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CDC warns high risk people not to go on a cruise ship

21 Aug 2021

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a new warning on Friday to anyone who is at high risk of severe complications from Covid-19 not to go on a cruise, even if they are fully vaccinated.

According to the CDC's website, the warning applies to Older adults, people with weakened immune systems (including people who take medicines that suppress their immune systems) and people of any age with certain underlying medical conditions, because they are more likely to get severely ill if they get Covid-19.

"Severe illness means that a person with COVID-19 may need: hospitalization, intensive care, a ventilator to help them breathe or they may even die," according to the CDC's website

Why the change? The CDC says the new advice follows several coronavirus outbreaks that have been reported aboard cruise ships.

"The virus that causes Covid-19 spreads easily between people in close quarters aboard ships, and the chance of getting Covid-19 on cruise ships is high. Outbreaks of Covid-19 have been reported on cruise ships."

While there have been cases of Covid on cruise ships, protocols onboard have proven to contain the cases to just a few passengers. In many situations, cases were limited to families traveling together.

Royal Caribbean acts quickly with contact tracing and additional testing to quarantine and safely repatriate those passengers home, often via private jet transportation.

Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley said earlier this week there are typically one to two passengers that test positive for the illness on a typical sailing.

Mr. Bayley went on to say that due to the high levels of vaccinated passengers and frequent testing, a cruise ship, "is literally one of the safest places on the planet."

The new warning did not result in a change of the agency's Covid-19 levels, leaving cruise ships at level 3 or "high".

The CDC's 4-level system categorizes destinations, including international destinations and United States Territories, into the following four levels:

Level 4: Very high level of Covid-19
Level 3: High level of Covid-19
Level 2: Moderate level of Covid-19
Level 1: Low level of Covid-19

The new warning is in addition to the agency's previous guidance that unvaccinated passengers not go on cruise ships.

Due to Bahamian law, Royal Caribbean now requires anyone over the age of 12 to be fully vaccinated in order to go on a cruise. Children 11 and under do not have a vaccine option, and are allowed to sail albeit with additional requirements and protocols.

Royal Caribbean now accepts CDC-approved at-home COVID-19 tests

09 Aug 2021

Update 8/20/21: Royal Caribbean confirms the Abbott BinaxNow COVID-19 Ag Card Test, which is taken at home and supervised by a telemedicine professional, is accepted. It must be taken under live video supervision.

Royal Caribbean recently added a new requirement for anyone going on a cruise from the U.S. will need to get a Covid-19 test taken before the sailing, and there is now a new option available to get that completed.

The cruise line has updated the test requirement policy on its website to say it would allow home/self-tests if there is documentation can be provided from a medical professional that they were supervised.

With this change, the at-home tests that are done in a video conference with a medical professional are acceptable. These tests can be completed in 15-minutes and do not require finding an appointment at a nearby testing center.

Over the last two weeks, Royal Caribbean has introduced a new requirement for passengers where they must provide a negative PCR or antigen test for Covid-19 during check-in.

This test must be taken no more than three days prior to sailing and must be arranged by each guest at their own expense with an accredited test provider.

Abbott BinaxNOW™ COVID-19 Ag Card Home Test is supervised and administered remotely via Zoom. Results are available within 15 minutes.

The test can be self-administered using a short nasal swab (not the deep and invasive nasopharyngeal swab) and check test results in 15 minutes.

The at-home tests by Abbott does require a prescription, which allows for someone to fill out a form to apply for an online prescription.

Results are available instantly email, as well as through the manufacturer's app. There is also a QR code provided to be shared via text, email and other methods.

The test can be used on children as young as two years old when samples are collected by an adult and for all people aged 15 years or older.

One issue with these at-home tests is there are reports of hours-long wait times due to an increase in demand for tests. Your experience may vary depending on when you opt to take the test.

Royal Caribbean is flying passengers home on a private jet if they have Covid-19

07 Aug 2021

Cruise ship passengers that test positive for Covid-19 are not just left behind at the nearest port. In fact, Royal Caribbean takes the health and safety of passengers, crew members, and the communities their ships visit seriously enough to hire private transportation home.

