Wonder what traveling on a huge cruise ship with no guests is like?
As odd as it may seem, some cruise ships do set sail with zero guests on board.
Toronto-based Kabir Bageria, a 28-year-old former cruise director for Royal Caribbean, told Newsweek: “Usually ships never sail with no guests. It happens on extremely rare occasions. It’s similar to an airline—if the ship is sailing empty, there’s no revenue.”
Bageira, who worked for several major cruise lines since 2015, including Carnival, said one of these rare sailings took place in May while he was working as the cruise director of Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas cruise ship.
In a viral video posted on May 4 from his TikTok account @travelwithkabircd, Bageria said: “For the first time ever in my career as a cruise director, my ship did the unthinkable. We operated a cruise with no guests. And the reason was because we had to relocate from Galveston [Texas] to Fort Lauderdale [Florida].”
Guests are not allowed on such ships due to a law that “prevents non-U.S. flagged ships from traveling between two U.S. ports,” he said in the clip.
Bageria, who now works as a realtor and creates content about cruise ships and travel via his social media channels on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, told Newsweek that “cruise lines do sell cruises in which ships will reposition.”
Several cruise lines typically offer such cruise journeys at a discounted price.
Bageria said the transatlantic cruise season is between April and May, with ships going eastbound from the Caribbean to Europe. The season then returns from September to early November, with ships going from Europe back to the Caribbean.
The cruise industry ground to a halt during the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issue a “no sail order” for cruise ships in March 2020 because the federal body had “reason to believe that cruise ship travel may continue to introduce, transmit, or spread COVID-19.”
The CDC said that month that the largest cluster of COVID-19 cases outside mainland China at the time occurred on the Diamond Princess cruise ship during the period between February 7 to 23, 2020.
A July 2023 study published by Elsevier said “the fall in cruise tourism was disastrous” in the wake of the pandemic. However, the cruise industry was reported to be “rebounding faster” this year, according to a 2023 report from the Cruise Lines International Association.
Cruise passenger volume is projected to reach 106 percent of 2019 levels in 2023, with 31.5 million passengers sailing, the report said.
Why Do Cruise Ships Sail With No Guests?
Some cruise ships in the U.S. are operated with no guests due to the Passenger Vessel Services Act. The PVSA applies the same restrictions imposed by the Jones Act on the “coastwise movement of people,” according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Under the Jones Act, the transportation of merchandise between U.S. points is reserved for only “U.S.-built, owned, and documented vessels.” The PVSA “prohibits commercial vessels such as cruise ships from allowing passengers to board at one U.S. port and debark at another U.S. port,” says the CBP.
The PVSA was first established in 1886, and its restrictions have been enforced by the CBP since 1898. However, federal laws protecting the U.S. shipping industry date as far back as the First Congress in 1789.
These coastwise laws, including the PVSA, aim to protect U.S. shipping interests by providing a “legal structure that guarantees a coastwise monopoly to American shipping,” according to the CBP. “American shipping in the United States coastwise trade has been protected from foreign competition, in order to encourage the development of an American merchant marine, for both national defense and commercial purposes.”
What Happens on a Cruise With No Guests?
Bageria told Newsweek that cruise ships are constantly being “meticulously” maintained.
“When we don’t have guests on board, it’s a great opportunity to handle things that would otherwise be a challenge to do with a full ship. That includes maintenance in prominent passenger areas, guest staterooms,” he said.
The rest times for the cruise ship crew take place when the guests are off the ship in port, he added.
In the viral clip, the former cruise director said rehearsals also take place on cruises with no guests. The footage shows staff members practicing a dance routine. It also revealed some of “the most exclusive spaces on board,” including lofty lounge areas with floor-to-ceiling glass windows and plush sofas.
Bageria said in the clip that parties and events are also held for crew members, who are given access to the tubs and pools. The footage shows an evening scene on the ship, with some people gathered near the pool.
Due to the pandemic, Bageria stopped working on cruise ships from 2020. He began working for Royal Caribbean this year before heading back to Toronto in August, according to a TikTok video he shared this week announcing he’d left his cruise director role.
“Going back to sea was a culture shock. It was a ton of work, long hours and not enough downtime. I loved it because I got to share my experience and that was the silver lining. Working on ships was great for a time, but this last contract confirmed that it was the right time to move on. I am hoping to work on my own content and focus on my real estate business—I love the people part of it,” he told Newsweek.
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