Cruise Lines Are Dropping Pandemic-era Capacity Rules

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to relax its rules, several companies like Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and Virgin Voyages, have done the same.

NCL Encore At Sea in Alaska
Photo: Michel Verdure/Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

The days of quiet cruise ships are about to become a thing of the past as cruise lines are increasingly dropping pandemic-era capacity restrictions.

Cruise lines across the country are slowly returning to pre-pandemic times after initially implementing rules like mask wearing and limiting the number of people on board to convince cruisers to come back to sea, Cruise Critic reported. Now, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to relax its rules, several companies have done the same, like Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and Virgin Voyages.

"We sailed at reduced capacity to get back," Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, the president and CEO of Celebrity Cruises, said during the first Celebrity Beyond mini-sailing, according to Cruise Critic. "Please go back and fill these ships."

For its part, Virgin Voyages, which launched its debut ship from Miami last year, has also said it will stop restricting capacity to 50%.

"Our move away from the 50% capacity restriction was a more recent change as we closely monitored the way the travel environment is evolving and bouncing back," a Virgin spokesperson confirmed to Travel + Leisure. "Vaccinations have been a game changer for us, and we've seen over the past several months, our Voyage Well protocols are working so we felt comfortable re-evaluating the capacity restrictions. We haven't sailed at capacity just yet, but [are] eager to welcome both new-to-cruise and past sailors on-board without limitation."

And Royal Caribbean's President and CEO Michael Bayley recently predicted most of the company's ships will be back at full capacity as the summer — and the Memorial Day holiday weekend — kicks off.

"We have ships now sailing at 100% and we've had ships sailing at 100% now for several weeks out of the Caribbean, into the Caribbean market and a short product," he said, according to Cruise Critic.

But it may take a while longer for some ships to be completely full again, like Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas, which can hold more than 5,700 guests as the world's largest cruise ship.

"The reality is the season will start more gradually than that, but there is a good number of passengers on that sailing," Royal Caribbean Vice President Ben Bouldin said, according to the site. "The expectation is that we will get beyond 100% load factor as we get through the season, and that's pretty much the story across the fleet."

Representatives for Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Travel + Leisure.

The push to increase cruising capacity comes as the CDC relaxed its definition of what it means to be a highly vaccinated cruise ship and weeks after the agency dropped its warning against cruise ship travel, telling Americans to "make their own risk assessment when choosing to travel on a cruise ship, much like they do in all other travel settings."

Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. When she's not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.

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