Royal Caribbean Backtracks On Ridiculous Passport Restriction

Filed Under: Travel

Several days ago I wrote about how in light of the coronavirus outbreak, Royal Caribbean made the poorly thought out decision of banning anyone with a passport from China, Hong Kong, or Macau, from their cruises.

Why this policy was just plain wrong

Obviously the coronavirus situation is serious and all travel companies are taking precautionary measures, but this policy crossed the line. That’s because they were banning passport holders from the region regardless of where they lived.

If you have one of those passports but are a permanent resident in another country and haven’t even been to Greater China in the past decade, you still wouldn’t be allowed on one of their ships? That was unjustifiable, and the company claimed that the policy was “in alignment with CDC policies,” which simply isn’t true.

At no point did the CDC suggest that people should be restricted due to their national origin or passport.

A real life example of why this was a problem

Just to give an example of why this was such an issue, let me give the example of an email I received after my initial post:

I have a cruise with Royal Caribbean booked for me and 9 of my family members leaving in 9 days and just found out yesterday that one of them can’t go because she has a Chinese passport. She hasn’t been to China in over 3 years but apparently that doesn’t matter. Our family vacation is now turned upside down as we don’t want to leave her behind.

Unfortunately when I called to see if we can cancel the cruise for all of us I was told that only she will get a refund and the rest of us are out of luck and will lose 100% of our payment if we cancel. I am surprised at such a stringent policy and shocked at their lack of willingness to accommodate the travelers affected by the ban.

On top of that, many of us are uncomfortable going on the cruise due to the fact that we are Asian. We are no different than the person banned other than our US passport. I have a hard time believing we won’t be scrutinized or treated differently on the cruise seeing as how they were willing to ban an entire group of people based on their passport alone.

Well, Royal Caribbean has come to their senses…

Royal Caribbean backtracks on their policy

As Royal Caribbean has communicated to guests:

Over the last few weeks, governments around the world have been restricting travel for Chinese, Hong Kong, and Macau passport holders – often times with little advance notice. As a result of these restrictions, last week we decided to add a similar policy to our travel regulation, to avoid disruption to impacted guests’ vacations.

Now that governmental restrictions have been clarified, we have made a change to our travel regulation. We’re happy to share that effective immediately, passport holders from China, Hong Kong, and Macau will be able to sail with us.

I’m happy to see this reversed.

I’m still conflicted about whether they deserve the benefit of the doubt on this or not.

I could be missing something, but I’m not aware of any governments that were restricting travel to passport holders of China, Hong Kong, and Macau, assuming they don’t actually live there. All of the restrictions I saw were based on recently having been to China.

They made their decisions based on “restrictions” that didn’t exist, best I can tell. For a company the size of Royal Caribbean to make that mistake sure makes you wonder…

For those who canceled their reservation as a result of the (flawed) policy, Royal Caribbean is offering to reinstate reservations.

Policies that Royal Caribbean is maintaining

While they’re changing the passport requirement, Royal Caribbean is maintaining the following policies:

We will deny boarding to any guest or crewmember, regardless of nationality, if they’ve:

  • Traveled from, to, or through mainland China, Hong Kong, or Macau less than 15 days prior to their sailing.
  • Been in contact (which the CDC defines as 6 feet or 2 meters) with someone that has traveled from, to, or through mainland China, Hong Kong, or Macau less than 15 days prior to their sailing.

That second bullet point is an interesting one. I would guess that many (most?) people who traveled to a cruise port through a major international airport were within six feet of someone who has been to China in the past 15 days, probably without knowing it…

I understand they’re probably adding that restriction to cover their rear, though talk about a policy that’s unenforceable, since in our day-to-day lives it’s not like we know where people around us have been.

For that matter, if someone wanted to cancel a cruise for whatever reason, perhaps this is an easy out? “Well, I was within six feet of someone who has been to China at the airport, so…”

Bottom line

I’m happy to see that Royal Caribbean backtracked on this policy. Banning passport holders with no regard for where they live was just plain wrong.

