(12:45 p.m. EDT) -- MSC Meraviglia, one of the largest cruise ships in the world with 4,475-passengers, this week completed a test cruise from Miami, and promptly received approval from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to resume sailings in August.
The simulated sailing had 312 fully vaccinated passengers onboard, and they were MSC employees and their friends and family. All helped test the ship’s health and safety protocols including mask-wearing indoors, social distancing and enhanced sanitization procedures, during a three-night simulated voyage that returned to Miami on July 20.
The guests participated in activities and entertainment "throughout the ship" including dining in the main dining room and specialty restaurants. They also spent time on shore in Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve, the cruise line’s private Bahamas destination, as well as on "immersive protected shore excursions" in Nassau, MSC said.
Test sailings are required by the CDC for ships that do not commit to meeting a threshold of 95 percent vaccinated passengers and crew. MSC is encouraging passengers to be vaccinated, but officials have also indicated they do not want to discourage the family crowd from cruising – including younger kids who do not yet qualify for vaccines. All passengers, vaccinated and unvaccinated, are welcome.
MSC plans to resume sailing from the U.S. with MSC Meraviglia on August 2. The ship will initially do three- and four-night cruises to the Bahamas, and add seven-night cruises the Bahamas and Caribbean beginning on September 18. All the sailings are from Miami.
All crew are fully vaccinated or are in the process of receiving their second dose after having just joined the ship and still within their initial quarantine period before beginning their onboard duties.
The 4,345-passenger MSC Divina will be the line’s second ship to return to cruising from the U.S., with three-, four- and seven-night sailings beginning September 16. The cruises will be from Port Canaveral, a new homeport for the line.
MSC relaunched sailings in the Mediterranean in August 2020, although operations were suspended during later COVID-19 surges. Plans are to have more than half of the fleet back in service by the end of the summer, officials said.
MSC ships will sail from the U.S. with different rules for fully vaccinated and unvaccinated passengers – similar to measures the line introduced in the Mediterranean.
Officials said that MSC Cruise’s health and safety plan is designed to prevent and mitigate risk of transmission and also "adapt to a changing environment and immediately respond in the event of any suspect cases to prevent spread."
MSC has boosted its cleaning and hygiene measures to include deep clearing using hospital-grade disinfectant products. Guests will be encouraged to wash their hands frequently through their cruise.
Medical facility enhancements include testing facilities and dedicated isolation staterooms for any suspected cases and their close contacts. If there is an identified case of COVID-19, the person and their close contacts may be disembarked, the line said.
All crew members will be tested for COVID-19 up to three times prior to embarkation, prior to disembarkation and weekly during their contract, the line said.
There is a temperature check at embarkation for all passengers.
If you are vaccinated, you will undergo a health screening before embarkation that a health questionnaire and swab COVID-19 antigen test.
If you are not vaccinated, you will also be required to show proof of a negative RT-PCR NAP test result taken with 72 hours of departure. In addition, they will undergo mandatory testing throughout the voyage.
Prior to cruising, unvaccinated guests will also be required to purchase both an MSC Cruise Travel & COVID-19 Reassurance plan and a travel insurance plan with coverage for COVID-19. The cost of the plans was not disclosed.
All guests will be required to wear masks indoors in public areas, except when seated at socially distanced tables at dining venues, bars and lounges. Masks are only required outdoors if there is a crowd.
To assure social distancing, some activities will be restricted to smaller group sizes, with pre-booking required (at no extra cost). This includes shows, entertainment and the Kids Club.
Unvaccinated guests will be subject to additional protocols that include being restricted from areas of the ship that are open only to vaccinated guests (MSC did not disclose which areas). These may also vary by ship.
All guests will be able to explore on their own or on shore excursions at Ocean Cay. In Nassau and other ports, those who are not vaccinated will only be allowed on shore only if they purchase MSC-sponsored shore excursions.