Unlike other industries that have had little to no government regulations regarding their Covid-19 response and protocols, the cruise industry has been held to a much higher standard with requirements and oversight.

Exemplifying the cruise industry's commitment to the welfare of its guests is the fact anyone that has tested positive for Covid during the course of a cruise has been flown home in a private jet.

Considering the expense and logistics involved in flying anyone home at the last minute on private transportation, the fact Royal Caribbean is using private jets and limousines for those afflicted with Covid is rather impressive.

Royal Caribbean says vaccinated guests and children not yet eligible to be vaccinated who book a cruise sailing on or before October 31, 2021 will have the following Covid-19 Assistance at no extra charge.

  • 100% cruise fare refund for you, and your Travelling Party, if any of you tests positive for Covid-19 within 14 days prior to the cruise or at the boarding terminal.
  • Pro-rated cruise fare refund if your cruise is cut short for reasons related to Covid-19.
  • If you test positive for Covid-19 during the cruise, Royal Caribbean will cover the costs of Covid-19 related medical treatment onboard, any required land-based quarantine, and travel home for you and your Traveling Party.

Unvaccinated guests age 12 and older sailing from Florida homeports who booked prior to March 19, 2021 or after June 28, 2021 will not be subject to this Covid-19 Assistance, and must provide proof of travel insurance as outlined in prior to boarding.

Two RoyalCaribbeanBlog readers recently had the unfortunate opportunity to be flown home during their cruise due to Covid.  

Daniel was on Adventure of the Seas in June when towards the end of his cruise, he tested positive for Covid during a routine Covid test for all passengers. Everyone else in his traveling party tested negative.

Daniel was fully vaccinated and followed protocols, but unfortunately had to end his cruise early when he tested positive.

Daniel said a half hour or so after taking the test, crew members approached him on the pool deck and informed him he needed to quarantine in his room due to the positive test.

After the second test came back positive, he put on a hazmat suit and was brought to the ship's medical center to get bloodwork, urinalysis, and chest x-ray.

"The care was lovely and touching since I was scared, anxious, etc," he recalls.

After that he was quarantined in an oceanview stateroom and supplied with water, cleaning supplies, and unlimited room service.

He and his family were disembarked in Cozumel, where Royal Caribbean arranged for an ambulance to the airport, a private jet ambulance home and a limo van waiting for him in Tampa International Airport.

"Wonderful care and service from the flight crew," David said of getting home. "Royal Caribbean was amazing how they handled this nerve wracking experience."

Another RoyalCaribbeanBlog reader, smokeybandit, was on Adventure of the Seas more recently, and through contact tracing, his son was identified as a close contact of someone who tested positive on the ship.

He shared the experience on the RoyalCaribbeanBlog message boards.

"We never really asked for details on when or what they defined as a close contact since I figured we'd never get that detail as I'm sure they'd cite privacy.

Like Daniel, smokeybandit and his family were quarantined initially while another PCR test was administered. Just like Daniel, they were given complimentary room service, wifi, movies, etc.

Smokeybandit's family was taken off the ship in Nassau and boarded a limo van, where they were driven to the plane and flew directly home. 

His family boarded a 6 passenger Learjet that can convert to an air ambulance.  

Once they arrived home, a town car was waiting for his family to take them home.

Smokeybandit indicated that the transportation home was covered by Royal Caribbean, although he did have his own travel insurance.

CDC updates guidance to Royal Caribbean on banning mixed vaccines

02 Aug 2021

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has clarified their position regarding mixed vaccinations and provided updated guidance to Royal Caribbean.

The new guidance applies to sailings leaving the U.S. and primarily affects residents of countries where more than one type of vaccine was administered, such as Canada or Germany.

A Royal Caribbean spokesperson said currently, the CDC does not recognize any mixed combination of Covid-19 vaccines as fully vaccinated.

Royal Caribbean updated its policy posted online to say the CDC requires someone be fully vaccinated, if they complete a vaccine series with products from the same manufacturer with the last dose administered at least 14 days before their sail date.

