The first test cruises could be coming sooner rather than later.
After securing port agreements, Royal Caribbean has confirmed it has submitted the first plan for a test cruise to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley confirmed that the first such plan has been sent to the CDC for approval, so that the cruise line can begin simulated voyages.
Posting on Facebook, Mr. Bayley jumped on a wave of optimism sweeping through the cruise industry as of late, by announcing Royal Caribbean taking its next major step.
"Yesterday Royal Caribbean submitted the first of several port/health plans to the CDC which are required to receive approval for the simulated voyages which are required to precede approval for regular cruises."
Mr. Bayley did not specify which port or ship was part of the application.
The cruise line announced new sailings to Alaska in summer 2021 on the same day this application to the CDC was announced.
The simulated voyages are the test sailings mandated by the CDC in order to receive permission for a cruise ship to sail from the United States.
Under the CDC's Framework for Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO), cruise lines must first get an agreement with each port for the health and safety of crew, passengers and port personnel.
So far, Royal Caribbean has secured port agreements with at least two ports: Port Canaveral and Port Everglades (Fort Lauderdale). Others port agreements may be in place as well, but it has not been publicly divulged.
With the application sent, the CDC says it will respond to submissions within 5 business days. According to the CDC, it expects to quickly approve applications that are both complete and accurate.
CDC may deny the request to conduct a simulated voyage if the cruise ship operator is not in compliance with any of CDC’s requirements for the mitigation of COVID-19 onboard cruise ships, technical instructions, or orders, or if in CDC’s determination the simulated voyage does not provide adequate safeguards to minimize the risk of COVID-19 for all participants. CDC may also oversee and inspect any aspect of the simulated voyage, including through in-person or remote means allowing for visual observation.
In the meantime, Mr. Bayley has promised more news is coming soon, "In the coming days and weeks we will announce more exciting news for all our crew and all our loyal guests."
What is a test cruise?
This announcement by Mr. Bayley is the closest step in Royal Caribbean restarting cruises from the United States.
Test cruises are when cruise lines can operate ships with volunteer passengers in order to prove their new protocols work.
Simulated sailings will need to meet CDC expectations for certification, which includes a variety of protocols, drills, and simulations all aimed at ensuring the ships can be operated safely and respond to any health need onboard.
These volunteers will help test out Royal Caribbean's new health protocols and ensure the new rules are working as intended.
So far, at least 200,000 people have signed up to be a volunteer on a test cruise.
Royal Caribbean has also been hard at work getting crew members vaccinated by bringing its ships into American ports to get inoculated.