Royal Caribbean will be allowed to operate test cruises out of South Florida starting late June after receiving approval from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a significant step toward resuming sailings out of the nation's cruise capital.
"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 U.S." Royal Caribbean International said in a statement Tuesday. "We look forward to welcoming our crew, loyal guests and supporters from around the world this summer.
Volunteer passengers will be sailing on the company's Freedom of the Seas ship for the simulated cruises out of PortMiami, the Miami Herald reported.
The simulated cruises are being done to test whether ships can sail safely and follow CDC guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
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. Volunteers must be 18 or older and either fully vaccinated or free of medical conditions that would put them at high risk for severe COVID-19.
The ship operator must tell passengers that they are simulating untested safety measures "and that sailing during a pandemic is an inherently risky activity,” the CDC guidelines state.
Passengers must be examined for COVID-19 symptoms before and after the trip, and at least 75% must be tested at the end.
Ships must make at least one practice run before resuming regular cruises in U.S. waters, although operators will be able to avoid the requirement if they vouch that 98% of crew and 95% of passengers are vaccinated, the CDC said.
Cruise lines have been barred from sailing in U.S. waters or stopping at U.S. ports since March 2020, early in the pandemic.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is suing the federal government over the CDC's no-sail order. The suit is in mediation and expected to be settled next month.
“This approval is a milestone for our hard-fought efforts to safely re-open the cruising industry, which is a cornerstone of Miami-Dade’s economy – generating $7 billion a year and supporting an estimated 40,000 jobs throughout multiple sectors of the economy," Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said.
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. The cruise industry generates billions for the economy and employs tens of thousands of Floridians.