World's largest cruise ship could sail again with paying passengers by early August
The world's largest cruise ship could be sailing again with paying passengers by August.
Royal Caribbean president and CEO Michael Bayley on Thursday said the line had won approval from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to conduct a so-called “test cruise” with its record-setting, 5,518-passenger Symphony of the Seas out of PortMiami starting Aug. 1.
Announcing the news in a Facebook post, Bayley also revealed that a second giant Royal Caribbean vessel, the 5,484-passenger Allure of the Seas, also had gotten CDC approval to operate a test cruise out of Port Canaveral, Florida, starting July 27.
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Nearly as big as Symphony of the Seas, Allure of the Seas is the world's third-largest cruise ship.
Assuming all goes well with the sailings, the ships could resume regular voyages with paying passengers within days of the test cruises being completed.
"Yippie," the often playful Bayley wrote at the start of the Facebook post announcing the news.
Neither Symphony of the Seas nor Allure of the Seas has operated a single departure in more than a year. Like the vast majority of the world's cruise ships, the vessels have been idled since March of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Like all big, U.S.-based cruise ships, Symphony of the Seas and Allure of the Seas have been blocked from restarting departures for the past 15 months by the CDC, which has been worried about the spread of COVID-19 on cruise vessels.
In recent months, the CDC has published a list of rules and requirements that cruise lines must follow if they want to restart cruises in U.S. waters.
Among them, the CDC requires simulated "test cruises" with unpaid volunteers for any cruise vessel that plans to operate in U.S. waters between now and Oct. 31 without 95% of passengers vaccinated for COVID-19.
Related: Here's how to volunteer for a 2-night Royal Caribbean test cruise
Cruise vessels that plan to operate in U.S. waters in the coming months with at least 95% of passengers vaccinated for COVID-19 are exempt from the requirement.
The test cruises are designed to test new embarkation and disembarkation procedures, medical evacuation procedures and procedures for transferring symptomatic passengers and crew to isolation rooms set up on board the ships.
The CDC guidelines also call for the testing of new procedures surrounding onboard activities such as dining, shows and top-deck recreation.
Both of the Royal Caribbean test cruises announced Thursday will be two nights in length.
The CDC has given Royal Caribbean approval to conduct test cruises on three other ships: The 3,934-passenger Freedom of the Seas, 3,114-passenger Mariner of the Seas and 3,858-passenger Independence of the Seas. Royal Caribbean last week announced Freedom of the Seas would operate a test cruise on June 20. The line has yet to announced if or when the other two vessels will operate test cruises.
Several other vessels from other lines including Disney Cruise Line and Carnival Cruise Line also have won such approval. Disney plans to operate a test cruise for the 2,500-passenger Disney Dream in late June.
The CDC restart rules apply to all cruise vessels sailing in U.S. waters that carry more than 250 passengers and crew.
The fact that Royal Caribbean has asked the CDC to operate test cruises with Symphony of the Seas and Allure of the Seas suggests the line doesn't plan to implement an across-the-board vaccine requirement for passengers on the ships when they resume operations.
That's in contrast to the policy that Royal Caribbean has set out for cruises it already has resumed or plans to resume soon in some other destinations, including Singapore, the U.K. and Alaska.
It's also in contrast to the policies that have been spelled out in recent months by more than a dozen lines such as Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, Crystal Cruises and Azamara that have announced that COVID-19 vaccines will be mandatory for all passengers.
Related: Will I need a vaccine to cruise? A line-by-line guide
Implementing an across-the-board vaccine mandate is more difficult for Royal Caribbean than some of those other lines because it draws a large number of families with small children. Children under the age of 12 currently aren't eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
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