(5 a.m. EDT) -- The CDC has given the green light for Royal Caribbean to carry out the first test cruise ahead of the resumption of sailing from the U.S.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave the line approval to conduct a simulated cruise onboard Freedom of the Seas from June 20 to 22, sailing from Miami, as part of the CDC's Conditional Sail Order (CSO).
It is the clearest signal yet that cruises will resume from the U.S. by early July.
Royal Caribbean's CEO Michael Bayley broke the news on his Facebook page:
"After 15 months and so much work by so many during very challenging times. To all our colleagues, loyal guests and supporters all over the world I am proud and pleased to share some bright and wonderful news ! Boom ! Onwards and upwards team !"
Royal Caribbean released the following statement:
"After 15 months of hard work and collaboration, today’s approval of our simulated cruises is the latest promising step in our path to return to sailing in the U.S. We look forward to welcoming our crew, loyal guests and supporters from around the world this summer."
This summer we are likely to see both fully vaccinated cruises and those that are sailing with a mixture of vaxxed and unvaxxed. Test cruises are for lines that will not be carrying vaccinated passengers; those lines going down the fully vaccinated route are not obliged to run test cruises. Test cruises will alllow family-friendly lines such as Royal Caribbean to bypass the ruling that requires COVID-19 vaccinations for 95 percent of passengers and 95 percent of crew.
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Earlier this month, the CDC released further guidance on how the cruise industry could conduct the test cruises. The agency said it planned for its guidance to help cruising resume by mid-July. Cruise ships that pass the test cruise phase will be permitted to sail with passengers, the CDC said.
"The CDC is committed to working with the cruise industry and seaport partners to resume cruising following the phased approach outlined in the CSO," the body said in its latest statement.
"Over the past month, senior leadership from CDC have met multiple times a week with cruise line senior executives to discuss the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO).
"During these meetings, participants asked questions and discussed the fastest path back to sailing without compromising safety. CDC and the cruise industry agree that the industry has what it needs to move forward and no additional roadblocks exist for resuming sailing by mid-summer."
Under the CSO, the CDC outlines five conditions for the test cruise, including sailing the ship "at least 10 percent of the maximum number of passengers permitted onboard".
The line is also obliged to advise test passengers of the CDC's Travel Health Notice for COVID-19 and Cruise Ship Travel ahead of the voyage.
The CDC added a personal note at the end of its letter to Bayley, stating: "We commend your company's efforts to provide a safer and healthier sailing environment for your passengers and crew and look forward to our continued partnership."