(5:35 p.m. EDT) -- Royal Caribbean has outlined its health and safety protocols for sailings out of Florida aboard Freedom of the Seas in July for both vaccinated and non-vaccinated cruisers.
While the newly-announced protocols are specified for Freedom of the Seas voyages only, they offer a glimpse at how cruise lines are handling the pressure of adhering to CDC-outlined best practices and satisfying Florida law, which bans vaccine passports.
Under current Florida law, businesses are prohibited from asking patrons to provide proof of vaccination; yet vaccination against COVID-19 is recommended by the CDC as a way to safely resume cruise operations.
In an email sent to passengers booked aboard Freedom of the Seas in July, Royal Caribbean details two distinct sets of protocols that will be in place onboard: one for those who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and are willing to share that information voluntarily with the cruise line, and one for those who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 or do not wish to voluntarily share that information.
Passengers over 16 years of age are strongly encouraged to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before setting sail, with no less than 14 days between the final dose and sailing date.
Vaccinated Passengers See Fewest Changes, Though Mask Usage Needed Indoors
Those passengers who provide proof of vaccination voluntarily at check-in will notice the fewest number of changes onboard, though at this time, both vaccinated and unvaccinated passengers will need to wear masks onboard any time they are outside their cabins or not seated in a bar or restaurant and are actively eating and drinking.
Mask usage is not needed outdoors or on Perfect Day at CocoCay, unless in a crowded setting.
Children two and under are not required to wear a mask, and vaccinated passengers won't have to wear a mask in select bars, lounges and restaurants that are determined for their exclusive use (more on that below).
Royal Caribbean notes it is expecting enhanced guidance from the CDC requiring masks for vaccinated passengers, so additional updates could be pending.
Additional Tests Required for Unvaccinated Passengers -- At Their Expense
At this time, passengers who are unvaccinated will need to undergo additional testing in order to board Freedom of the Seas. This includes those who refuse to provide vaccination documentation, who will be considered unvaccinated.
Testing will be a mandatory condition of sailing; it is not negotiable, and it will come at the passenger's expense (with the exception of testing for children who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated).
Cruisers who are unvaccinated or who do not show proof of vaccination will be required to undergo PCR testing (not antigen) within three days of sailing. Documentation of a negative test will be required to set sail, and all costs associated with this test are the cruiser's responsibility.
Unvaccinated passengers will also need two sets of PCR testing at the ship: one taken at the terminal prior to embarkation; and one onboard the ship prior to disembarkation. Royal Caribbean will bill costs of $136 per person to each cruiser's SeaPass onboard account for these two tests.
Some Areas of the Ship Will Only Be Open to Vaccinated Passengers
With the risk of COVID-19 still present, Royal Caribbean has made the decision to restrict access to certain public rooms, events, and areas of the vessel to vaccinated passengers only. Passengers will need to keep their SeaPass cards at them on all times in order to gain access to lounges, shows and dining venues while onboard.
"Since the majority of our guests will be vaccinated, there will be venues and events restricted to vaccinated guests only," stated Royal Caribbean in its email communiqué to passengers. "We’ll do our best to create opportunities for all guests to enjoy their time with us."
For entertainment venues, select showtimes will be offered for vaccinated passengers only, while others will be offered for vaccinated and unvaccinated passengers. These will be listed in the daily program, and show reservations can be made using the Royal Caribbean app.
Meals in the ship's elegant Main Dining Room will be set up similarly: vaccinated and unvaccinated passengers may not dine together, and reservations will be encouraged using the Royal Caribbean app or Cruise Planner pre-cruise.
My Time Dining will not be available to unvaccinated passengers, but will still be an option for those who are vaccinated.
The casual Windjammer buffet will still be open, but food will be served by the ship's crew only. No self-serve options will be available.
As children will primarily be the ones who are unvaccinated onboard, it will likely be the adults-only areas of the ship that could be off-limits to unvaccinated passengers at select times.
How Will the Cruise Line Know Who is Who?
A Royal Caribbean spokesperson tells Cruise Critic those who present proof of vaccination will be given wristbands to wear onboard, while unvaccinated passengers will have a hole punched in their SeaPass card.
Royal Caribbean notes that these health and safety protocols are only applicable for Freedom of the Seas sailings beginning in July from PortMiami. Protocols for other vessels departing from Florida will be unveiled at a later time.
Royal Caribbean has listed its health and safety protocols for other U.S. departures, including voyages from Seattle to Alaska and Galveston to the Caribbean.