The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday approved Royal Caribbean to launch the first test cruise from the US since the agency issued a no-sail order on all cruise lines last year.
The CDC, earlier this month, issued a Framework for Conditional Sail Orders, laying the groundwork for authorising ‘simulated’, or test, cruises.
Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas, a regular visitor to the Cayman Islands prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, will conduct its trial cruise on 20-22 June, sailing from Miami.
The cruise line’s CEO Michael Bayley announced the news on his Facebook page, and posted a copy of the letter he had received from the CDC approving the sail, dated 25 May.
Bayley said in his post, “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! Boom! Onwards and upwards team!”
Royal Caribbean also released a statement, saying the approval of the test cruise “is the latest promising step in our path to return to sailing in the U.S. We look forward to welcoming our crew, loyal guests and supporters from around the world this summer.”
On 5 May, the CDC released guidance for cruise ships on how to undertake simulated voyages with volunteer passengers. The agency said this guidance was aimed at helping cruises to resume by mid-summer, with ships that pass the test phase being permitted to sail with passengers.
Under the new CDC guidance, all volunteer passengers must provide proof that they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or if not fully vaccinated, provide written documentation from a healthcare provider or a self-certified statement that the passenger has no medical conditions that would place him or her at high risk of severe COVID-19. Volunteer passengers also must agree to be tested for COVID-19 three-to-five days after they complete the cruise.
The CDC said its senior leadership had been meeting several times a week with cruise line senior executives to discuss the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order. “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,” the agency said in a statement.
The Conditional Sail Order gave five conditions for the Royal Caribbean test cruise, including that at least 10% of the maximum number of passengers be permitted onboard, and that all passengers be provided with the CDC’s travel health notice regarding COVID-19. The cruise line must also meet testing and quarantine requirements for all passengers and crew, and must report to the CDC any deficiencies noted in health and safety protocols during the test cruise.
The simulated cruises are only available to those aged 18 and older.
Royal Caribbean has issued a form inviting people to volunteer to take part in the simulated cruises, headlined ‘Volunteers of the Seas’.
In a personal note at the end of the authorisation letter to Bayley, Aimee Treffiletti, head of the Maritime Unit for the CDC’s COVID-19 response within its Global Mitigation Task Force, said, “We commend your company’s efforts to provide a safer and healthier sailing environment for your passengers and crew and look forward to our continued partnership.”