The CDC has provided the following reference to support their decision:

"COVID-19 vaccines are not interchangeable," CDC spokesperson Jasmine Reed told the CBC

"The safety and effectiveness of receiving two different COVID-19 vaccines has not been studied."

Royal Caribbean policy on August 2

Royal Caribbean continues to encourage the CDC and other U.S. government officials to re-evaluate this policy.

This is yet another change in the mixed vaccine policy, with the CDC issuing new guidance that requires cruise lines to adjust their policies.

Cruises departing ports outside of the U.S.

If your cruise sails from outside the United States, Royal Caribbean will allow guests who have received some mixed vaccine combinations.

For cruises departing from ports outside of the U.S., guests who are vaccinated with a mixed regimen consisting of two shots of the following manufacturer combinations: Pfizer and Moderna, or AstraZeneca with either Pfizer or Moderna, will be able to sail. Doses must be separated by at least 28 days and not more than 42 days for mixes of Pfizer and Moderna, and combinations of AstraZeneca with Pfizer or Moderna must be separated by at least 4 weeks and not more than 12 weeks.

Mixed vaccines may not be accepted at all ports of call. Guests who are vaccinated with a mixed series may not be allowed to go ashore at these ports or may need to undergo additional testing if they wish to go ashore.

Mixed vaccines in Canada

Canadian cruise fans have been the most vocal about the problem with the new policy preventing them from being able to sail.

Canada currently uses vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca, as well as Johnson & Johnson, which uses a single shot.

The Canadian government says it's working with its international counterparts to resolve vaccine differences. 

"Over the next number of weeks and months, there may be revisions provided by health authorities around the world with respect to these vaccine regimes," Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said at a news conference last week. 

Regina-based infectious disease physician Dr. Alexander Wong believes the U.S. will soon bend its stance on mixing vaccines, "Looking at, for example, the U.S. and Canada, and how important that border is, I suspect it's going to get figured out sooner rather than later."

Royal Caribbean CEO addresses mixed vaccines and vaccine requirements

30 Jul 2021

While cruise ships are sailing again, there is still confusion about Covid-19 vaccine requirements, and Royal Caribbean International's CEO tried to address the issue again this week.

Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley posted on social media an explanation of where things are right now with vaccine requirements.

Mr. Bayley has taken on a "hands on approach" to addressing customer concerns, especially on social media.

He started off by acknowledging the trouble some cruise fans have had with new protocols lately, "There is a lot of confusion and understandable concern over vaccine requirements."

He explained that depending on where a ship sails from, each country can have different regulations, "What guides our policy is primarily determined by which port and country the ship is home ported and sails from and returns to."

"For example If the ship sails from and returns to a USA port we are guided by CDC/FDA guidelines."

Mr. Bayley brought up the example of the United States, because he has heard from many Canadian guests and how they were guided by their government on when and how to get vaccinated against Covid-19 versus the U.S.

In recent weeks, cruise lines have added new protocols that prohibit some level of mixed vaccines, which depends on the mix of manufacturers and where you are sailing from.  

Royal Caribbean issued a mixed vaccine policy, but then revised their policy after getting a lot of questions from Canadian customers who would suddenly find themselves unable to sail.

The revised policy allows mixed vaccines in some situations, which is a step ahead of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) preference for vaccinations not be mixed.

According to Bayley, Royal Caribbean has brought up the issue of the differences in the Canadian government's approach with that of the CDC, "Please understand we are not in a position to disregard the relevant governing authority."

"I have received many emails on this issue and we raised this yesterday with the CDC and while obviously sympathetic they cannot change the current position. All cruise lines are in a similar position."

Celebrity vs Royal Caribbean's approach

Mr. Bayley also addressed the different paths Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises have taken in getting back to service.

In a comment to the same mixed vaccine post, Mr. Bayley responded to a question about, "Why Celebrity cruises, sailing out of Florida ports, are following the CDC guidelines, while Royal is bending to Governor De Santis’ orders?"

Mr. Bayley explained the different restart plans have to do with Royal Caribbean being a family cruise brand.

"In a normal year the majority of our guests are families. At any time throughout the year we carry approx 10 per cent plus of our guests who are kids 12 and under and they of course travel with their family."