Now the restrictions are all based around whether you’ve been to China in the past 15 days, or have been around someone who has been to China in the past 15 days (with the latter being more challenging to enforce).

  1. stay away from cruises, their entire business model is based on exploiting foreign workers for long hours, low pay , low protections, on a flag of convenience

  2. I’m hoping they still get sued. It’s discrimination based on national origin and it’s wrong.

    “bu but the ships are flagged in…”

    Doesn’t matter. The policy included US ports and it was a directive from a US office.

  3. I can cross Royal Caribbean off my list of cruise lines that I will be going on. The way they subjected their guests and potential customers to such draconian and unwarranted measures speaks volumes about how their management thinks of their customers.

    Protecting their guests and crews from danger is obvious, but a blanket ban with no real thought indicates they don’t have a clue or don’t care about a certain segment of the population.

  4. Do you know plenty of Chinese people will tell lie? Royal Caribbean how to prove the Chinese passport holder live in US for three years?

  5. The only one who is ridiculous here is Ben (Lucky) for having a problem with a cruise line protecting passengers from a deadly virus. Having a certain passport doesn’t mean you were exposed but having a certain passport means you are more likely to be exposed than a random person without that passport. The virus originated in China and 99% of those infected are ethnic Chinese. Those with Chinese passports are more likely to live in China, have traveled to China or have a family member who has recently traveled to China than those with Kenyan, israeli, Swedish or Egyptian passports. Let’s be realistic. It is not an ideal policy but it does make sense.

  6. @Why
    Do you know plenty of people, in general, lie?

    @Jackson Rogers
    You’re the one being ridiculous. What you’re suggesting is racial profiling. I guess they should just ban Asians in general, regardless of passport, because they’re more likely to have Chinese family and friends?

  7. I agree with royal Caribbean not letting Chinese on as it originated from their country ,sorry no one wants to take a cruise and be stressed or worried,I’m sure the Chinese understands this.

  8. Do Chinese passport holders receive a stamp when they enter China? If not, and maybe they do, how could a cruise line determine if a Chinese passport holder had recently visited China?

  9. Royal wasn’t the only cruise line. Crystal also announced this before Royal on Feb 4. Other cruise lines also have/had the same restriction. Norwegian is another.

  10. @Jackson Rogers

    Let me reiterate what Jackson Rogers really means: Let’s just put all Chinese people in concentration camps since the virus originated in China and 99% of those infected are ethnic Chinese. – At least this way, we can contain it!

    Did you have the same opinion with the 2009 H1N1 Swine Flu, which originated from the US and killed over 300,000 people? If not, STFU.

  11. If people on the ship some how are infected by cororonavirus from those banned from the first restriction then Royal Caribbean would facing enormous lawsuits.

  12. @Gillian Madden

    I am sure that sentiment was the same for the Germans that supported concentration camps in East Germany.

    Seriously, this racist sentiment is appalling. I’m sure the Chinese, a country of 1.4 billion people, appreciates Becky from South Beach commenting on behalf of their entire country.

  13. I don’t think it’s long term procedure, its just a short term procedure.

    Yes plenty of people tell lie may be, but now the virus come from great China

    If next time the virus come from Russia, I suggest Royal Caribbean ban Russian tourist for a short period

  14. Again, there’s no realistic reason to ban someone with a China passport who lives in America, or country other than China. The blanket ban is completely discriminatory with no factual basis other than being a Chinese passport holder. People with no association other than a passport booklet belonging to China are being stigmatized by a cruise line.

    What is RC going to do when there is an influenza epidemic in the US? Ban me and my US passport?

  15. As no one has yet to receive the novel coronavirus on a Royal Caribbean ship which is why I believe they back tracked in the first place. I believe stringent restrictions should be made because no one knows exactly what we’re completely dealing with. We just know where it originated from, an estimate of how many people have died, and contracted the virus. This virus has yet to be “contained.”

