Royal Caribbean has adjusted their vaccine rules in a major way. Starting September, all passengers 12 years and older sailing from U.S. ports and visiting The Bahamas are required to be vaccinated and show proof when boarding.
While most departure ports already had a similar policy in place, this change includes cruises from Florida. In that state, the cruise line had sailed with most people vaccinated, but it wasn’t required. Florida is by far the biggest hub for cruising in the United States, but state law says businesses can’t require proof of vaccination from customers.
While it’s not clear exactly how Royal Caribbean will deal with the legal situation, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. recently won an injunction to allow the company to require proof of vaccination for trips from the state. It sailed its first cruise from Florida aboard Norwegian Gem on August 15 and required proof of the shot to board.
In Florida the cruise line currently allows unvaccinated passengers on ships, but with stricter requirements.
For instance, if unvaccinated, passengers have to take a test within three days of the embarkation date, at the terminal, and before getting off the ship on longer cruises. There is also a mid-cruise test for trips of six nights or longer. Unvaccinated passengers over 12 years old are required to pay for this testing, which ranges from around $140 to $180 per person.
In addition, unvaccinated passengers over 12 are required to have a travel insurance policy that covered medical expenses and medical evacuation. There are also restrictions on where you can visit on ship. For instance, places like the casino and spa are off-limits unless vaccinated.
So far the disincentives to sail without the shot seem to have their desired effect. According to Royal Caribbean’s parent company, 92% of people on the its ships were vaccinated in July.
“We require 100% of the crew to be fully vaccinated. And we require the bulk of our guests to be fully vaccinated as well,” Royal Caribbean Group CEO Richard Fain said during a recent investor call. “The only exceptions are children under 12, and in Florida, a minor number of people who choose not to get vaccinated.”
Now that policy has changed if eligible for the shot.
While Royal Caribbean Enacted the New Policy
Why make the change now?
It comes on the heels of The Bahamas announcing a new requirement for cruise passengers visiting the country. To battle the pandemic, starting September 3 until November, the county is requiring all passengers 12 and older to be fully vaccinated in order to visit on a cruise ship. This includes stops at private islands.
FOLLOWING: Concerns have emerged that the government’s newly released emergency orders, which require all passengers aboard cruise liners to be fully vaccinated to enter any port in The Bahamas, may conflict with Florida’s law on vaccinations. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/tx16ND6Zug
— Eyewitness News Bahamas (@ewnewsbahamas) August 19, 2021
As a result, Royal Caribbean had to adjust its policy or risk not being able to dock at its private island CocoCay or Nassau. These are two of the most popular ports for cruises from Florida.
The cruise line released the following statement outlining the change:
The Bahamas has issued a new policy, effective Sept. 3 through Nov. 1, 2021, that requires all guests age 12 and older on a cruise ship to be fully vaccinated for that ship to visit The Bahamas.
To comply with this requirement, our vaccine policy for guests 12 and older sailing on Royal Caribbean cruises departing from Florida must now match the requirements in place for all sailings departing from other U.S. ports.
The updated policy is as follows: For cruises departing from any U.S. port and visiting The Bahamas on and after Sept. 3, guests who are 12 and older must provide proof of vaccination in order to sail. This also applies to itineraries that include Perfect Day at CocoCay. Travelers unable to show proof of vaccination will be unable to sail. Those of our guests under 12, who are currently ineligible for the vaccine, can still cruise with us as long as they continue to provide a negative test result at boarding and follow certain health and safety protocols.
Royal Caribbean’s top priority is maintaining everyone’s well-being while complying with federal, state and local laws as we always have. We will continue to evaluate and update our health and safety measures as circumstances evolve.
Protocols to Sail Continue to Evolve to Keep Passengers and Crew Healthy
Cruise lines have said repeatedly that the rules and protocols on their ships will change, and just about six weeks into the return of cruising, they certainly have. As cases rise on land with the spread of the Delta variant, cruise lines have stepped up their safety rules on board. This includes recent changes for indoor masking and testing requirements for all passengers, even if vaccinated.
What’s not clear is how these new rules for passengers will play out for Royal Caribbean — or the rest of the industry — when it comes to the Florida ban on “vaccine passports.”
Governor Ron DeSantis has already said his state will appeal the injunction that allows Norwegian to require proof of a shot. When asked about that legal battle, Norwegian CEO Frank Del Rio said it was “beyond bizarre” and “shameful” that there was a fight over requiring the vaccine to sail.
At this point, cruise lines are seemingly stuck in the middle. They can either keep passengers as healthy as possible and sail to The Bahamas by requiring the vaccine, or they can comply with Florida law and have to forego one of the most popular cruise destinations in the world.
So far cruise line protocols — including requiring vaccines for the vast majority of passengers — have seemingly kept the number of cases on ships low. However, it has proved impossible to keep the virus completely off cruise ships.
Of the 68 ships tracked by the CDC, 33 of them (48.5%) have either “yellow” or “orange” status, indicating possible cases within the past week. (Note: Actual case counts are not released by the CDC. Color status can change with as little as one case.)
Changes like requiring vaccines for everyone eligible and testing before boarding seem like smart moves from cruise lines given the current environment.