The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has given Royal Caribbean the go-ahead to begin testing one of its ships in U.S. waters.
Starting in June, Royal Caribbean's “Freedom of the Seas” ship will be allowed to sail with volunteer passengers in preparation for regular sailings. It’s the first cruise ship to receive CDC approval to begin sailing on a provisional basis following more than a year of being out of service due to the pandemic.
“After 15 months and so much work by so many during very challenging times, to all our colleagues, loyal guests and supporters all over the world, I am proud and pleased to share some bright and wonderful news,” CEO and President Michael Bayley wrote on Facebook. “We look forward to welcoming our crew, loyal guests and supporters from around the world this summer.”
Conditional sailing order
The ship will sail out of Port Miami starting June 20. All volunteer passengers must be 18 years of age or older and commit to following a number of pandemic precautions while sailing.
Under the CDC’s Framework for Conditional Sailing Order, vaccine requirements are not mandatory for test sailings. Volunteers who aren’t vaccinated against COVID-19 must have written documentation from a health care provider that they aren’t at high risk of contracting a severe illness if they are exposed to the virus.
Additional safety precautions that will be in effect include social distancing, mask requirements, and testing for COVID-19 before and after the trip. The test cruises are only for a limited number of unpaid volunteers invited by the cruise line.
The CDC said it discussed the safety of allowing simulation cruises at length prior to approving it. Health officials ultimately decided that it will be a safe step closer to pre-pandemic normalcy for the cruise industry.
“Over the past month, senior leadership from CDC have met multiple times a week with cruise line senior executives to discuss the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO),” CDC spokesman Benjamin Haynes said in a statement. “During these meetings, participants asked questions and discussed the fastest path back to sailing without compromising safety. 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 mid-summer.”