Royal Caribbean has cancelled Independence of the Seas’ ex-UK season next summer.
The 4,560-passenger ship was due to operate cruises from Southampton to Europe, alongside Anthem of the Seas, from May 2020. It will now offer Caribbean sailings from Fort Lauderdale in Florida instead.
The line insisted the move was not a reflection of a softer UK market, but rather in response to “phenomenal demand” from North America.
The ship was understood to be “well-sold” but the line declined to reveal how many UK passengers – and the agents who booked them – are affected by the move.
Ben Bouldin, associate vice president and managing director, Royal Caribbean International UK & Ireland, said guests affected by the itinerary change will be offered full refunds, and a ‘Future Cruise Credit’ for use on alternative sailings – valued at 25% of the cruise fare paid on their cancelled sailing.
Guests booked on the transatlantic sailings will be offered an alternative sailing on Anthem of the Seas, which is also sailing ex-UK to Europe in summer 2020, along with onboard credit based on their stateroom category and sailing length.
Non-refundable airline charges will be reimbursed, and full refunds are given to those who wish to cancel.
Bouldin stressed: “This is not a reflection on the UK market but rather a response to the phenomenal demand we’re seeing in North America. Ex-UK 2020 sales have been buoyant since our ‘on sale now’ campaign back in November 2018 and we are also seeing strong demand from UK guests for sailings outside of Europe, particularly in the Caribbean and Asia-Pacific regions.
“The UK continues to be an important market for Royal Caribbean.”
President and chief executive Michael Bayley had expressed nervousness around the UK market because of the Brexit situation, before confirming the deployment of Anthem to Southampton, which would more than double the line’s ex-UK capacity.
Last year, he said: “The big thing for us is the value of sterling. We are an American company. All of our revenues have to come back to us in dollars. When Brexit hit, that was a 15% cut. The UK is a big side of our business.”
But he later confirmed Anthem would indeed join Independence, saying: “We experience volatility in all the markets that we operate in. Our strategy has been a continuation, protect, optimise and carry on the journey; that is why we announced that Anthem is coming to the UK in 2020.
“By the time we have got through 2019, we will be in a far more stable environment. A lot of the choppiness will have stabilised. We are hoping but we don’t know. This kind of uncertainty is not good for business.”
This was before the Brexit deadline was delayed another six months to October 31, 2019.
Bouldin added: “The benefit of our global business model is that we are able to reposition ships to satisfy the demand of our guests. In this case, demand is high in the Caribbean, especially for itineraries to Perfect Day at CocoCay in the Bahamas, and keeping Independence of the Seas in Florida allows us to meet the demand.”
Independence of the Seas, which came back into service after a multi-million-pound refit in May 2018, is the most popular of all Royal Caribbean ships among UK agents and their customers. A Royal Caribbean spokeswoman confirmed that agents with customers booked on Independence of the Seas for summer 2020 sailings will keep the commission they have earned.
She added that the line is hoping that many affected passengers will transfer to Anthem of the Seas, which it pointed out was a larger and newer vessel.
Royal Caribbean will be sending letters to all affected passengers this morning (Thurs) to let them know of the decision and to outline their alternative options. It will also be contacting trade partners.