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Royal Caribbean will drop Covid-19 testing for vaccinated cruisers on shorter sailings

28 Jul 2022
Matt Hochberg

Very soon, fully vaccinated guests won't have to bother with a Covid test on cruises less than six nights.

Freedom of the Seas sailing away from Miami

Included in Royal Caribbean Group's second quarter financial results was a mention of a policy change related to Covid-19 testing.

Starting Aug. 8, testing will be required for unvaccinated guests on all voyages and for vaccinated guests only on voyages that are six nights or longer. 

Up until now, all guests were required to get a Covid-19 test completed prior to their cruise, regardless of vaccination status.

Cruise ship docked in Miami

The change in policy is a result of the the CDC ending its Covid-19 Program for Cruise Ships.

No further details on the policy change were part of the press release, but we should expect more information in the coming days.

A major change in policy

Covid-19 testing has been a cornerstone of Royal Caribbean's health protocols since cruises restarted in 2021.

Up until now, vaccinated guests had to get either a PCR or rapid antigen test up to 2 days before sailing. Unvaccinated children had to get a PCR test only up to 3 days before sailing.

Virgin Voyages was the first cruise line in the United States to drop testing. Norwegian Cruise Line has also eliminated testing for vaccinated travelers for all cruises sailing from any port except in the U.S., Canada, or Piraeus, Greece.

Eliminating testing for vaccinated passengers removes a major obstacle to pre-cruise stress, as many cruisers were concerned they weren't sure they would actually be able to sail until just a couple days before their cruise.

Mr. Liberty said the change is a move to be more like other forms of leisure travel, such as theme parks, casinos, or air travel. 

"We are continuing to adapt our protocols to align more closely with how the rest of society and other travel and leisure businesses are operating."

"This means that we're transitioning to the point where everyone will be able to vacation with us while always working with our destination partners to meet their regulations."

Testing expected to drop for longer sailings soon

Oasis of the Seas in New York with Statue of Liberty

If you'd like to see Covid testing drop also for longer sailings, it sounds like Royal Caribbean has a plan for it.

Speaking to investors during an earnings call on Thursday, Mr. Liberty said, "We also anticipate in the not too distant future that pre-embarkation testing for longer duration voyages will be reduced."

He later elaborated on changing testing requirements for longer sailings, "We're starting off here by doing the five days or less, and we're going to look at that."

"I think our our expectation here, call it in the next 45 days or so. And, of course, following local requirements, which will somewhat dictate in some of our destinations what those testing requirements will be, that the majority of the testing requirements will will be lifted, especially around the majority of our of our deployment."

Less testing should translate into more bookings

As soon as Royal Caribbean Group announced the change, the company expects bookings to spike as a result.

Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley spoke about the reaction in the marketplace to dropping testing for short cruises, "this kind of change I think will be seen very positively."

"We've got some distributors who have been anxiously awaiting changes as long as along with many of our customers."

Cantilevered hot tub on Freedom of the Seas

"One of the calculations that we have is about 40% of all of the folks that are sitting on the byline. So people who've been waiting for the protocols to change."

"I think this easement and this change is going to be viewed very positively. So we're expecting to see an increase in bookings literally starting today."

Unvaccinated passengers too?

Wonder of the Seas pool deck

Depending on how much you want to dissect Mr. Liberty's words, it sounds like the company is looking to someday allow unvaccinated passengers of all ages onboard.

When Mr. Liberty said, "This means that we're transitioning to the point where everyone will be able to vacation with us while always working with our destination partners to meet their regulations," it sounds like it could point to allowing unvaccinated cruisers onboard.

Up until now, only unvaccinated guests under the age of 12 have been allowed on Royal Caribbean ships.

Time will tell.

Reader reactions

Allure of the Seas

As soon as news came out of the change, many cruisers shared their thoughts on the policy shift.

Certainly anyone with a short cruise booked was happy to see the change. Cinthya Rod wrote on the Royal Caribbean Blog Facebook page, "Great news! For our next cruise will be awesome."

Beth Coddington likes where the policy is headed, "That's a step in the right direction."

Explorer of the Seas docked

A number of cruisers questioned the logic of picking 6 nights instead of 7 nights.

Mark Middleton wrote, "What’s the difference, for testing purposes, between a six and seven night sailing? Many are seven nights so would be easier for that!"

Greg Crouch added, "Seeing as most Royal Caribbean cruises are 7 nights it's not an enormous difference for most of us. Test the unvaccinated and not boosted by all means."

Kelly Lene-Tarman shared her thoughts, "Instead of complaining about it only being 6 nights or less, or why not unvaccinated, etc., let's look at the positive in this. They are are doing this in small steps to see how it goes and if all works well, everyone will be welcome to cruise again!"

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 expert 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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