The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is to permit the first fully vaccinated cruise ship to resume sailing from a US port in late June.
Royal Caribbean’s premium cruise line Celebrity Cruises received permission to restart revenue cruises as of 26th June.
‘Celebrity Edge’ will resume sailings but will require all adult passengers to be vaccinated and children, first at age 16 and as of August, at age 12 and above, to also be vaccinated.
In addition, the company will need to vaccinate the crew to qualify for the exemption not to operate a simulated cruise to prove its health protocols.
The statement said that the ship would sail from Port Everglades.
In addition, Royal Caribbean (RCI) received permission to start test cruises in preparation for regular revenue sailings.
RCI President and CEO, Michael Bayley said that ‘Freedom Of The Seas will sail on her test cruises from PortMiami.
According to the CDC’s letter, the test cruise can commence on June 20-22, 2021, Bayley said in a blog.
CDC has laid down a few key requirements before the test cruises can begin:
- List the maximum number of passengers on the first two restricted sailings.
- There needs to be at least 10% of the maximum number of passengers on the first two restricted voyagers.
- Volunteers need to be advised of the CDC’s Travel Health Notice for Covid-19 and Cruise Ship Travel prior to the cruise.
- ‘Freedom of the Seas’ must retain an approved colour-coded status with the CDC leading up to the test cruise.
- CDC requirements regarding testing and quarantine of crew and passengers to be observed.
- Any deficiencies during the cruise must be documented.
- Essentially, any significant departure from the protocols that may occur on board.
Simulated voyages (also known as test cruises) are limited trips where a cruise line invites unpaid volunteers to help go through all the necessary steps and procedures to ensure cruise ships can be run safely.
Each ship needs to be approved by the CDC in order to conduct test cruises and must conduct at least one simulated cruise, and each voyage must be between two to seven days in length with a least one overnight stay, including thorough embarkation, disembarkation, and post-disembarkation testing.
Passengers and crew must meet standards during the simulated voyage for hand hygiene, use of face masks, and social distancing for passengers and crew, as well as ship sanitation.
Furthermore, RCI must modify meal service and entertainment venues to facilitate social distancing during the simulated voyage.
CDC also said that the ship needs to test across one or many separate test cruises:
- Embarkation and disembarkation procedures, as approved by US port and local health authorities, as part the cruise ship operator’s Phase 2A agreements, including procedures for terminal check-in.
- On board activities, including seating and meal service at dining and entertainment venues.
- Medical evacuation procedures.
- Transfer of symptomatic passengers or crew, or those who test positive for SARS-CoV-2, from cabins to isolation rooms.
- On board and shoreside isolation and quarantine, as per the terms of the cruise ship operator’s Phase 2A agreements, of at least 5% of all passengers and non-essential crew.
- Recreational activities that the cruise ship operator intends to offer as part of any restricted passenger voyages, eg, casinos, spa services, fitness classes, gymnasiums.
- Private-island shore excursions if any are planned during restricted passenger voyages. The following measures must be observed on the private island:
- Only one ship can port at the island at any one time.
- A routine screening testing protocol must be implemented for island staff who are expected to interact with volunteer passengers or crew.
- Mask use and social distancing must be observed on the island.
- The following measures must be observed on port of call shore excursions if any are planned:
- Self-guided or independent exploration by passengers during port stops must be prohibited.
- Shore excursions must only include passengers and crew from the same ship.
- Cruise ship operator must ensure all shore excursion tour companies facilitate social distancing, mask wearing, and other COVID-19 public health measures throughout the tour.
- Cruise ship operators must have a protocol for managing persons with COVID-19 and close contacts at all foreign ports of call. At a minimum, the protocol must include the following:
- Disembarkation and housing of persons with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 needing shore-based hospital care and their travel companion(s) for the duration of their isolation or quarantine period.
- Commercial repatriation of US-based persons with COVID-19 and close contacts only after meeting criteria to end isolation and quarantine per CDC guidance. For commercial repatriation of foreign-based persons with COVID-19 and close contacts, cruise ship operators must consult with all relevant public health authorities.
In his blog, Bayley celebrated being able to get its first ship back in the water for operations; “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!”
RCI issued a statement, welcoming the opportunity to get back to cruising, “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 US.
“We look forward to welcoming our crew, loyal guests and supporters from around the world this summer,” it said.
‘Freedom of the Seas’ was one of the last cruise ships to return to port once RCI announced it would halt all cruises due to Covid-19.
The ship was originally denied entry to San Juan, Puerto Rico to terminate its sailing, and had to get to Miami instead, RCI said.
In addition, Carnival Cruise Line (CCL) is planning to operate test cruises out of Galveston in the coming weeks.
During a meeting of the Board of Trustees of Galveston Wharves, the Port of Galveston said Carnival plans to run its test cruises from the port, although no date was set.
The ’Galveston County Daily News’ reported that CCI has informed the port of its plans.