PORT CANAVERAL, Fla. – Royal Caribbean cruise ships will soon set sail from Florida ports once again after more than a yearlong hiatus due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Before the cruise ships can reopen to the public, they must first conduct simulated sailings with the approval from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Royal Caribbean President and CEO Michael Bayley took to Facebook on Thursday to announce that the cruise line has gotten approval from the CDC for simulated sailings as soon as next month.
“Yippee. Just got approval from the CDC for our simulated sailings on Allure of the Seas for July 27 to July 29 from Port Canaveral and Symphony of the Seas sailing from Miami on August 1st to 3rd,” Bayley wrote in the post.
Bayley seems to think it’s a step in the right direction, replying “Things are looking up!” to a Facebook user who commented on his original post.
Just a few days ago, the cruise line announced that it got approval from the CDC to host a simulated cruise on the ship Freedom of the Seas June 20-22. The CDC approval letter posted to Facebook by Bayley didn’t say from which port that ship will be sailing.
Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines across the country suspended sailings in March 2020 as coronavirus cases first began popping up in the U.S.
According to the letter, the cruise line will be required to operate the first two simulated voyages with at least 10% of the ship’s maximum capacity and notify all volunteer passengers about the CDC’s travel notice on cruise ship travel, which is deemed a high-risk activity.
During the cruises, CDC requirements on COVID-19 testing and quarantining must be followed and any deficiencies in the line’s health and safety plan must be documented.
The CDC earlier this month provided cruise lines with technical guidelines for trial cruises. The passengers will be volunteers who are at least 18 years old and are either fully vaccinated or free of medical conditions that would put them at high risk for severe COVID-19.
Passengers must be examined for COVID-19 symptoms before and after the trip, and at least 75% must be tested at the end.
Restrictions on board will include face masks and social distancing. The CDC will allow guided shore excursions — no wandering about on their own — if tour operators follow certain standards.
Disney Cruise Line is also getting close to setting sail again from Port Canaveral as the company begins testing its coronavirus precautions with simulated cruises.
The cruise line announced earlier this week it will begin two-night test cruises of the Disney Dream starting June 29 sailing out of Port Canaveral with volunteer staff acting as passengers.
The CDC also recently approved Carnival Cruise Line’s plans to restart sailings from Port Canaveral. Last week, Carnival Corp. received the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s acceptance of a special agreement with Port Canaveral — an agreement that is a key step in the cruise company’s resumption of sailings.
Carnival said Port Canaveral has been “identified as a restart priority, and Carnival expects to announce plans for operations from there over the coming days,” according to News 6 partners Florida Today.
The CDC also approved what’s known as “Phase 2A port agreements” between Carnival and two other ports — Port Miami and Port of Galveston in Texas. Carnival said these three ports are “all key home ports for Carnival Cruise Line and the first three home ports that Carnival is focusing on for its return to guest operations this summer.”
Ships must make at least one practice run before resuming regular cruises in U.S. waters, although operators will be able to avoid the requirement if they vouch that 98% of crew and 95% of passengers are vaccinated.
Officials with the office of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has led the charge on a lawsuit filed against the CDC in hopes of getting the agency’s no-sail order on cruise ships lifted, released a statement Thursday about the develops surrounding the cruise line industry after mediation failed to settle the lawsuit.
“While it is a positive sign to see the CDC begin to green light “conditional cruises” following Florida’s lawsuit, there is still no set date upon which cruises can resume business operations. The CDC has no excuse for ruining two summers of sailing and it is well past time to end the CDC’s desperate attempt to prolong its power trip over America. Floridians are ready for a real trip on our waters.”
DeSantis has also banned the use of so-called “vaccine passports” in Florida, which some cruise industry leaders have said creates an obstacle for them if they are required to have a certain percentage of their passengers vaccinated against COVID-19 but are unable to ask for proof of vaccination.
“The CDC has no legal authority to mandate COVID-19 ‘vaccine passports’ from anyone,” the state said. “Floridians’ medical privacy is protected under Florida law. The evolving requirements on testing, masks, communications, vaccinations and simulations only reiterate Florida’s concerns that the CDC is taking the cruise industry on a slow boat to nowhere by moving the goalposts every day. Besides, the CDC’s ridiculous percentage for vaccinated cruise passengers — 95% — is contrary to the President’s own benchmark for societal immunity. As a result, the CDC is once again proving itself to be a bureaucratic virus against science-based governance and plain old commonsense.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.