"Because of the kids we have been sailing at around 90 percent vaccinated and so we would not be able to operate at the CDC 95 / 95 and so like Disney Cruises or MSC all family brands we chose this path. 

He said Florida's law, "presents challenges", but he said Royal Caribbean always complies with federal, state and local laws.

"Our wonderful sister brand Celebrity also welcomes kids and families and while they have a great time the number of kids and families is far less than Royal. Hope that clarifies."

"To be very clear both brands fully follow above and beyond the CDC guidelines."

Royal Caribbean issues revised mixed vaccine policy

24 Jul 2021

Royal Caribbean has posted a new mixed vaccine policy to its website to address cruise ship passengers who have gotten more than one brand of Covid-19 vaccine.

The cruise line had posted a mixed vaccine policy last week that banned them, but quickly removed the policy completely in order to review the issue further following a lot of guest concern.

Royal Caribbean's new mixed vaccine policy, which depends on the mix of manufacturers and where you are sailing from.  

The policy begins with the ideal scenario for a fully vaccinated guest: Royal Caribbean accepts vaccines that are fully approved or authorized for emergency use by the U.S. FDA or the World Health Organization. All doses of your vaccine should be from the same manufacturer and of the same type (e.g. mRNA), in the required number of doses to be considered fully administered (e.g. 2 shots of Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, etc., or 1 shot of Johnson & Johnson). 

The mixed vaccine policy breaks down depending on where you are sailing from:

Cruises Departing from U.S. Ports 

Despite the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) prefence for vaccinations not be mixed, Royal Caribbean will still allow mixed vaccines in some situations.

Royal Caribbean will accommodate guests who are vaccinated with mixed mRNA vaccines, such as 1 shot of Pfizer and 1 shot of Moderna. The doses must be separated by at least 28 days and not more than 42 days.

Royal Caribbean does not accept 1 shot of an mRNA vaccine (e.g., Pfizer or Moderna) mixed with 1 shot of a viral vector vaccine (e.g., AstraZeneca). 

Mixed vaccines may not be accepted at all ports of call. Guests who are vaccinated with a mixed series may need to undergo additional testing at embarkation if they wish to go ashore in these ports.

Cruises Departing from Ports Outside of the U.S.

For cruises departing from ports outside of the U.S., Royal Caribbean will accept guests who are vaccinated with a mixed regimen consisting of 2 shots of the following manufacturer combinations: Pfizer and Moderna, or AstraZeneca with either Pfizer or Moderna.

The doses must be separated by at least 28 days and not more than 42 days for mixes of Pfizer and Moderna, and separated by at least 4 weeks and not more than 12 weeks for combinations of AstraZeneca with Pfizer or Moderna.

Mixed vaccines may not be accepted at all ports of call. Guests who are vaccinated with a mixed series may not be allowed to go ashore at these ports, or may need to undergo additional testing if they wish to go ashore.

The full policy has been posted on Royal Caribbean's website.

The practice of mixing vaccines is common in countries like Canada or Germany, where those governments have been openly advocating this approach for months.

The updated policy would have resulted in many Canadian cruise fans potentially unable to sail.

Royal Caribbean removes mixed vaccine policy from its website

19 Jul 2021

It looks like Royal Caribbean has perhaps changed its mind about the mixed vaccine policy after all.

Over the weekend, Royal Caribbean had joined other cruise lines in adding language to its vaccination policy saying it would not accept mixed vaccines as being fully vaccinated.

As of this morning, that policy has been removed from its website, and there is no mention at all of mixed vaccines.

The rule change was originally about not considering someone who had taken doses of different brands of Covid-19 vaccines fully vaccinated. This would mean someone who took 1 dose Pfizer + 1 dose Moderna, or 1 dose AstraZeneca + 1 dose Pfizer, etc.

Royal Caribbean's revised policy on July 19

Royal Caribbean's policy on July 17

If a guest did have a mixed vaccine regiment, they would be considered instead unvaccinated.

The practice of mixing vaccines is prevalent in countries like Canada or Germany, where those governments have been openly advocating this approach for months.

