Royal Caribbean President Michael Bayley announced today that the cruise line’s first ship scheduled to sail — Freedom of the Seas — officially received approval from the CDC.
“Today, Royal Caribbean International received the Conditional Sailing Certificate for Freedom of the Seas, which provides approval for passenger voyages,” he said in a Facebook post. “Freedom is the cruise line’s first ship to resume sailing from the U.S.”
The news was expected as the cruise line recently completed a simulated test voyage — the first of its kind. That voyage took place June 20-22.
This makes Freedom of the Seas not only the first cruise ship to return for Royal Caribbean, but also the first ship from any cruise line to successfully complete the CDC’s test voyage requirement.
Test cruises are required when a cruise ship plans to sail with less than 95% of passengers vaccinated. The process leads to a longer timeline to return, but also gives the cruise line more freedom in who it can allow onboard. For instance, children under 12 are currently ineligible for the vaccine, so there are limits to the number of kids that can currently sail a fully-vaccinated cruise.
Even so, Royal Caribbean is strongly recommending that cruise passengers get the shot, including financial incentives to get the dose. Any person eligible for the shot but that doesn’t have it must pay $136 for required testing on trips of five nights or less and $178 for trips of six nights or more. Testing is free for those under 12 years old and not required for guests under two.
In addition, the cruise line now says some unvaccinated passengers will require travel insurance as well.
Insurance Required for Unvaccinated Passengers on Florida Cruises
For Florida cruises departing from August through the end of 2021, Royal Caribbean now requires unvaccinated passengers 12 and older to have proof of travel insurance to sail.
According to the cruise line’s website:
“For cruises departing from Florida homeports from August 1 through December 31, 2021, as a condition of boarding, each unvaccinated guest 12 and older must provide proof of a valid insurance policy that has a minimum of (a) $25,000 per person in medical expense coverage and (b) $50,000 per person for quarantine and medical evacuation related to a positive COVID-19 test result.”
Right now this rule only applies to trips from Florida. In that state, there are laws against businesses requiring proof of vaccination. If you are sailing from somewhere else or sailing from Florida with the vaccine, then you don’t have to meet the insurance requirement.
Sailing Without the Shot to Be Pricier and With More Rules
As cruises return, there continue to be more and more rules put in place for passengers who choose to sail unvaccinated. At this point, sailing without the shot is likely to cost you hundreds of dollars more in testing and insurance requirements, as well as make your trip less enjoyable due to greater restrictions.
For instance, in addition to mask and distancing requirements, many areas of Freedom of the Seas will be off limits to those without the shot. Unvaccinated guests can’t visit the casino, attend certain parties, visit the adults-only pool, drink in some bars, and even eat in some restaurants.
The bottom line is that those sailing without the shot will find cruising more restrictive and expensive — at least for the time being.
For now, Royal Caribbean’s website says, “If you do not wish to undergo or pay for additional testing, or adhere to these health and safety protocols, we are happy to provide you with a refund. We believe that in the coming months, restrictions and requirements will be more accommodating as public health circumstances evolve.”