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Maine Opens to Overnight Cruises, Negative COVID-19 Test Required
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What We Know So Far About the CDC's Required Cruise Ship Test Sailings
Ship Exterior on Liberty of the Seas

What We Know So Far About the CDC's Required Cruise Ship Test Sailings

What We Know So Far About the CDC's Required Cruise Ship Test Sailings
Ship Exterior on Liberty of the Seas

November 12, 2020

Aaron Saunders
Senior Editor, News and Features
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(Updated 10:57 a.m. EST) -- Who wants to go on a test cruise? Lots of Cruise Critic readers, it seems.

The requirement from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that cruise lines conduct so-called "simulated voyages" before going back into operation has generated considerable interest from long-time cruisers wanting to volunteer.

At this point, however, both the CDC and individual cruise lines have offered scant details on what these test voyages will involve. Royal Caribbean's own Vicki Freed offered up that the line will most likely need volunteers for these simulated voyages, but with little other information about when those will take place.

Despite the fact Freed walked back that statement on November 11 by stating that the line planned to rely only on employees to fill these test voyages, Royal Caribbean rolled out a

special website

on Thursday that would allow prospective passengers to sign up for these test cruises. Though few details are provided, the line notes it received over 5,000 emails alone in the past week on the subject.

What do we know about these test sailings and who can participate? Here are the details we have so far:

Who Can Volunteer?

Boarding Area on Jewel of the Seas

According to the CDC, any volunteers must be 18 years or older and have written documentation from their healthcare provider certifying that they have no pre-existing medical conditions that would place them at high-risk for COVID-19.

But what exactly the specific pre-existing medical conditions are has not been outlined.

The CDC also notes that these test voyages must be conducted "on a consensual basis," and not "as a condition of employment or in exchange for consideration or future reward."

It is widely thought that these test voyages will contain a mixture of cruise line employees, and volunteer passengers.

When Will These Test Sailings Take Place?

The Sports Deck on Queen Victoria

At this time, no details have been provided by the cruise lines or the CDC as to when these test sailings might occur.

It is likely, however, that these voyages won't take place until later this year or even into early 2021. Cruise lines still have to crew up the vessels they want to bring into service and ensure all crewmembers observe mandatory 14-day quarantine procedures when joining the ship.

Additionally, cruise lines must ensure that all COVID-19 testing is completed, and all crews have finished their quarantine periods before test voyages can commence -- something that has to be proposed to the CDC, in writing, in cooperation with the relevant port authorities, before it happens.

Will These Test Cruises Be  Free?

Given that these are going to be far from typical voyages – more on that below -- and the verbiage in the CDC's new Framework for Conditional Sailing says that test passengers must be "volunteers" and cannot receive payment, it is likely these voyages will be free.

But there is a catch -- you'll have to do things.

Wait, What Will I Have to Do?

MSC Cruises Health Questionnaire

These test voyages are exactly that: an opportunity to assess new health and safety protocols under a variety of operational circumstances. So don't expect a cruise where you're able to go off and do your own thing all the time.

According to the CDC, these "simulated voyages" will have to include test runs for seven different situations:

  • Embarkation and Disembarkation procedures, including terminal check-in;
  • Onboard activities, including dining and entertainment venues;
  • Testing of private island shore excursions, if any are planned during restricted passenger voyages;
  • Evacuation procedures (muster drill)
  • Transfer of symptomatic passengers or crew from cabins to isolation rooms
  • Quarantining of all remaining passengers and non-essential crew;
  • And other activities as the CDC sees fit.

So while that means volunteer passengers might have to sit down for a meal or test out service at the bar, much of these voyages will be procedural in nature and could involve repeating tasks more than once to ensure procedures are carried out properly.

If you really dislike being told what to do and what not to do while you are on a ship, you probably don't want to be a volunteer.

Will I Have To Take A COVID-19 Test and Wear A Mask?

MSC Cruises MSC Grandiosa Antigen swab test

Almost certainly, yes -- and in the case of the COVID-19 test, probably more than one. The CDC has said that it wants all passengers to take a COVID-19 test on the day of departure before they board the ship and again post-disembarkation -- so expect to hang around the port for a while.

Anyone who exhibits symptoms of COVID-19 will be tested with rapid-point testing during the voyage -- and any suspected positive cases could result in the CDC cancelling the entire exercise.

Wearing PPE is also part of the CDC's conditional framework to sail. The cruise lines are going to want to make sure that everything goes right on these test cruises, so expect diligent enforcement of mask wearing for both passengers and crew. 

How Long Will The Test Cruises Take?

Carnival Panorama (Photo: Carnival Cruise Line)

We don't know. In an email to Cruise Critic last week, the CDC states it is still assessing the criterial and technical orders for these test cruises and will communicate more information in due course.

Will the Ship Even Go Anywhere?

Ship Exterior on Norwegian Sky

It depends. Certainly, if the CDC wants cruise operators to test out their private island shore excursions, it seems likely that at least a handful of ships will set sail for the likes of Half Moon Cay, Great Stirrup Cay, or Perfect Day at CocoCay.

Some, however, could remain docked alongside for several days -- something else potential volunteers may want to keep in the back of their minds.

This Sounds Like a Lot of Work. Will the Test Cruise Even Be Fun?

Perfect Day at CocoCay (Photo: Brittany Chrusciel/Cruise Critic)

It depends on your definition of fun.

The testing of shore excursions sounds like the most fun right out of the gate, particularly at places like Royal Caribbean's Perfect Day at CocoCay. Who wouldn't want to have to ride the waterslides repeatedly or kick back in a hammock in the interest of public health?

Some of these activities, though, will be decidedly less fun. Muster drills and quarantine exercises will remind folks that this is serious business and not your average pleasure cruise.

What you will get out of the deal are two things. One, you'll have bragging rights for being one of the first people back on a cruise ship after a history-making pause in operations. And two, you'll feel good about helping the cruise lines hone protocols designed to make sailing safe again.

We think that sounds like fun. Your mileage may vary. Once the full requirements are finalized and made public, people will have the ability to better decide for themselves whether they want to participate in something like this.

Great, I Still Want In! Where Do I Sign Up?

Boarding Area on Celebrity Equinox

At this point, that information hasn't been determined by either cruise lines or the CDC. Cruise Critic is working to find out how prospective volunteers can register their interest, provided they meet the CDC's posted criteria for participation.

Why Would Anyone Volunteer to Do This?

The Pool on Marina (Photo: Cruise Critic)

For those who have never cruised, or who have only cruised a handful of times, it might seem strange as to why there are those who are almost ravenous to be the first in line to participate in these test voyages.

The answer isn't so surprising.

Long-time cruisers develop lasting relationships with their preferred cruise lines. In many cases, cruisers wear logo apparel from their favorite cruise line. They tell their friends about it. They take their families onboard. They accrue friendships with both passengers and crew and take an interest in the goings-on behind the scenes that just doesn’t typically happen at land-based hotels or resorts.

Many cruisers are eager to come out and support the lines that have provided them with so much happiness joy, and cherished memories throughout the years. More than a few see volunteering as a way to help support their favorite line and its crewmembers who have long supported them and their families.

Cruise Critic will update this article with new information as it becomes available.

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