The new policy would have resulted in many Canadian cruise fans potentially unable to sail.

Royal Caribbean has not commented publicly about the policy change, but it was not the only line to update its requirements.

Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Princess Cruises all modified their Health and Safety protocols to exclude those who had received mixed COVID-19 vaccinations.  Royal Caribbean followed with their change a day later.

As of right now, Royal Caribbean's policy posted online makes no mention of mixed vaccines and it is not clear if public pressure or something else compelled them to reverse the change.

Royal Caribbean won't accept mixed vaccines as being fully vaccinated

17 Jul 2021

Joining other cruise lines, Royal Caribbean has revised its Covid-19 mixed vaccination protocols.

UPDATE: Since posting this article, Royal Caribbean has revised its website and no longer lists this policy.

Less than a day after other cruise lines announced similar policies, Royal Caribbean updated its website with new guidance that says passengers who have mixed doses of the vaccines.

Specifically, Royal Caribbean says guests who have used mixed vaccination protocols will not be considered fully vaccinated (i.e. 1 dose Pfizer + 1 dose Moderna, or 1 dose AstraZeneca + 1 dose Pfizer, etc.).

To be considered fully vaccinated, a guest must have received all doses of one accepted vaccine. Otherwise, a guest will be considered unvaccinated.

Similar policies were announced by Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Line and other lines.

It is not clear yet what compelled Royal Caribbean to make this change.

Mixing vaccine doses is more of an issue in certain countries, such as Canada, than it is in the United States.

Canada currently uses vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca, as well as Johnson & Johnson, which uses a single shot.

In June, Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization issued guidance permitting AstraZeneca-Oxford, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots to be used interchangeably in certain situations.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said earlier this week his government is working to ensure Canadians will be allowed to travel if they have shots from two different vaccines, even if other countries haven't approved mixing doses.

"We're going to work with the international community to make sure that people who are fully vaccinated in ways that Canadians recognize as safe and effective are also recognized around the world," he said.

Many cruise fans were concerned about this policy and their ability to go on a cruise, and shared their frustrations on the RoyalCaribbeanBlog Facebook page.

Marc Van Niekerk posted, "I have the mixed vaccine and there is no way to undo that not that I even would. I know there are a very large number of Canadians in this situation as well as those from other countries."

Heather Whitehead exemplified many others by pointing out the decision to get a mixed vaccine regiment was prescribed by medical professionals, "I got told by my doctor to get the AstraZeneca because it was the first one available. Then got told to get Pfizer/moderna for the second because of the blood clotting issue (and because it would be more effective). And now I’m hearing that I might have trouble with travelling/cruises. So frustrating!"

Daniela Bahr said in Germany, the national rule is not to get two of the same doses, "No two doses of AstraZeneca for anyone under 60, it has to be Pfizer/Biontech."

Royal Caribbean's new health protocols catch two positive Covid-19 cases on Adventure of the Seas

24 Jun 2021

Royal Caribbean added a series of new protocols to its ships to detect Covid-19 cases early, and the system in place identified two unvaccinated teenage passengers who tested positive for Covid-19 on Adventure of the Seas.

According to Royal Caribbean, two teenagers on Adventure of the Seas were in isolation and then disembarked in Freeport earlier today.

Their parents, who are vaccinated, tested negative.

As part of Royal Caribbean's multi-faceted plan in preparation for a scenario like this, the medical care and transportation home will be handled by the cruise line.

The cases were caught during end of cruise testing, which is required at the end of a sailing.

Here is Royal Caribbean's official statement:

Two guests on Adventure of the Seas tested positive for COVID-19 after routine testing that is required before returning home. Here are the facts:

  • Both guests, under the age of 16 and unvaccinated, were immediately quarantined. One guest is asymptomatic, and the other guest is experiencing mild symptoms.
  • Those in their immediate travel party are vaccinated and have tested negative.
  • Close contacts were quickly identified and tested. All are vaccinated and tested negative.

The guests and their travel party disembarked today in Freeport, The Bahamas and are on their way home to Florida. Ninety-two percent of our guests on Adventure are fully vaccinated and the remaining 8% are under 16 years old. One hundred percent of our crew are fully vaccinated.

