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


It looks like the days of over-the-top service on cruise ships are coming to an end — at least on mass-market vessels.

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

Like the two other brands, Royal Caribbean has instructed room attendants to only clean most cabins once a day instead of the twice-a-day cleaning that has been a hallmark of the cruise experience going back decades.

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

“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 stateroom attendants, who will continue to do thorough cleaning, provide new towels, refresh amenities, and be available to guests for questions and stateroom requests throughout the cruise.”

Twice-a-day service for cabins on even the most budget-focused ships has long been a tradition in the cruise world that has contributed to cruising’s reputation for higher levels of service than resorts on land.

Room attendants on cruise ships have traditionally cleaned rooms once in the morning and then returned to them in the early evening to tidy them again and turn down beds.

Related: The 5 best places you can visit on a Royal Caribbean ship

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

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

As the world’s largest line, Royal Caribbean is considered a bellwether for the industry, and its decisions often are 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 decline twice-a-day service 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 twice-a-day service on cruise ships is labor-intensive and thus costly. The service cuts lines are making come as lines look for ways to reduce spending to shore up their balance sheets.

Cruise company balance sheets have been severely strained by the industrywide shutdown that occurred after the COVID-19 pandemic began. Many cruise companies, including Royal Caribbean’s parent company, Royal Caribbean Group, are saddled with record amounts of debt.

The service cuts at Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Carnival come even as the lines hike their service fees sharply. Royal Caribbean raised the service fees on its ships in August by more than 10% to $16 per person per day for those staying in most cabins.

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

Norwegian Cruise Line in January hiked its daily service charge even more sharply, boosting rates for passengers staying in most cabins to $20 per person per day. That’s 25% higher than the line’s service charge in 2022.

At almost the same time it boosted its service charge, Norwegian began cutting back on service for rooms — a seemingly incongruous move that has drawn criticism from customers.

In cutting back on service for rooms, both Royal Caribbean and Norwegian this year are following 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 hikes to service charges and cuts to service levels of late means cruisers are now paying more for less — something that could eventually turn off customers from cruising as an alternative to land-based resorts.

That said, resorts and hotels on land have also cut back service levels since the COVID-19 pandemic began, with some no longer offering daily cleaning services for rooms or any room cleaning at all.

As a result, even cruise lines that cut back to once-a-day service for rooms still may have an edge compared to some land-based vacation options when it comes to service levels.

Cruise line service cutbacks, explained

In a conference call with Wall Street analysts Tuesday, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings president and CEO Frank Del Rio suggested the company was trying to balance financial pressures 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 higher-end brands — Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania Cruises — that have not cut back on twice-a-day service.

“It is 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’re trying to balance what customers pay, what they actually pay for, and what they receive. So, for example, we did not cut the turndown service 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’re doing.”

Moments later, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings executive vice president and chief financial officer Mark Kempa added that the company was “simply aligning itself to what others in the hospitality sector have done” of late. In other words, Norwegian Cruise Line was following hotels and resorts on land in cutting back 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 squarely focused on making sure that the guest experience is wholly intact, but we’re going to align ourselves to what is the new normal for the hospitality sector. I think it’s the right thing to do.”

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