With Royal Caribbean launching Freedom of the Seas from Miami on the first return-to-business cruise from the U.S. without a vaccine requirement, there's a new reality onboard this ship.
Not only will unvaccinated passengers be restricted from many areas of the ship, they will also have to pay more (at least the adults who are eligible. Most extra costs for children who can't get the vaccine are covered).
And it looks increasingly likely this will not be confined to Freedom of the Seas, but all other Royal ships sailing without a vaccine mandate.
Royal Caribbean is encouraging vaccinations for all eligible passengers, and the restrictions and fees certainly could encourage guests to get the jab.
In Florida, with the state's ban on vaccine passports, this is also a practical way the line can sail without violating state law.
If you choose the no-vax route for your own return to cruising, here are some extra expenses you will encounter.
COVID-19 PCR Tests Add Up
Unvaccinated passengers are being required to take a PCR test within three days of departure. While your insurance may cover this test, it is unlikely to recover additional tests that Royal Caribbean is requiring -- one at the pier and another before you disembark the ship. The fee for these tests is $136 per person on cruises of five nights or less, and $178 per person for longer sailings.
Royal will cover the cost for kids under age 16, which changes to children under age 12 on August 1 (in other words, if your kids qualifies for a vaccine and doesn't get one you will pay).
We're estimating a fee of at least $356 for a family of four on a one-week sailing.
Insurance Requirement Essential
Royal Caribbean is requiring unvaccinated cruisers above age 12 embarking from Florida to buy travel insurance, beginning August 1 and through the end of the year. The insurance has to cover at least $25,000 per person in medical expenses and $50,000 per person in medical evacuation. You can purchase via the cruise line -- which tends to be pricey -- or via independent sellers.
According to InsureMyTrip.com, a typical comprehensive plan, also including trip cancellation protection, would run about $200, based on a family of four spending $4,000 on a cruise to Mexico. There's also the option of a cancel for any reason upgrade.
For a plan that simply satisfies Royal’s requirements, medical-only plans via InsureMyTrip start at about $30 for a family of four.
The plans Royal sells via www.travelcruisecare.com are around $300 per family.
The cheapest you'll get away with is $120, but many will pay at least double that.
Ship Shore Excursions Only
On the Freedom of the Seas sailings, everyone will be able to spend time at the beach at Royal’s private Perfect Day at CocoCay private Bahamas island without charge -- though, of course, you will pay extra to get into the Thrill Waterpark or do the zipline.
In Nassau, unvaccinated guests will be able to explore only on shore excursions (no independent touring allowed). You can splurge on a beach day with a dolphin encounter for $99 per person, though the cruise line has also introduced on its startup sailings inexpensive experiences that for $30 per person allow you to do a sunset harbor cruise, a glass bottom reef tour or a Rainbow Reef snorkel.
So if you want to see Nassau, the cheapest you'll get away with is $120.
You'll Also Pay For Masks
Royal is requiring all guests onboard at least the first sailing of Freedom of the Seas to wear masks. You don't need an N-95, but you'll want a selection of masks for each member of your family -- especially since masks get both sweaty and smelly in the tropical heat.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends unvaccinated people wear masks that have two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric and fit snugly, with a nose wire to prevent air from leaking out the top. Special masks are recommended for kids.
That may add up to $80 for a family of four.
The Bottom Line
All of this means you should plan to spend at least an extra $700 for an unvaccinated family of four -- even before you get on the ship and consider onboard temptations.