    It’s sad that people try to make something more out of nothing. I think people fail to remember that people can have no signs or symptoms of the virus look completely normal but still spread to others. That alone is scary! Most people don’t even know they are carrying the virus. So some folks coming from China and thereof are carrying this thing not knowing or showing any signs they have it. The ban was there as a precaution folks. You either want a temporary ban to minimize the virus exposure until we learn more or you don’t and have a greater risk of getting the virus and spreading it to your loved ones. Simple as that!

    Call it racial discrimination if you must but if you were placed in a room of someone with the virus wouldn’t you at least want to know it? Or have no clue at all? I call it awareness!

  16. More terrorists drive blue cars than any other colour of car. Detain all people driving blue cars.

    “It shows we’re Taking Action”

  17. @Remy Jay

    Thank you for your post, as it perfectly captured all the ignorance and xenophobia.

    Asymptomatic carriers (and there’s still no consensus that asymptomatic carriers can infect others are not huge risk factors. There are multiple reasons for this (low virus count, symptoms themselves facilitating infection and etc.), and this is agreed upon by multiple health agencies.

    Fear itself is not a good basis for discrimination, especially when it’s not backed by facts. We don’t throw people everyone suspected of a crime in jail, because “they might be a criminal and might go around committing crimes”, so it’s funny how you think it’s perfectly fine to discriminate against an entire nation based on nothing but irrational fear.

    Unlike airlines, cruise lines have no obligation to not discriminate, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be called out for xenophobic behavior.

    For someone who calls himself “aware”, you seem to lack a whole lot of it yourself.

  18. The other matter that is interesting about all this is that the cruise lines look to Western governments when they need help (like the Westerdam sailing aimlessly around Asia has apparently contacted US Navy for support) but they all register their ships in dodgy countries.

    They shouldnt be able to have their cake and it eat it too. if they choose to flag in Liberia or Panama or wherever, when the proverbial s**t hits the fan let them contact their official ships governments for help!

    Same goes of course for the piracy escorts in horn of Africa, western navies should refuse escorts to ships registered in those kind of countries

  19. I think perhaps their initial announcement had not been run past their (pretty competent) legal department, which likely ended up having convulsions over the initial announcement, which would have given rise to many lawsuits (and still might). Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 it is illegal in the US to discriminate based on national origin, which their announcement clearly did. This would be problematic for their many cruises originating/ending in the US. NCL’s legal department may be a little slower, but they will realize it soon enough too.

  20. I’m sure its simply a matter of simplicity and has absolutely nothing to do with race (or they’d just ban all Asians or Asian descendants with US/Euro/etc passports). I’d bet Asian passengers are some the highest profit passengers they have! How does RC prove that Chinese Passport holders haven’t been to China recently? I think that’s the challenge. Maybe they have figured out how to and can take Chinese passport holders again. Having several cruise ships come down with this corona virus would completely kill their business so I completely understand. Being politically correct doesn’t wash in situations like these.

  21. Taking a cruise of any sort at the moment would be far from the relaxing experience most passengers would be seeking. Also the majority would be older folk who are in the highest at risk category for the coronavirus.
    I think the cruise industry will be taking a massive financial hit this year. One more infected ship being reported will be it; all over.

  22. Now that we know that panic goes faster than the real virus, next flu in the US will kill the whole cruise industry.

  23. Ben (Lucky) – thank you for your articles on this matter. It’s good to see that Royal Caribbean has gotten rid of this ban that has no supporting evidence from the WHO or CDC. Unfortunately, Norwegian Cruise Lines is still standing firm with the same policy. Even the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) makes no such restriction on cruise guests. It’s very disturbing and disconcerting to see that these “preventative measures” taken by these two cruise companies in order to “prioritize safety and security” is really just a response out of fear, rather than true evidence-based recommendations supported by national and global health organizations.

    NCL’s Coronavirus Travel Alert –
    CLIA Statement on Coronavirus –

  24. The slightest hiccup in this carefully balanced planet of ours and it turns into a dog eat dog world. That’s the scary part.


    11 million people vs 1.3 billion. Some people seem to forget that point.

