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Royal Caribbean to begin test cruises with volunteer passengers in June

The company said the "approval of our simulated cruises is the latest promising step in our path to return to sailing in the U.S."
Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Sea cruise ship is docked at the Port of Miami on March 02, 2021.
Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Sea cruise ship at PortMiami on March 2.Joe Raedle / Getty Images file

Royal Caribbean could set sail in late June after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved its request to conduct a simulated cruise with volunteer passengers.

The approval will allow the company to test its Covid-19 safety measures on the Freedom of the Seas.

"After 15 months and so much work by so many during very challenging times. To all our colleagues, loyal guests and supporters all over the world I am proud and pleased to share some bright and wonderful news!" Royal Caribbean Cruises President and CEO Michael Bayley said in a statement. "Boom! Onwards and upwards team!"

The simulated cruise will run June 20-22, according to a letter from the CDC that Bayley shared on his Facebook page. Under the CDC's guidelines, there must be enough volunteer passengers to meet at least 10 percent of the ship's capacity, and the crew must follow the agency's Covid-19 testing and quarantine requirements.

Passengers who aren't fully vaccinated have to provide documentation from health care providers or "self-certified statements" that they are not at high risk for severe Covid-19, according to the CDC.

The cruise will depart from PortMiami in South Florida, according to the The Miami Herald. Royal Caribbean is the first company to have had its port and local health agreements approved to allow simulated cruises, the newspaper reported.

The company said in a statement that it is still working to finalize health and safety measures.

"Our commitment to sail with fully vaccinated crew members and guests still stands as it is a meaningful layer to ensure we make every effort to help keep safe our guests, crew and the communities we visit," the cruise line said.

"After 15 months of hard work and collaboration, today's approval of our simulated cruises is the latest promising step in our path to return to sailing in the U.S. We look forward to welcoming our crew, loyal guests and supporters from around the world this summer."

Cruises in the U.S. were halted when the CDC issued a No Sail Order in March 2020 as coronavirus cases and deaths surged. The order ended Oct. 31, when the agency released another order detailing a phased-in approach to resuming operations.

Under the new guidelines, ships must make at least one practice run before they can resume regular cruises. In lieu of conducting simulated cruises, operators would have to attest that 98 percent of crew members and 95 percent of passengers are fully vaccinated.

Royal Caribbean said that for expeditions before Aug. 1, all guests over age 16 will have to be fully vaccinated. For cruises after that date, the age drops to 12.

"Guests under the age of this requirement don't need to be vaccinated and will receive a SARS-Cov-2 test before boarding," the company said.

However, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, signed a law this month that prohibits businesses, including cruise ships, from asking passengers for proof of vaccination.

"In Florida, your personal choice regarding vaccinations will be protected and no business or government entity will be able to deny you services based on your decision," he said in a statement this month.

It is not clear how Royal Caribbean plans to require proof of vaccination for ships sailing out of Florida.