Royal Caribbean International announced on Friday it has canceled voyages on four ships because of "ongoing Covid-related circumstances around the world."
"In abundance of caution, Royal Caribbean International is pausing operations" on some ships, the company said in a statement.
The cruise line said it moved forward with the cancellations despite its health and safety measures, including vaccination and testing requirements for guests and crew.
Royal Caribbean said guests booked on the canceled sailings would receive compensation options, including a full refund.
The affected ships
Royal Caribbean said the following four ships are affected:
• Vision of the Seas: Its return to cruising is postponed until March 7.
• Serenade of the Seas: Its sailings from January 8 to March 5 are canceled. It's returning after dry dock on April 26.
• Jewel of the Seas: Its sailings from January 9 to February 12 are canceled. It's returning on February 20.
• Symphony of the Seas: Its sailings from January 8 to January 22 are canceled. It's returning on January 29.
"We regret having to cancel our guests' long-awaited vacations and appreciate their loyalty and understanding," the statement said. "Our top priority is always the well-being of our guests, our crew and the communities we visit."
Royal Caribbean says all guests 12 and older departing US ports must provide proof of Covid-19 vaccination, with the final dose of their vaccine given at least 14 days before sailing. The cruise operator also said certificates of recovery can't be used in place of proof of full vaccination.
Rules can vary, however, depending on the port of departure, the company says on its website. Testing requirements vary by port of departure and age group
A tough week for cruising
This latest wave of Covid-19 cases, powered by the highly transmittable Omicron variant of the coronavirus, has cruise companies scrambling again.
The following happened just this week:
More than 3,000 passengers and crew members were held on Royal Caribbean's Spectrum of the Seas in Hong Kong on Wednesday after a Covid scare prompted authorities to order the ship to return to port. Passengers and staff were allowed to disembark Wednesday night after being tested for Covid-19, a Royal Caribbean representative told CNN.
Also on Wednesday, Norwegian Cruise Line announced the cancellation of voyages on eight ships, citing "ongoing travel restrictions." One of its ships returned to port Wednesday after just one full day at sea, cutting short a voyage that was supposed to end on January 14.
On Monday, 45 Covid positive passengers disembarked MSC Cruises' Grandiosa in the Italian port of Genoa. That number totaled fewer than 1% of those on board.
What the CDC says about cruising right now
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on December 30 increased the risk assessment for cruise ship travel to its highest level and said it should be avoided, regardless of vaccination status.
The agency bumped up the travel risk level for cruise travel from Level 3 to Level 4, indicating the risk for Covid-19 is "very high."
The move "reflects increases in cases onboard cruise ships since identification of the Omicron variant," the CDC website said.
Cruise Lines International Association, a trade association, expressed disappointment at the CDC's elevated risk level.
"The decision by the CDC to raise the travel level for cruise is particularly perplexing considering that cases identified on cruise ships consistently make up a very slim minority of the total population onboard -- far fewer than on land -- and the majority of those cases are asymptomatic or mild in nature, posing little to no burden on medical resources onboard or onshore," CLIA said in a statement.
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