  25. @ Why you sound very intelligent, tell me you and your family never lie. You are a big lier yourself.
    @Jackson Rogers you are definitely the one who is ridiculous. If you are an American you should stay away from any other countries beside the United States. Although AIDS is originated in Africa but Americans spreading it all over the world by going on sex mongering trips throughout the world, Americans should be banned from all other countries?
    @Gillian Madden I agree all Americans including you should stay away from another countries as no one wants to get AIDs from you sex mongering Americans….You go to Thailand, Philippines, and South Americas will see many old men with local young girls everywhere.

  26. @Lucky, for context, Bahamas was refusing to admit Chinese passport holders. The Bahamas is a huge cruise port of call, and there were concerns that more ports would follow suit. Knowing it is worse for the customer experience to allow passengers on board and have them stuck on the ship rather than disembark, they made the decision that it’s better to follow that restriction. I was confuses at first as well, but I think they made the right decision

  27. @DC-PHLyer I think the Bahamas, along with Jamaica, banned travel to and from China. They have not banned all Chinese passport holders.

  28. SO very happy to read that many people will no longer consider cruising on RCL.

    Hopefully, that will translate into fewer bookings thus leaving more of the better cabin locations available for the rest of us. And perhaps less crowding aboard their ships.

    Come sail away!!!

  29. I was to go on a cruise to Dubai on the 17th with my wife and son my wife has a permanent residence Visa for England but she has a Chinese passport hasn’t been in China for over 6 years we got the email like everyone else so we phoned our holiday company up they just cancelled or holiday didn’t say they would try and get us another holiday we have only one week to get our money back and look for another holiday but what hurt more than anything was telling my ten year old son he wasn’t going on holidays and one day later he speaks to his mum and said to her why could you not be English well his mum cried that night .this is the second Time this happened to us in the matter of months we were to go with Thomas cook just a week before it went bankrupt.

  30. For those wondering how Royal will know whether or not Chinese passport holder have been to China in the pass 15 days or not. Don’t forget that at this point Royal don’t have to wonder. The Trump administration already put restrictions on all arrivals from China, any Chinese nationals have to be quarantined for 14 days anyways upon arrival to the US. And no Chinese from Hubei province can even get into the US at this point. So the ban is totally unnecessary. Also the recent Superspreader is a white dude, UK Resident. Should Royal start banning Caucasians and white people now?

  31. @ Greg Donelan,

    Get your fact straight first. H1N1 was originated from MEXICO.

    The reason why it spread so badly inside US, was because US did not close the border between us and Mexico!!!

    Besides, Singapore is the first country that bans Chinese passports – because it has hosted a multi-national company’s conference in Singapore and the virus was brought in by those attendees from China – that the whole thing spread to Singapore / Malaysia, as well as England then to France – A brit attended the conference, being infected – now he infected people who spent their vacation at a Ski Resort Chalet in France!

    There is no stamp on Chinese passports when going in / out / transit China – no way the cruiseline could tell. RCL is NOT the first one has imposed this drastic measure – NCL and Crystal announced that on Feb 4th.

    Now with Diamond Princess has almost 200 infected, incl a Japanese medical inspector, with no end in sight on this disaster, all because a mandarin speaking 80 years old from Hong Kong, who visited China then boarded the ship on the ship at Yokohama, disembarked at Hong Kong 5 days later – on his wake, now almost 200 are infected.

    Holland America’s Westerdam stupidly picked up 124 passengers at Hong Kong on Feb 1st, after Diamond Princess already was quarantined. The Westerdam was adrift for days on sea because NOT a single country in SE Asia, Japan and Guam, would let the ship dock. Eventually they managed to get Thailand agreed to let them dock then sent all passengers to BKK some 2 hours away, to catch their flights home.

    While RCL seems to be overacting at first, it has good reasons to do so – that is in light of that RCL has the largest market shares inside China, and their 2 best / newest ships homeport at Shanghai – so this is a grave business decision they made to protect their passengers / crews as well as their financial bottom line.

