reflect the higher occupancy rate we are seeing in the Caribbean and lower expectations for repositioning trips and early season European departures.”
It is clear that demand is a factor that explains why some crossings sail with fewer passengers than others.
Carnival had to limit the cabins it sold on its UK-based Cunard line due to staffing issues.
“As you may have seen in the news, the wider impact of Covid-19 is affecting hospitality and disrupting airlines and as such is impacting membership numbers. crew that we can bring to our ships,” the company said in a statement.
“We naturally want to ensure that all fleet guests enjoy the high standards of onboard service they expect from Cunard and which we are committed to providing,” the company added.
“So we are limiting the number of guests sailing as we replenish crew numbers.”
Normal cruise crowds are coming
Once staffing issues return to normal – which is happening slowly – the main concern could be whether the economy is slowing demand.
Carnival CEO Arnold Donald said he expects his business to get closer to normal over the summer during the cruise line’s first-quarter earnings call.
“We are on the verge of returning to full cruise operations, with three-quarters of our capacity having resumed guest operations and a plan to bring the rest of the fleet back for the summer season. And while the conversation around covid-19 is greatly reduced, we have yet to do so and are actively managing it successfully,” he said.
And while neither Carnival’s nor Royal Caribbean’s CEO said it directly, passengers sailing this summer will likely experience consistent passenger numbers.
This does not mean that some crossings will not have limited capacities or sell well, but many will not as long as demand remains within historical norms.