Royal Caribbean Cruises has reported improved earnings from normal operations for the first quarter of 1996 compared to last year's results. The improvement was attributed to increased capacity and higher occupancy levels.

A special one-time charge and gain, however, distorted the numbers as RCCL reported net income of $32.8 million, or $0.52 per share, on revenues of $317.6 million for the quarter ended March 31, 1996, compared to net income of $51.4 million, or $0.81 per share, on revenues of $273.6 million for the first quarter of 1995.

Net income for the first quarter of this year included a special one-time charge of $2.0 million, or $0.03 per share, for expenses incurred in evaluating a potential transaction between RCCL and Costa Crociere, while net income for the same period last year, included a gain of $19.2 million, or $0.30 per share, from the sale of the Nordic Prince.

Excluding the one-time charge and gain, RCCL posted net income of $34.8 million or $0.55 per share in 1996, compared to $32.2 million or $0.51 per share in 1995.

RCCL boosted passenger occupancy to 101.6 percent in 1996, compared to 97.1 percent in the same period last year.

The company also announced that it has filed a shelf registration with the Securities and Exchange Commission for $325 million amending its existing $75 million filing, bringing the total to $400 million available for financing.

At press time, RCCL traded for $28 1/8 on the New York stock exchange, compared to a 52-week high/low of $28 3/8 and $20 7/8.

Richard Fain, Chainnan and CEO of RCCL, said in a prepared statement that "we are pleased with our first quarter results, which show improved revenue yields concurrently with a significant increase in fleet capacity."