Presumably, loyal cruisegoers were overjoyed to learn of Royal Caribbean's impending July restart of U.S. operations, but it seems that pandemic-era sailing is going to be an even more complex affair than was originally imagined.
A political tug-of-war, Florida's Governor Ron DeSantis' lawsuit against the CDC for its "coercive" cruise line vaccine guidance, and new legislation in Florida and Texas that prohibits operators from requiring that customers be vaccinated in order to cruise caused Royal Caribbean to reverse its original requirement that passengers be fully COVID-19 vaccinated before boarding its vessels. Now, the company's guest guidelines merely state, "We strongly recommend all guests 16 and older be fully vaccinated."
As a Frommer's blog post pointed out, this essentially created the need for separate, yet comprehensive, sets of rules for the two sets of passengers that will be sailing aboard each ship: the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. It's worth noting that all crew members will be fully vaccinated, regardless of what region they're sailing in.
The cruise line has just posted its new collection of protocols for passengers setting sail this summer, which vary depending upon the location of their vessel's homeport. For voyages departing from Florida or Texas, which will sail with both vaccinated and unvaccinated guests aboard, it will be important for cruisegoers to determine which rules apply to them.
For those who choose to cruise unvaccinated, the cruising experience will certainly be more restrictive and closer to what has become, over the past 15 months, the "new normal", as opposed to the old normal that everyone longs to return to.
In a statement that applies specifically to its July and August sailings aboard Freedom of the Seas, which departs from Miami, Royal Caribbean details vaccination versus testing (for unvaccinated guests) requirements, and what each subset of passengers can expect once onboard. While these rulesets are currently attached only to Freedom of the Seas' summer sailings, it's expected that similar protocols will apply to the line's other voyages departing from Florida and Texas.
"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," the policy states. It continues: "Those who are 16 and older, and do not have or are unable to provide documentation will be considered unvaccinated," which leaves the option of whether to disclose their vaccination status entirely in the customers' hands.
Those who opt not to get inoculated will nonetheless have to test for COVID-19, except for tykes under the age of two. "Our unvaccinated guests must undergo additional COVID-19 testing at their own expense, and follow the health protocols described below, which are based on guidance from the CDC," the guidelines stipulate. This means multiple tests, including a pre-cruise PCR test taken no more than 72 hours prior to boarding, one at the terminal prior to embarkation and another performed on board before disembarking. Unvaccinated guests 16 and older will pay $136 per test, while those ages two to 15 will have testing costs covered by the cruise line.
Royal Caribbean also advises, "Since the majority of our guests will be vaccinated on Freedom of the Seas, there will be venues and events restricted to vaccinated guests only. We'll do our best to create opportunities for all guests to enjoy their time with us."
Unvaccinated guests will also need to wear their face masks more often than the vaccinated. While all are, "required to wear masks indoors unless seated and actively eating or drinking," regulations also state that, "Masks won't be required for vaccinated guests when in venues (bars, lounges, restaurants and entertainment) or at events designated for vaccinated guests only." For all guests, "Masks are not required in your stateroom, when you are with your traveling party, outdoors, or at Perfect Day at CocoCay, unless in a crowded setting."
In terms of onboard dining, passengers will also be seated separately according to vaccine status. "In the Main Dining Room, we will designate areas for vaccinated and unvaccinated reservations to dine separately. Unfortunately, My Time Dining will not be available to unvaccinated guests."
When it comes to shore excursions other than Royal Caribbean's private island, Perfect Day at CocoCay, "All guests are subject to restrictions and requirements as defined by local authorities in the ports we visit," Royal Caribbean notes. "It is reasonable to expect that unvaccinated guests will be subject to stricter protocols than vaccinated guests."
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