On Friday, Royal Caribbean announced a reversal of its previously planned requirement that passengers be fully COVID-19 vaccinated in order to sail aboard its cruises.
This policy change flies in the face of Royal Caribbean's original mandate that both guests and crew be fully vaccinated in order to board its vessels when the line returns to cruising from U.S. homeports in June 2021. The vaccination requirement will no longer apply for ships sailing out of Florida or Texas, although it holds for cruises departing from anywhere else.
In a statement released June 4, Royal Caribbean wrote that guests ages 16 and over "are strongly recommended to set sail fully vaccinated", but proof of immunization won't be required for those boarding their cruises in these two states. "Those who are unvaccinated or unable to verify vaccination will be required to undergo testing and follow other protocols, which will be announced at a later date," Royal Caribbean wrote in its statement.
The FAQ section of Royal Caribbean's website has been updated to reflect the altered protocol, now stating that vaccinations will only be required for guests sailing out of Seattle, the Bahamas or other international ports.
The turnabout in company policy arrives amid escalating political and economic tensions about the adoption of so-called 'vaccine passports', and a bill recently passed by Florida's Governor Ron DeSantis that will fine any of the state's businesses $5,000 if they request proof of vaccination from customers. Insider reported that Texas' Governor Greg Abbott instituted a similar ban on businesses' requesting proof of vaccination back in April.
Florida's anti-vaccine-passport law is set to take effect on July 1, just as cruise ships begin sailing from U.S. ports for the first time in 16 months. Cruise lines will still require that crew members be fully vaccinated before returning to service, in alignment with current CDC regulations for the industry.
Michael Bayley Royal Caribbean International President and CEO said on Friday that, even having dropped the vaccination requirement in these two states, "As of today, 90 percent of all vacationers booking with Royal Caribbean are either vaccinated or planning to get vaccinated in time for their cruise."
Despite the recent friction between the Sunshine State's government and the cruise sector, as well as the CDC (which Florida is in the process of suing), Bayley thanked Governor DeSantis and local politicians for "their steadfast support of our industry".
"This is it. Vacationers can finally plan to take their precious time off this summer and truly get away after what has been a challenging time for everyone," Bayley said in the statement. "I would like to sincerely thank our guests and travel partners for their incredible patience and understanding during this very difficult period."
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