While most cruises — including many of Royal Caribbean’s trips — are opting for fully-vaccinated sailings as they start back, state law in Florida throws a hurdle in that plan.
The result? Unvaccinated passengers sailing from the state are going to have to pay a little more for the time being.
Florida law says businesses cannot require proof of vaccination from customers. While sailing with everyone on the ship being vaccinated is the safest route to return (and encouraged by the CDC), the law means cruise lines can’t require the dose. However, there are ways that they can strongly encourage passengers to take the vaccine before sailing.
In this case, Royal Caribbean — which plans to sail Freedom of the Seas from Miami starting on July 2 — announced passengers who sail unvaccinated or don’t show proof of the shot for these initial cruises will see a nearly $140 charge per person for testing.
In addition, several more rules will be in place to meet with the CDC’s guidelines for sailing with unvaccinated passengers.
Testing Protocols and Prices for July Sailings on Freedom of the Seas
In a letter sent to passengers aboard Freedom of the Seas’ July sailings, the cruise line said the following:
“We strongly recommend all guests 16 and older be fully vaccinated. To be considered fully vaccinated, the final dose of the vaccine must be completed at least 14 days before sailing.
“At check-in, guests will be asked to provide documentation of their vaccination, such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card. Those who are 16 and older and do not have or are unable to provide documentation will be considered unvaccinated.”
The notice went on to say unvaccinated passengers must undergo testing at their own expense and follow the protocols laid out by the cruise line.
In total, three different tests are required if a passenger doesn’t have the shot:
- Test #1: Within three days of sailing
- Test #2: At the terminal
- Test #3: Within 24 hours before disembarking
Royal Caribbean says that the first test is at the passenger’s expense. Test #2 and #3 will be conducted by a third-party contracted by the cruise line and cost a total of $136 per person. In other words, a couple traveling would see a total charge of nearly $300 for testing if they elect to sail without the shot.
If sailing with children (under 16 years old for these July sailings), then the cost is covered by the cruise line:
“For unvaccinated guests 16 and older, the total charge from the third-party testing vendor for these tests is $136 per guest. This amount will be applied to the guest’s onboard expense account. Royal Caribbean will pay the testing vendor(s) on the guest’s behalf and will not retain any part of the testing costs. For guess age 2 to 15, we will cover the cost of any required testing.”
The cruise line also says that if you don’t want to undergo testing or pay for the tests, then they will refund your money before the trip.
Other Protocols to Sail Without the Shot
The extra charge for testing isn’t the only way that cruising will be different. Royal Caribbean also laid out the following protocols on these trips, in line with CDC rules for unvaccinated passengers:
All guests (whether vaccinated or not) must wear masks indoors unless eating or drinking. They are not required in the cabin, outside, at CocoCay, or if the guest is under two years old.
Masks also aren’t needed for passengers in venues or events that are designated for vaccinated guests only.
On the ship, distancing in restaurants and other venues will be organized with distancing in place in order to accommodate a mix of passengers with and without the vaccine.
Restricted Access for Dining Venues and Events
Given that the line plans to sail with the majority of guests having the shot, they have said they will restrict areas of the ship if you haven’t been vaccinated. This includes certain areas of the dining room only for vaccinated passengers and selected show times only for those who have the dose. (“My Time Dining” will also not be available if unvaccinated.)
Ports of Call
While specific details aren’t mentioned, the cruise line also warns that “All guests are subject to restrictions and requirements as defined by local authorities in the ports we visit. Details will be provided onboard. It is reasonable to expect that unvaccinated guests will be subject to stricter protocols than vaccinated guests.”
Rules Don’t Apply to Other Cruises
The cruise line is clear that as time goes on it expects that the rules and restrictions in place will ease. For now, however, it’s clear that both the CDC and cruise lines are strongly encouraging all guests to sail with the shot.
Given that one ship returning to the Caribbean already saw positive tests (despite sailing with vaccinated guests) and a Royal Caribbean ship had positive cases among crew members, the need to sail as safely as possible is pronounced.
While Royal Caribbean is sailing fully-vaccinated trips from other U.S. departure ports, Florida’s specific laws make that impossible. Thus the need to ensure unvaccinated passengers are tested and follow stricter health protocols, even if there is a higher cost.