Royal Caribbean opts into CDC highly vaccinated program and will require 95% passengers to be vaccinated

18 Feb 2022
Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean has opted into the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) voluntary Covid-19 reporting program.

On the final day to opt into the program, Royal Caribbean announced it will join as part of the, "highly vaccinated program"

This means at least 95% of passengers and 95% of crew will be fully vaccinated on Royal Caribbean ships.

The benefit of requiring at least 95% vaccinated passengers is face masks will no longer be required indoors on Royal Caribbean ships.

The new program will go into effect beginning February 25, 2022.

Royal Caribbean will join the "highly vaccinated program", which is defined as ships with at least 95% passengers and 95% crew who are fully vaccinated, but with less than 95% of passengers and 95% of crew who are up to date with their Covid-19 vaccines.

Prior to this change, Royal Caribbean had not required 95% of its passengers to be vaccinated, unlike sister company Celebrity Cruises.

Cruise lines that choose to participate in CDC’s Covid-19 Program must advise CDC of the vaccination status classification for each participating ship. 

In addition, each ship must maintain these thresholds for each voyage.

On the CDC website, Royal Caribbean's ships appear in the listing of the Cruise Ship Status Dashboard under the category of "Highly Vaccinated".

Inside the new CDC program

 The new optional system for foreign-flagged cruise vessels operating in U.S. waters will mark ships in one of three categories, depending on the level of vaccinated passengers and crew on board:

  1. Not Highly Vaccinated: ships with less than 95% passengers and 95% crew who are fully vaccinated.
  2. Highly Vaccinated: ships with at least 95% passengers and 95% crew who are fully vaccinated but less than 95% of passengers and 95% of crew are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines.
  3. Vaccination Standard of Excellence: ships with at least 95% passengers and 95% crew who are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines.

The new CDC program is a follow-up to its Conditional Sail Order, which expired in mid-January.

By opting into the Highly Vaccinated program, Royal Caribbean ships will be expected to uphold surveillance, documentation and reporting of Covid-19 cases onboard to the CDC, as well as continue subjecting them to the agency’s color-coded system that designates which cruise ships are being monitored or investigated for high case numbers.

95% vaccinated

The move to require at least 95% vaccinated may seem like a big change until you realize Royal Caribbean was already basically at that threshold.

Thanks to high vaccination rates among adults and the addition of children between the ages of 6-12 that have recently gotten vaccinated, the average sailing was already hovering around the number.

In late December 2021, Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley said a typical sailing has anywhere between 95 to 98 percent fully vaccinated onboard population.

Michael Bayley speaks out

Mr. Bayley posted on Facebook an update on Royal Caribbean’s decision to opt into the new program. 

As many may know the CDC conditional sail order expired in  mid January and we continued to operate voluntarily under the program.

Recently the CDC issued the next phase of guidelines consisting of three categories each built on the same foundation of protecting health and each with specific guidelines based on vaccination and booster status. All cruise lines had until today to opt in or out of the program.

Today Royal Caribbean confirmed we will participate in the CDC's voluntary Program.

Specifically, we will operate under the program's Highly Vaccinated category beginning with sailings departing from the U.S. as of Friday, Feb. 25. Requirements include sailing with 95% of crew members fully vaccinated, which Royal Caribbean already exceeds with 100% of its crew fully vaccinated and boosted when eligible.

Ninety-five percent of guests must be fully vaccinated as well -- this excludes children under five years who are not eligible for the vaccine. The updated protocols will include face masks being optional for all fully vaccinated guests and expected for unvaccinated children.

All kids will be required to wear face masks during Adventure Ocean youth program activities.

We are thoughtfully working through the details regarding other changes to our health and safety protocols which we will share with our guests and travel advisors before Feb. 25

Matt started Royal Caribbean Blog in 2010 as a place to share his passion for all things Royal Caribbean with readers. He oversees all the writers at Royal Caribbean Blog, and writes a great deal of content on a daily basis.  He has become one of the foremost experts on a Royal Caribbean cruise.

Over the years, he has reached Pinnacle Club status with Royal Caribbean's customer loyalty program.

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