    What they should do is to allow refunds on the whole travel party instead of denying it. If they allow the whole party refund right of the bat, the public blacklash would be much much less. That part is a mistake stupidly made.

    I am saying this from the view point of dual nationality, with both HKSAR and US passport, and have a cruise booked on Sky Princess. Unlike those who dont have any beef in this difficult time the real passengers have to go thru.

    Those who continue harping on the H1N1, should blame US not to close the border with Mexico at the first outbreak, not how much US has suffered.

    Shame on those who dont even get their facts straight.

    Shame on Ben not reporting how much Diamond Princess has suffered, AND continue to suffer because Japanese government would not allow any rescue mission. They are having a humanitarian crisis quickly developing, 80% of the passengers are their own citizens, many are elderly folks who are running out their medications while Japanese government is very slow to provide supplies.

    Greg Donelan says:
    February 11, 2020 at 2:00 pm

    Did you have the same opinion with the 2009 H1N1 Swine Flu, which originated from the US and killed over 300,000 people? If not, STFU.

  32. Here is the latest passports ban

    Japan starting Feb 11 is banning Chinese passports issued by Hubei and Zhejiang provinces. So now Shanghai is included in the ban.

    Singapore now even bans those who need to return to Singapore for work permit, they need to apply with Singapore labor dept 3 days before for a permission, effective Feb 11.

    Yeah, Racism… my foot!

  33. RC is doing the right thing to ban all CHN passport holders from boarding.
    In fact, every govt should do it. because the dirty coronachinese use fake HK/Macau passports to cover their identity. The huawei woman had 8 passports and didnt exactly just that.

    How can you tell whether these chinese lied. just kick them out.

    real hkers and macauers has real passports issued by the UK and Portugal.

  34. I had a firsthand experience of this on Royal Carribean Anthem of the Seas coming back from a 11 day South Caribbean cruise trip last week.

    I hold both Chinese passport and U.S. Green card, live in Maryland, and haven’t been to mainland China for 3 years. On our way back to Bayonne NJ from the Caribbean, Royal Caribbean harassed me on this coronavirus thing nonstop! First they made up a medical service request, allegedly made by me, only to coerce me to have my body temperature taken. After I complained to their useless Guest Services with fire and fury, they promised me to take me off their special list, “smooth things out for me”, and “compensate me for the inconvenience “. All the promises turned out to be blatant lies when they isolated me with other 26 Chinese passengers, among whom some were in similar situations as mine, in the morning of the disembarkment day, and handed us over to CBP and CDC for special screening. Before getting off the ship, I questioned one female crew member who chose us from all the passengers. She gave me one last blatant lie by saying it was CBP and CDC. 10 minutes later when I talked to CBP and CDC officers, they all smiled and told me they were only looking for those who had traveled in China within the last 14 days. We got cleared by the CBP and CDC in no time, thanks to the sane officers. Several hours later, we learned their outrageous decision to ban all the greater China passport holders from boarding their ships!

    Till now, I’m still very much shocked by how insensitive, careless, and dishonest those crewmembers were all the time, how careless and incompetent, if not of racism, whoever designed the emergency protocol were. To top it all off, their pure racist policy to ban all the Chinese passport holders! What was that, the new Chinese Exclusion Act in the 2st century? And no MSM bothered to call them out, the hypocritical CNN, MSNBC, NYT, to name a few…

    Not another Royal Caribbean cruise for me anymore, not in this life as a Chinese…

  35. The thing is there is no way to tell whether you have been to China recently since they don’t need a passport or visa to enter their own country. It was totally necessary for such restriction because of what happened on Diamond Princess, which one person who had only been to China for a short while got infected and 200+ is now infected with a 40% infection rate out of those tested for the coronavirus. It was essential to protect against the deadly coronavirus, which is much more deadly then influenza and does not necessarily have symptoms. Don’t forget that Meng WanZhou in Canada held China, Canada, and Hong Kong identities.

    Among those who banned Chinese, that includes North Korea, Singapore, Philippines, and Taiwan.

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