One has to admire the chutzpah of the cruise industry. No-sail orders, instituted after the pandemic turned vessels into floating superspreader factories, cost cruise lines a staggering $32 billion, by some estimates. This year, though, they have been boldly venturing back out to sea, despite ever-evolving obstacles like the Delta variant, anti-vaxxers, conflicting government edicts, and customers still wary of being in enclosed spaces with a lot of other people.
Making matters more complicated, we now have clear evidence that being vaccinated doesn’t always prevent people from catching coronavirus (although it does nearly eliminate the chance of getting seriously ill). How do you lure passengers back on ships when, even if they take every precaution, they could still pick up COVID on board and have to be sent home? Royal Caribbean apparently thinks it has an answer: give the infected some nice perks.
“Royal Caribbean is flying passengers home on a private jet if they have COVID-19,” proclaims an “unofficial fan blog” devoted to the cruise line. Author Matt Hochberg describes himself as “completely independent” and not employed by Royal Caribbean or any travel agency. (“I just really, really like cruising with Royal Caribbean,” he explains.)
According to the blog, one vaccinated passenger on a cruise in the Bahamas in June tested positive during a “routine COVID test for all passengers.” He was quarantined in an ocean-view stateroom, with unlimited room service, until he and his family were able to disembark in Cozumel. The cruise line “arranged for an ambulance to the airport, a private jet ambulance home” and had a “limo van waiting for him in Tampa International Airport,” Hochberg wrote.
Another passenger on a recent Bahamas cruise was identified as being in “close contact” with a person who tested positive, and he and his family received similar benefits, according to the blog. The passengers were quarantined and given free room service along with other perks, and transported home via a Learjet and private limos at Royal Caribbean’s expense.
Royal Caribbean doesn’t officially promise these goodies on its own site, although it states that vaccinated guests (and children not old enough to be vaccinated) who catch COVID on board will get prorated refunds, as well as coverage of expenses associated with any land-based quarantine, and the costs of getting home.
The fine print states that the policy lasts through Oct. 31. Unvaccinated guests, an issue for boats that docked in Florida, may not get such white-glove treatment. They are not covered by the policy and instead must carry travel insurance.
Not every cruise line has been quite as generous, to be clear. Protocols among companies seem to vary, although all seem to act quickly to isolate passengers who test positive and try to get them safely off the boat.
I became aware of Hochberg’s enthusiastic blog post when a relative sent it to me. With varying levels of trepidation, I’ve been preparing to go on a long-planned Royal Caribbean cruise in Alaska next month with my family, to celebrate my mom’s 60th birthday. We’re all vaccinated, except for my 4-year-old nephew, so the chance of any of us falling deathly sick is pretty miniscule.
I’m excited about spending time with my loved ones, taking in gorgeous Alaska scenery, and enjoying my first major vacation since the onset of COVID. Still, I'm really hoping no one ends up quarantined in an ocean-view stateroom with free room service.