Royal Caribbean International is using its Haifa-based cruise ship, Rhapsody of the Seas, to assist in evacuating Americans from Israel in light of the ongoing conflict in the region. The assistance was requested by the US Embassy in Israel, with evacuations on Monday, October 16, 2023.
The US government, via the embassy in Israel, is assisting US citizens and their immediate family members to evacuate from Israel to Cyprus on Monday, October 16, 2023. The evacuation will be via Royal Caribbean’s Rhapsody of the Seas, which will take travelers from Haifa, Israel, to Limassol, Cyprus.
Space onboard the cruise ship is limited and is available on a first-come, first-served basis. As the passage between Haifa and Limassol is approximately 170 miles (274 kilometers), the trip is expected to take 10-12 hours. Meals and Wi-Fi service will be provided onboard, though guests will not likely be assigned individual staterooms for this short journey.
Under normal circumstances, Rhapsody of the Seas can accommodate 1,998 guests for a typical cruise at double occupancy, and up to 2,416 travelers when fully booked with all berths filled. This is not a typical situation, however, and the numbers of evacuees are yet unknown.
All travelers must be either a US national or the immediate family member of a US national, including spouses or children under the age of 21. All travelers must also have a valid passport, though assistance is available if eligible individuals do not have their passports in their possession. All travelers may bring on bag up to 50 pounds, plus one small carry-on bag. No pets are permitted.
Travelers have been asked to sign an “Evacuee Manifest and Promissory Note” as an agreement to repay the US government for the cost of the evacuation travel, though the costs of the travel are not immediately available.
The note does stipulate that the cost will be “no greater than the amount of a full-fare economy flight, or comparable alternate transportation, to the designated destination that would have been charged immediately prior to the events giving rise to the evacuation.”
Rather than flights, the cruise ship is being used for this evacuation because air travel has been largely suspended to Israel at this time, and most US airlines have cancelled flights both to and from Tel Aviv.
All travelers will be responsible for their own onward travel plans from Cyprus, whether returning to the US or traveling elsewhere. Charter options and assistance to arrange such travel will be available.
US consular staff are onboard the cruise ship as well as in Limassol to assist with information and travel options. The US Embassy will provide busses from the cruise port to both international airports in Cyprus, one in Larnaca (42 miles / 68 kilometers from Limassol) and the other in Paphos (39 miles / 63 kilometers from Limassol).
The 78,878-gross-ton, Vision-class Rhapsody of the Seas is currently homeported from Haifa, Israel, but the remainder of the ship’s Mediterranean season has been cancelled due to the regional violence. With no sailings for the next few weeks, the ship is available to assist in such emergency evacuation options.
At the moment, it is unknown whether just one seagoing evacuation will be used or if additional voyages may be necessary in the coming days. It is possible that additional trips could be planned to accommodate US citizens in Israel who were unable to reach Haifa by Monday morning for the scheduled departure.
It is also possible the ship may be further used by other countries for similar operations for their citizens currently in Israel.
The next scheduled sailing for the cruise ship is its Sunday, November 12, 2023 departure from Barcelona, Spain. That voyage is a 14-night transatlantic cruise to Fort Lauderdale, visiting Alicante, Malaga, the Canary Islands, and Freeport in the Bahamas along the way.
At this time, no other cruise ships have been requested for similar evacuations, but the situation is fluid and new plans may be developed at any time.
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