Royal Caribbean Becomes First Cruise Line to Receive CDC Approval for Test Cruises This Summer
All aboard! Royal Caribbean has gotten the green light by the CDC to conduct simulation cruises with volunteer passengers, starting this June
As travel picks back up after more than a year in lockdown, the cruise industry might finally be ready to set sail again.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday gave Royal Caribbean International the go-ahead to begin test cruises, the next step on the road to resuming revenue cruises.
They're the first cruise line company to receive CDC approval for test cruises. The company's Freedom of the Seas ship, which is based in PortMaimi, will begin running simulated cruises with volunteer passengers on June 20.
It'll be the first cruise ship to sail from a U.S. port since March 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic brought the industry to a halt.
"After 15 months of hard work and collaboration, today's approval of our simulated cruises on board Freedom of the Seas is the latest promising step in our path to return to sailing in the U.S.," Royal Caribbean International CEO Michael Bayley told PEOPLE in a statement. "We look forward to welcoming our crew, loyal guests and supporters from around the world this summer."
According to the CDC's Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO), passengers on simulated cruises are not required to be vaccinated — though if they aren't, they must either provide written documentation from a health care provider or must give a personal statement attesting they are not at high risk for developing a severe infection if exposed to COVID-19.
All must also agree to be evaluated for COVID-19 symptoms both before embarking and after disembarking, as well as agree to be tested for COVID-19 in a 3-5 day period following the test cruise's completion.
Test cruises will only be allowed to carry 10 percent of total passenger capacity permitted. Meals, excursions, and entertainment events will require social distancing.
Back in October, the CDC released its CSO, lifting a previous no-sail ban and replaced it with a list of new health protocols and actionable items, which acted as a pathway to a "framework of actionable items" for cruises to follow before safe and responsible sailing could continue.
Cruise companies had to set up additional testing and social distancing requirements before they could move forward to operate mock voyages. The simulations, like the ones Royal Caribbean will now be allowed to operate, are meant to test cruise ship operators' ability to mitigate COVID-19 risk.
Those who are able to meet these requirements and obtain proper certification will then be on track to return to passenger voyages in a manner that mitigates COVID-19 risk among passengers, crew members, and communities.
"CDC is committed to working with the cruise industry and seaport partners to resume cruising following the phased approach outlined in the CSO," CDC spokesperson Caitlin Shockey told PEOPLE in a statement on Tuesday. "Over the past month, senior leadership from CDC have met multiple times a week with cruise line senior executives to discuss the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO). During these meetings, participants asked questions and discussed the fastest path back to sailing without compromising safety. CDC and the cruise industry agree that the industry has what it needs to move forward and no additional roadblocks exist for resuming sailing by mid-summer."
RELATED VIDEO: Passenger Aboard First Cruise Ship to Return to Sailing in Caribbean Tests Positive for COVID-19
Royal Caribbean will require all passengers over the age of 16 to present proof of vaccination when boarding, according to their Healthy Sail Panel. Starting in August, they'll require passengers over 12 show proof as well.
The requirement conflicts with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis' recent legislation, which bans businesses from requiring proof of vaccination in the state. The move has caused some cruise lines to consider skipping Florida ports altogether.
"I have refused to take the same approach as other lockdown governors," DeSantis said in a statement at the time. "In Florida, your personal choice regarding vaccinations will be protected and no business or government entity will be able to deny you services based on your decision."
Royal Caribbean did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.