Royal Caribbean Quietly Walks Back Vax Requirement as it Announces Return to Cruising

Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas
Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas

Royal Caribbean International (Royal) has announced its return to sailing from American homeports this summer – but at the same time, quietly revealed its also backing away from earlier statements it will require all passengers to be vaccinated.

Following the announcement of two ships returning to Alaska this summer (for vaccinated pax), the cruise line has revealed six more ships will start sailing from ports in Florida and Texas beginning in 02JUL in Miami:

  • Freedom of the Seas– 3- and 4-night Bahamas and Perfect Day at CocoCay sailings from Miami, starting 02JUL.
  • Odyssey of the Seas – 6- and 8-night Southern and Western Caribbean cruises from Fort Lauderdale, starting 03JUL.
  • Allure of the Seas – 7-night Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries from Port Canaveral, starting 08AUG.
  • Symphony of the Seas – 7-night Eastern and Western Caribbean sailings from Miami, starting 14AUG.
  • Independence of the Seas – 7-night Western Caribbean sailings from Galveston, Texas, starting 15AUG.
  • Mariner of the Seas – 3- and 4-night Bahamas and Perfect Day at CocoCay sailings from Port Canaveral, starting 02AUG.

Royal adds, including cruises scheduled this summer in Europe, its entire fleet will return to service by the end of the year.

Vaccine Optional Stance – At Least For Now – Has Nothing to do with Florida Politics

But although Royal maintains that all crew members will be vaccinated, now it seems all guests – on these new sailings – don’t have to be.

While maintaining its policy that any guest over 16 (anyone over 12 after 01AUG) on an Alaska sailing must be fully vaccinated, the cruise line now says on its newly released Caribbean itineraries from American homeports, guests are now only “strongly recommended to set sail fully vaccinated.”

Anyone who can’t prove full vaccination status, “will be required to undergo testing and follow other protocols, which will be announced at a later date.”

Some observers see this as caving to Florida’s new law forbidding businesses from requiring proof of vaccination.

Since the easiest path to restarting cruising within CDC regulations is to sail with fully vaccinated guests and crew, most cruise lines have declared they’ll require vaccinations of their guests. It puts them at odds with Florida’s new laws, but as Open Jaw has reported, statements by cruise lines and state officials suggest these laws will not stop cruises from operating fully vaccinated in the state.

And indeed, Carnival Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings issued statements Monday about new cruises from Florida homeports – and both held to their vaccination requirements. President of Carnival Cruise Line, Christine Duffy’s statement made it very clear that it was for purely practical reasons.

“Current CDC requirements for cruising with a guest base that is unvaccinated will make it very difficult to deliver the experience our guests expect,” she said.

“As a result, our alternative is to operate our ships from the U.S. during the month of July with vaccinated guests.”

So Royal’s position is likely less about caving to Florida politics than to be a practical reflection of internal decisions that it will be hard to fill family-focused sailings from Florida with vaccinated guests when vaccinations are not yet approved for children under 12.  One observer noted Alaska cruises have fewer children, making Royal’s vaccinated sailings there more easy to fill.

And despite the cruise line’s calculus today that vaccine-optional cruising is the best way to fill its ships in Florida – even with potentially onerous “testing and follow other protocols”  – it may switch again to vaccinated cruising like other cruise lines to escape restrictive health protocols once more children in the U.S. are vaccinated.

Lynn Elmhirst

With a background in broadcast news and travel lifestyles TV production, Lynn is just as comfortable behind or in front of the camera as she is slinging words into compelling stories at her laptop. Having been called a multi-media ‘content charmer’, Lynn’s other claim to fame is the ability to work 24/7, forgoing sleep until the job is done. Documented proof exists in a picture of Lynn at the closing celebrations of an intense week, standing, champagne in hand - sound asleep. That’s our kind of gal.

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