Royal Caribbean Releases New Guidelines for Summer Florida Sailings

Protocols differ depending on whether you're sailing in July or August

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The ol’ game of switcheroo is still in full effect for cruise lines—but at this point, it’s all par for the course, right? Last week, Royal Caribbean sent out updated health protocols to booked passengers on the cruise line’s August sailings from Florida homeports. Think mask requirements, age recommendations for vaccines, social distancing protocols, and more. 

These changes were made—and differ ever so slightly—from the current health guidelines and protocol taking place on the July Freedom of the Seas and Odyssey of the Seas sailings from Florida. 

Additionally, a recent federal appeals court ruled that the CDC's COVID-19 guidelines can be enforced on cruise ships departing from Florida ports. This ruling served as a blow to the state who recently thought they had won the ability to skirt the CDC recommendations and rules around concerning cruise protocol. Florida has since filed for an appeal of the appeal.

Here’s are Royal Caribbean's most recent updates.

According to its official website, the cruise line recommends that everyone over the age of 16 is fully vaccinated before boarding their ship. For August sailings, the cruise line has lowered the age to 12, presumably due to the wider availability of the vaccine for younger children by then. 

Passengers taking part in Florida sailings during either month will be required to show proof of vaccination via their official CDC vaccination card. Before the new ruling, laws in Florida prohibited businesses from withholding services due to vaccination status, and the cruise line was not requiring passengers to be vaccinated. However, under CDC guidelines, 95 percent of passengers on board must be vaccinated to sail. That said, Royal Caribbean has yet to update its guidelines to match CDC requirements.

According to the cruise line, anyone who is unable to prove fully-vaxxed status (or is under the ages listed) will be considered unvaccinated by the cruise line and be subject to additional COVID-19 testing during the voyage (at their own expense).

One big update for passengers sailing in August is that the cruise line will also require proof of travel insurance for anyone deemed unvaccinated. The fine print? It needs to include "sufficient medical coverage for needs related to a positive COVID-19 test result."

Unvaccinated guests 16 and up can expect to be tested before embarking and before disembarking, with a total cost of $136 per person for cruises up to five nights or less or $176 for cruises that are six nights or more. For July sailings, there is no charge for testing unvaccinated passengers between two years old and 15 years old, and, for August sailings, the cruise line will not charge for testing unvaccinated guests who are two years old to 12 years old.

Testing for unvaccinated individuals aged two and up will be required pre-cruise (via an approved laboratory, all at the passenger’s expense), in the terminal at check-in, mid-cruise for any cruises over six nights long, and before disembarkation.

A negative pre-cruise test taken within three days before sailing will be required for unvaccinated guests in place of a vaccination card. Vaccinated guests will have no testing requirements.

Both passengers on the July and August sailings from Florida must fill out a health questionnaire form 24 hours before heading to check-in that will screen for COVID-19 exposure and symptoms. Face masks will be required at all times during the boarding process for everyone.

Perhaps the biggest differences start onboard, though—as vaccinated passengers will clearly have the upperhand here. Royal Caribbean has stated that some events and spaces on the ship will only be accessible to vaccinated passengers. To make sure no one sneaks in, passengers will be required to use their SeaPass to gain entrance into many public areas (this likely also works as a contract tracing program onboard in case of a positive case).

Masks and social distancing will be required in all indoor spaces, though masks are not required in the ship’s dedicated vaccinated-only areas. More perks that only apply to vaccinated guests include the option for My Time Dining, access to the casino (no unvaccinated guests are allowed in the casino), access to treatment rooms in the spa, special vaccinated-only access hours in the gym, select showtimes for vaccinated-only guests, and the ability to book any shore excursions via the cruise ship or not at port. Unvaccinated guests or parties with unvaccinated guests will have to book shore excursions through Royal Caribbean.

Again, it's unclear how this will shake out, but Royal Caribbean has not updated the requirements on their website for now.

For a complete list of requirements, perks, accessibility breakdowns, and FAQs for either sailing, visit the Royal Caribbean official site for either July sailings in Florida or August sailings in Florida