MIAMI — South Florida moved a step closer to resuming cruises this year, as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave approval for Royal Caribbean Group to operate test cruises out of Miami.
The cruise company will be allowed to conduct simulated cruises with volunteer passengers in late June to test its COVID-19 protocols from PortMiami on its Freedom of the Seas ship, according to the Miami Herald. The test cruises are required for ships that do not guarantee that most passengers and crew members are vaccinated against COVID-19, the newspaper reported.
The announcement comes two months after Royal Caribbean International announced that its ship, Adventure of the Seas, will resume sailing from the Bahamas for seven-night excursions.
Florida is the nation’s cruise capital, with three of the world’s busiest ports: Miami, Port Canaveral near Kennedy Space Center, and Port Everglades near Fort Lauderdale, according to WTVJ. The cruise industry generates billions of dollars for the economy and employs tens of thousands of Floridians, the television station reported.
Royal Caribbean Group owns Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Silversea, the Herald reported.
Under the CDC guidelines, each practice cruise will run two to seven days and must have enough passengers to meet at least 10% of the ship’s capacity, WTVJ reported. Volunteers must be 18 or older, the television station reported. They must either be fully vaccinated or free of medical conditions that would put them at high risk for COVID-19.
Cruise companies will be required to end a test cruise if COVID-19 cases are found in 1.% passengers, or if COVID-19 cases are detected among 1% of crew members, the Herald reported. Royal Caribbean International spokesperson Lyan Sierra-Caro said people interested in volunteering can visit the company’s Volunteers of the Seas page on Facebook, the newspaper reported.
“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 said in a statement. “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 midsummer.”
Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises posted on their websites that when revenue cruises resume, the cruise lines will require all passengers who are 16 years old or older to provide proof of vaccination when boarding. Beginning Aug. 1, the companies will require all passengers 12 years old or older to provide proof of vaccination, the Herald reported.
That could complicate matters for the cruise lines, since Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed a law that prevents the companies from asking passengers for proof of vaccination, the newspaper reported.
Cruise lines have been barred from sailing in U.S. waters or stopping at U.S. ports since March 2020, WTVJ reported. DeSantis is suing the federal government over the CDC’s no-sail order, the television station reported. The suit is in mediation and could be settled as early as next month.
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