(9:52 a.m. EDT) This is a test. This is only a test.
Last night, Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas sailed away from Bayonne, New Jersey with a manifest composed of several hundred lucky volunteers, each of whom won a double occupancy cabin for themselves and a plus one during last month's Royal Caribbean Volunteer of the Seas lottery, a smattering of equally fortunate journalists, and an eager and dedicated crew ready to get back to work -- and to sea.
This 6-day simulation, or non-revenue test cruise, features a pair of at-sea days on either side of one perfect day spent docked at the cruise line’s private island, Perfect Day at CocoCay.
Not even Hurricane Henri’s winds and rains could steer this cruise off course.
Departure was a momentous one, as Oasis of the Seas was the first ship to sail from any of the mid-Atlantic ports since the COVID-19 pandemic crashed upon America's shores, shuttering an entire industry for nearly 17 months.
While cruising from the United States returned to Galveston, Seattle, and Florida ports over the summer, this Royal Caribbean test sailing marks a significant step in the cruise industry's comeback. This is because the 8.8 million residents of New York City, as well as the millions more in surrounding states, will once again have easy access to exotic vacations at sea, all while knowing the health requirements to climb aboard and safety protocols on the ships are unrivaled in the travel sector as well as in everyday life on land.
It’s also a momentous occasion because at 226,838 tons, Oasis of the Seas, the original mega ship, is the largest cruise ship to ever sail out of the mid-Atlantic region.
Once the test cruise is complete, the Royal Comeback is officially on as Oasis of the Seas returns for its first revenue cruise on September 5, 2021, with paying guests eager to fill the ship's 2,796 staterooms; and itineraries from Bayonne representing a full spectrum of ports of call, including Cozumel, Roatan and St. Maarten to name just a few -- in addition to a stop at Perfect Day at CocoCay.
But for this week's simulated voyage, Perfect Day's Thrill Waterpark is without its usual per person admission fee that can run between $44 and $99 per person; parking at the Bayonne cruise terminal has been generously comped, and the prices for cocktails, specialty dining options along Central Park and throughout the massive vessel, and Zoom internet have been cut in half. Like we said, lucky volunteers!
In order to embark Oasis of the Seas, proof of both a completed vaccination along with a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of embarkation day were required to be shown upon arriving at the Bayonne terminal.
All passengers were also required to make an online health declaration with negative responses to the questions: have you had a fever, difficulty breathing, sudden loss of taste or smell, fatigue, headaches, or cough; will you be more than 23 weeks pregnant at any time during the cruise; and in the last 14 days have you been in contact with someone with flu-like symptoms or confirmed COVID-19? This needed to be completed via the Royal Caribbean app in the 24 hours before embarkation day.
Additionally, health questionnaire responses were reviewed and confirmed by crew at the terminal.
For those who wisely checked-in online and arrived within their pre-selected wellness check appointment’s 30-minute window, moving through the Bayonne cruise terminal was a breeze, helped largely by the sheer lack of passengers sailing on this volunteer test cruise -- roughly 800; a fraction of the ship's normal capacity. Passports were checked three times and COVID vaccination cards verified a total of four times throughout the boarding process. Headshot photos were taken, and within minutes passengers were stepping onboard, arriving at The Promenade, on deck 5.
When we embarked, several spots were open for lunch, including the Windjammer buffet. There, guests chose from fresh seafood, Indian, salad, burgers and desserts including a massive freshly baked 'Welcome Back' dulce de leche chocolate cake. Everything, however, including soft drinks and ice water, was served by Royal Caribbean crew. For hygiene and safety purposes, nothing at the buffet was self-service.
All Royal Caribbean crew members are wearing dark blue surgical masks emblazoned with a lighter blue Royal Caribbean trademark anchor logo. In each stateroom were a pair of white surgical masks with a dark blue Royal Caribbean logo, a small tub of hand sanitizer, and a paper copy of Cruise Compass for Day 1. During the cruise, masks are required to be worn indoors and in elevators, but the Boardwalk and Central Park, as well as other open-air decks, are deemed “Face mask free zones”.
Some areas of the ship, like Jazz on 4 and Blaze, as well as some specific activities have signs indicating that they are reserved for vaccinated passengers only. In other circumstances, such as during the 'Frozen in Time' ice show and CATS in the Royal Theater, there are either alternate performance times or separate areas (like the top level of the theater, for example) that are open to all guests, and times set aside soley for vaccinated passengers.
Cruise Critic will be onboard Oasis of the Seas this week as it sails on toward Perfect Day at CocoCay. Check back for more coverage from this historic test sailing.