Royal Caribbean got the green light for a test cruise; it has 250,000 volunteers to choose from
The first big cruise ship carrying passengers from the United States in more than 15 months will leave on June 20 — and its voyage will be a test as the embattled industry tries to resume operations in the country.
Royal Caribbean International got approval Monday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to run a simulated cruise with volunteers. It is the first cruise line to get OK’d by the agency, which has not allowed ships to sail from the United States since March 2020.
“To all our colleagues, loyal guests and supporters all over the world I am proud and pleased to share some bright and wonderful news!” Royal Caribbean International CEO Michael Bayley wrote on his public Facebook page, along with an image of the approval letter from the CDC. “Boom! Onwards and upwards team!”
The company said Freedom of the Seas will sail June 20-22 from PortMiami, calling it “the latest promising step in our path to return to sailing in the U.S.”
As part of its order laying out the rules for cruise lines to start sailing again, the CDC said operators need to take passengers on simulated voyages to test how well they can mitigate the risks of COVID-19 on board. The agency said in April that cruise lines can skip test cruises if at least 98 percent of crew and 95 percent of passengers are fully vaccinated.
CDC spokeswoman Caitlin Shockey said senior leaders from the agency have been meeting with cruise executives several times a week to discuss the requirements.
“During these meetings, participants asked questions and discussed the fastest path back to sailing without compromising safety,” she said in an email. “CDC and the cruise industry agree that the industry has what it needs to move forward and no additional roadblocks exist for resuming sailing by midsummer.”
Much about Royal Caribbean’s voyage is still not known: How many people will be on board, how they will be chosen, what will happen on the ship and where it will stop. The CDC says the ship must carry at least 10 percent of the maximum number that will be allowed to sail on its first two non-test cruises.
Freedom of the Seas can carry 3,934 passengers with two people to a room, but it’s unclear how much capacity will be reduced initially.
“There are logistics to figure out and we will share details once they have been worked through,” Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Lyan Sierra-Caro said in an email.
She said that more than 250,000 people have volunteered to take part in the process of sailing again. The operator created a “Volunteers of the Seas” form and Facebook group in November.
“Their encouragement and unwavering confidence in us over the last 15 months have contributed to the collective effort of bringing cruising back,” she said. “We look forward to having Volunteers of the Seas be part of the Royal comeback this summer.”
According to the CDC, volunteer passengers must be 18 or older. They either have to be fully vaccinated or confirm that they are not at high risk for severe COVID-19. Those who aren’t vaccinated have to test negative.
Royal Caribbean hasn’t specified what its requirements for test cruise passengers will be. The company has said it will require all crew and passengers over 16 to be fully vaccinated for cruises to Alaska starting in July, if those get CDC approval. Everyone 12 and older on those cruises will have to be fully vaccinated as of Aug. 1.
In the volunteer Facebook group, many members reacted to the latest news by reminding the company of their eagerness to sail — and their vaccination status.
“Fully vaccinated!” one member wrote. “No problem to drop everything and set sail. Say the word.”
One woman pledged: “If chosen, I will bring full beach energy to the cruise.”
Said another: “We are excited for cruising to begin again. It has been too long.”