Say it ain’t so: Royal Caribbean is the latest cruise line to cut cabin service on ships

It seems that the days of excessive service on cruise ships are coming to an end – at least on mass market vessels.

The world’s largest cruise line, Royal Caribbean, has in recent days begun to cut back on the level of service provided by room attendants on its ships, following similar moves by Norwegian Cruise Line and Carnival Cruise Line.

Like the other two brands, Royal Caribbean has instructed cabin attendants to only clean most staterooms once a day instead of the twice-daily cleaning that has been a hallmark of the cruise experience for decades.

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In a statement sent to TPG, the line suggested the change was permanent, but said suites on the ships would continue to receive service twice a day.

“Royal Caribbean International is implementing a once-a-day cleaning service for staterooms across the fleet,” the line said Thursday in the statement. “Vacationers will still regularly see the familiar faces of their cabin attendants, who will continue to thoroughly clean, provide new towels, refresh amenities and be available to guests for questions and cabin requests throughout the cruise.”

Twice-daily stateroom service on even the most budget-focused ships has long been a tradition in the cruise world, contributing to cruising’s reputation for higher levels of service than land-based resorts.

Space passengers on cruise ships have traditionally cleaned rooms once in the morning and then returned to them in the early evening to clean them again and turn down the beds.

Related: The 5 Best Places to Visit on a Royal Caribbean Ship

Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Carnival are three of the biggest brands in the mass market cruise market, and together account for more than a third of all cruises taken worldwide.

Currently, most other cruise lines, including other mass-market brands such as MSC Cruises, Princess Cruises, Holland America, Disney Cruise Line, and Celebrity Cruises, continue to offer twice-daily service. That said, Royal Caribbean’s change this week could have an effect on policy on these other lines.

As the world’s largest line, Royal Caribbean is considered a bellwether for the industry, and its decisions are often copied by other brands.

Already, one of Royal Caribbean’s sister brands, Celebrity, has begun offering passengers an extra perk — additional Captain’s Club loyalty points — if they agree to turn down service twice a day during cruises.

High-end luxury lines such as Silversea Cruises continue to offer a high level of service on ships, including, in some cases, butler service. LUCA LOCATELLI/SILVERSEA CRUISES

Providing service twice a day on cruise ships is labor-intensive and therefore expensive. The service cuts come as the lines look for ways to reduce expenses to strengthen their balance sheets.

Cruise line balance sheets have been severely strained by the industry-wide shutdown that occurred after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean’s parent company, the Royal Caribbean Group, are saddled with record debt.

The service cuts at Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Carnival come even though the lines are sharply increasing their service fees. Royal Caribbean increased service charges on its ships in August by more than 10% to $16 per person per day for those staying in most staterooms.

In the wake of the increase, a family of four in a typical cabin now pays nearly $450 in service charges on a seven-night Royal Caribbean cruise.

Norwegian Cruise Line in January increased its daily service charge even more sharply, raising prices for passengers occupying most staterooms to $20 per person per day. It is 25% higher than the line’s service charge in 2022.

Almost at the same time as it increased the service charge, Norwegian began to cut back on service for rooms – a seemingly inappropriate move that has drawn criticism from customers.

When it comes to cutting back on room service, both Royal Caribbean and Norwegian this year follow Carnival, which cut back to once-a-day cleaning on its ships in 2021.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Royal Caribbean Ships and Itineraries

The combination of sharp increases to service fees and cuts in service levels of late means that cruisers are now paying more for less – which could ultimately stop customers from cruising as an alternative to land-based resorts.

That said, land-based resorts and hotels have also reduced service levels since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with some no longer offering daily room cleaning or room cleaning at all.

As a result, even cruise lines that cut back to once-daily room service can still have an advantage over some land-based vacation options when it comes to service levels.

Cuts in the cruise line, explained

In a conference call with Wall Street analysts on Tuesday, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings President and CEO Frank Del Rio suggested the company was trying to balance financial pressure to cut costs with the need to keep passengers happy.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings is the parent company of Norwegian Cruise Line as well as two high-end brands – Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania Cruises – which have not cut back on twice daily service.

“It’s a balance. Obviously, you don’t want to kill the goose that lays the golden egg, which is the customer,” Del Rio said in response to a question from an analyst about the wisdom of such cost-cutting moves. “We try to balance what customers pay, what they actually pay for and what they receive. So, for example, we didn’t cut the bed across all brands or across all cabin categories … look, it’s management’s responsibility to optimize revenue and minimize costs. That’s economics 101, and that’s what we do.”

Moments later, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Executive Vice President and CFO Mark Kempa added that the company was “simply aligning itself with what others in the hospitality sector have been doing” lately. In other words, Norwegian Cruise Line followed hotels and resorts on land in cutting down on service levels.

“This is nothing new. I think customers in today’s society are used to getting a different level of service,” Kempa said. “We’re totally focused on making sure the guest experience is completely intact, but we’re going to adjust to what is the new normal for the hospitality industry. I think it’s the right thing to do.”

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