Royal Caribbean Approved for First Test Cruise on Freedom of the Seas

It’s another sign that a restart in cruising is coming soon. Last night Royal Caribbean CEO Michael Bayley shared on Facebook a document showing that his cruise line received approval for its first simulated voyages.

Simulated voyages provide the cruise lines and CDC with a chance to implement and practice new procedures put in place to keep passengers healthy and represents the next step to a return to sailing.

If a cruise line plans to sail with fully-vaccinated sailings, then they are allowed to skip this step. For those that plan to sail with both vaccinated and unvaccinated passengers, then a simulated voyage — also known as a test cruise — is required.

According to the post from Bayley, the CDC granted approval for a test cruise aboard Freedom of the Seas for June 20-22, 2021. The ship can sail the voyage provided the following conditions are met:

  • The cruise ship must sail the test cruise with at least 10% of the passengers planned for its first two restricted passenger voyages. So if the ship plans to sail at a limited capacity of 1,000 passengers, then the simulated voyage must have at least 100 passengers on the ship.
  • Passengers must be advised of the current “CDC Travel Health Notice for COVID-19 and Cruise Ship Travel”
  • The ship’s status color must be “green” or “orange” according to the CDC’s color-coding scale. “Red” or “yellow” status means that the ship has to postpone the sailing.
  • The cruise must follow CDC requirements for testing and quarantining cruise passengers and crew.
  • Royal Caribbean must document any deficiencies it finds in its plan during the cruise and how it intends to address them.

Notably, despite the sometimes contentious relationship between cruise lines and the CDC, the health agency added a note to the cruise line, saying, “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.”

What to Expect from a Simulated Test Cruise (and How to Sign Up)

Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas in Nassau

We’ve written extensively about these simulated voyages before, which are required by the CDC for cruises with unvaccinated passengers. As for now, each individual cruise ship is required to sail a test cruise before it takes on paying passengers. In other words, there are likely to be many more to come in the future across multiple cruise lines and ships.

Volunteers on these cruises must be at least 18 years old and attest they have no pre-existing conditions that put them at a greater risk of COVID or be vaccinated. As well, no compensation (other than the cruise) is allowed.

As for what the cruise will be like, expect these test voyages to be a little different than what you might be used to. They are likely to be short (the CDC suggests at least three days and two nights), and have drastically reduced passenger loads. The rules require just 10% of the expected passenger load for real cruises be on the ship for the simulated voyages.

On the ship, expect the same activities that you’d find on a regular cruise, but adjusted for health reasons. Cruise lines are required to test everything from boarding to entertainment to restaurants to debarkation. As well, masking, handwashing, and social distancing should be in place according to CDC guidelines.

You can read our complete article on being a volunteer cruise passenger here.

Right now, it’s not entirely clear what the selection process for this test cruise will be, but expect demand to be extremely high. If you’d like to volunteer, Royal Caribbean has a form you can fill out to express your interest.

We certainly expect more announcements on these volunteer cruises to be shared in the coming days and weeks.

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  1. There are those that cannot take that vaccine for whatever reason, maybe religious, maybe one of the side effects could cause more serious illness, or someone has had covid and does not need the vaccine, which by the way is NOT a vaccine, it is approved for emergency only and is not even licensed. Do you know if Royal Caribbean will after these test cruises mandate getting the vaccine? I have asked the cruise line and they could not give me a yes or no answer. Would you perhaps know in advance, and when? I have cruises booked already (before the pandemic hit), one in particular is for my nephew’s 50th birthday cruise, I really don’t want to miss out on that, yet I refuse to take that injection.

    • If a cruise sails fully vaccinated (95%+), then it skips the test cruises. If it sails with unvaccinated passengers, then the test cruise is required. Therefore, with the test cruises going forward, it certainly looks like at least some ships will eventually allow unvaccinated passengers to sail. No one knows when they will actually sail with paying passengers, however.

      Getting the shot is not only a great idea from a public health standpoint — especially if planning to go on crowded cruise ships — but the restrictions on vaccinated passengers are also MUCH less severe right now. For instance, masks and distancing aren’t required on vaccinated cruises but are required if a ship sails unvaccinated cruises.


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