Adventure of the Seas is the first Royal Caribbean International ship to restart operations in North America, and she is on her second sailing back in operation.

On Adventure of the Seas sailings from The Bahamas, guests who are 16 years of age and older must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and those 12 and older as of Aug. 1.  In addition, anyone unvaccinated had to get a negative PCR test result in order to board the ship.

All crew members are fully vaccinated as well.

While the ship is sailing from outside the United States, Royal Caribbean's safety rules have been in development over the past year during the cruise industry's shutdown.  This includes testing, mandatory health screenings, online check-ins and contact tracing through CCTV cameras.

The ships have been upgraded to prepare for a situation like this, with immediate medical evaluations, rapid Covid-19 testing and dedicated zones for Covid-19 care, more critical care beds on each ship, and robust treatment plans.

Royal Caribbean has been keenly aware of the statistical likelihood of positive cases onboard, but they worked on how to catch it early and avoid it becoming a major issue.

Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain said the Health Sail Panel of health experts has worked on this specific contingency, "A really important part and a really big focus of the panel's effort was on how to respond if we do have a case that gets on board."

"We respond properly. We have a extensive contingency plan so that we don't have to go through one of these processes of quarantining huge numbers of people. We take care of the the the small number that we catch early and everybody else can go about their business."

Royal Caribbean Group Senior Vice President of Shared Services Operations recently spoke about the importance of these protocols to keep crew members and guests safe.

"All of the different things that we’ve done technology-wise as well as with testing and safety, those are going to stay. Those are Royal Caribbean protocols, whether or not they’re required of us or not," Ms. Hodges Bethge said.

"We feel very good that we have some of the strongest kind of processes of anywhere you go in the world today."

Response plan

Royal Caribbean developed a plan to respond to a scenario such as this, and coordinated these plans with the Bahamanian government.

According to Royal Caribbean's health protocols, in the event a guest tests positive for Covid-19, a "robust, tiered response plan" goes into effect.

The tiers increase protocols and vigilance onboard while providing transparent updates to guests the whole way.

In partnership with local authorities, Royal Caribbean has developed transport protocols to ensure we can get guests home safely. 

In fact, Royal Caribbean identified early that being "stuck" in quarantine on a cruise ship was not something any guest wanted, and a result, Royal Caribbean has developed transport agreements with local authorities in a situation like this to get everyone home safely.

CDC lowers warning level for cruise ships

16 Jun 2021

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) lowered its warning for going on a cruise ship for the first time since the global health crisis began.

The warning has gone from Level 4 to a Level 3 warning of "Very High" to "High".

The CDC's 4-level system categorizes destinations, including international destinations and United States Territories, into the following four levels:

Level 4: Very high level of COVID-19
Level 3: High level of COVID-19
Level 2: Moderate level of COVID-19
Level 1: Low level of COVID-19

The CDC noted the warning change is aimed at non-vaccinated passengers, "Lowered from Level 4 to Level 3, and specified the notice is for travelers who are not fully vaccinated."

The CDC recommends that people who are not fully vaccinated avoid travel on cruise ships, including river cruises, worldwide.

New Level 3 Warning

Previous Level 4 Warning

In its revised verbiage, they specify unvaccinated passengers face a greater threat going on a cruise than someone who is vaccinated,"It is especially important that people who are not fully vaccinated who are more likely to get severely ill avoid travel on cruise ships, including river cruises.

"Cruise passengers who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are at increased risk, since the virus spreads person-to-person, and outbreaks of COVID-19 have been reported on cruise ships because of their congregate (group) settings where COVID-19 spreads easily."

The CDC raised the warning level for cruise ship travel to its highest point of Level 4 in November 2020, and it remained at that level until today.

Just like the cruise lines, the CDC recommends that anyone going on a cruise ship get vaccinated before their trip, which means being fully vaccinated before travel begin.

The CDC also advocates anyone going on a cruise during the pandemic do the following:

  • Get tested with a COVID-19 viral test 1–3 days before your departure, even if you are fully vaccinated.
  • Get travel insurance
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