Royal Caribbean’s first cruise testing COVID-19 safety protocols sets sail

The first Royal Caribbean cruise ship to set sail since the beginning of the pandemic took off from Miami on Sunday for a short test cruise.

The "Freedom of the Seas" must undergo the test before it can begin commercial cruises again. There are 600 employees onboard to test out the safety protocols. A representative from the CDC is also onboard.

These test cruises are one option given by the CDC before they would allow ships to sail again from Florida ports. The other option is to have 95% of passengers vaccinated. 

If all goes according to plan, Freedom of the Seas will be scheduled to begin commercial trips from Port Miami on July 2. That would make the ship the first Royal Caribbean vessel to resume commercial trips from the U.S. The cruise line said 100% of its crew members will be fully vaccinated.

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Back in November, Royal Caribbean announced they will look for test cruise volunteers. The CDC lifted its no-sail order at the end of October, allowing cruise lines in the US to begin a "phased resumption of cruise ship operations."

Part of that process requires cruise companies to complete simulated voyages to "test cruise ships' ability to mitigate COVID-19 risk."

The CDC's guidelines say that in order to resume carrying passengers, the companies have to demonstrate they have procedures for testing, quarantining and isolating passengers and crew. They will have to build test labs on all ships, and make their own arrangements to isolate or quarantine passengers on shore if needed. Before being allowed to sail, they will have to conduct mock voyages with volunteers playing passengers who get sick, the CDC said.

Last week, Royal Caribbean postponed the "Odyssey of the Seas" inaugural sailing from Florida after eight crew members tested positive for COVID-19. All 1,400 on the cruise were vaccinated in early June. However, the vaccines would have been effective on June 18, but the positive cases were discovered before that, said Michael Bayley, the CEO.

Odyssey of the Seas was supposed to set sail from Fort Lauderdale on July 3. It was postponed until July 31.

When Royal Caribbean does set sail, it will require everyone 16 and older to be fully vaccinated on cruises that leave ports other than in Florida.

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Vaccinations are not required for passengers departing the Sunshine State. The decision came after Gov. Ron DeSantis banned businesses from requiring customers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

"As of today, 90% of all vacationers booking with Royal Caribbean are either vaccinated or planning to get vaccinated in time for their cruise," according to a statement issued early this month.

The remaining 10% will have to get tested and follow other guidelines at their own expense. 

On Friday, a federal judge granted the state of Florida a victory in its case against the federal government over its cruise ship restrictions, ordering both sides to return to mediation after they had previously declared an impasse.