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Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast Episode - Alaska, Vaccines, Vision... oh my!

In:
26 May 2021

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In just the last week, there has been a lot of cruise news to cover, and this week, I wanted to break down what Royal Caribbean's recent announcements and changes mean to you.

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Spectrum of the Seas will restart cruises from Hong Kong on July 30

In:
26 May 2021

Another Royal Caribbean cruise ship will be returning to service this summer.

Hong Kong has given Royal Caribbean approval to restart cruises aboard Spectrum of the Seas with short sailings with no port stops.

Spectrum of the Seas would be the first Royal Caribbean cruise ship to resume sailings in China, and there will be a series of cruises between July and November.

Similar to Quantum of the Seas in Singapore, Hong Kong has approved limited sailings with strict protocols onboard.

According to the Hong Kong Cruise Society, here are the sailing dates and itineraries:

  • 2-night cruises: July 30 / Sep 05,17
  • 3-night cruises: Aug 05,12,19,26 / Sep 02,07,10,23,30 / Oct 07,14,21,28 / Nov 04,11,18,25
  • 4-night cruises: Aug 01,08,15,22,29 / Sep 13,19,26 / Oct 03,10,17,24,31 / Nov 07,14,21,28

The new sailings have not yet been released by Royal Caribbean.

Guests looking to book a sailing can only book oceanview or higher categories (no interior rooms). 

In addition, guests 16 years or older must be fully vaccinated and have received their second dose at least 14 days ago prior to boarding. 

Passengers must also provide a negative PCR test within 48 hours of boarding the ship.

Many of these protocols come from Hong Kong's government, which just approved "cruises to nowhere" on Wednesday.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah confirmed Royal Caribbean was one of the lines with permission to sail from Hong Kong.

Spectrum of the Seas was one of the first cruise ships to have her cruises cancelled due to the global health crisis, with her season cut short in China and moved to Australia for a short period of time before the cruise industry shutdown completely in March.

With Spectrum of the Seas restarting cruises in July, this adds another ship to the list of Royal Caribbean ships that will be able to resume operations, including Adventure of the Seas from the Bahamas, Anthem of the Seas from Southampton, and Jewel of the Seas from Cyprus.

Royal Caribbean also received permission to start test cruises on Freedom of the Seas in June.

Royal Caribbean receives permission to begin test cruises on Freedom of the Seas

In:
25 May 2021

The last Royal Caribbean International cruise ship to sail before the cruise industry shutdown will be the first one to restart operations.

Royal Caribbean has received permission from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to start test cruises in preparation for regular revenue sailings.

Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley shared the good news that Freedom of the Seas will sail her test cruises from PortMiami.

Royal Caribbean had teased over the weekend that it had submitted a proposal to the CDC in order to sail a test cruise, and just two business days later, they received permission.

According to the letter by the CDC shared by Mr. Bayley, the test cruise can commence on June 20-22, 2021.

The CDC also stipulated a few key requirements before the test cruises can begin:

  • List how the maximum number of passengers on the first two restricted sailings.
    • There needs to be at least 10% of the maximum number of passengers on the first two restricted voyagers.
  • Volunteers need to be advised of the CDC's Travel Health Notice for Covid-19 and Cruise Ship Travel prior to the cruise
  • Freedom of the Seas must retain an approved color-coded status with the CDC leading up to the test cruise.
  • CDC requirements related to testing and quarantine of crew and passengers
  • Any deficiencies during the cruise must be documented
    • Essentially, a significant departure from the protocols that may occur onboard.

Read moreHere's how to sign up to be a volunteer for a Royal Caribbean test cruise

Simulated voyages (also known as test cruises) are when cruise lines can operate ships with volunteer passengers in order to prove their new protocols work.

These are not cruises you can book, but rather, are limited voyages where a cruise line invites certain unpaid volunteers to help go through all the necessary steps and procedures to ensure cruise ships can be run safely.

Each cruise ship needs to be approved by the CDC in order to conduct test cruises.

Read moreEverything you need to know about Royal Caribbean test cruises

Mr. Bayley celebrated being able to get its first ship back in the water for operations, "After 15 months and so much work by so many during very challenging times.  To all our colleagues, loyal guests and supporters all over the world I am proud and pleased to share some bright and wonderful news!"

"Onwards and upwards team!"

Royal Caribbean issued a statement, welcoming the opportunity to get back to cruising, "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.

"We look forward to welcoming our crew, loyal guests and supporters from around the world this summer. "

Freedom of the Seas was one of the last cruise ships to return to port once Royal Caribbean announced it would halt all cruises due to Covid-19.

The ship was actually denied entry to San Juan, Puerto Rico to finish its sailing, and had to tack on an extra few days to get to Miami instead.

CDC's test cruise requirements

If a test cruise sounds like a great vacation, you should be aware of all the important steps Royal Caribbean must follow and complete during a test sailing.

While the ship is indeed conducting a cruise as if it were a normal cruise, the CDC wants the cruise ship to test out procedures and ensure it can handle any health situation it could encounter.

Each ship must conduct at least one simulated cruise, and each voyage must be between 2-7 days in length with a least one overnight stay, including through embarkation, disembarkation, and post-disembarkation testing.

For what it's worth, the CDC recommends a minimum voyage length of 3 days with 2 overnight stays.

Passengers and crew must meet standards during the simulated voyage for hand hygiene, use of face masks, and social distancing for passengers and crew, as well as ship sanitation.

Royal Caribbean must modify meal service and entertainment venues to facilitate social distancing during the simulated voyage.

And then there is a laundry list of activities that the CDC says the ship needs to test across one or many separate test cruises:

  • Embarkation and disembarkation procedures, as approved by U.S. port and local health authorities as part the cruise ship operator’s Phase 2A agreements, including procedures for terminal check-in.
  • Onboard activities, including seating and meal service at dining and entertainment venues.
  • Medical evacuation procedures.
  • Transfer of symptomatic passengers or crew, or those who test positive for SARS-CoV-2, from cabins to isolation rooms.
  • Onboard and shoreside isolation and quarantine, as per the terms of the cruise ship operator’s Phase 2A agreements, of at least 5% of all passengers and non-essential crew.
  • Recreational activities that the cruise ship operator intends to offer as part of any restricted passenger voyages, e.g., casinos, spa services, fitness classes, gymnasiums.
  • Private-island shore excursions if any are planned during restricted passenger voyages. The following measures must be observed on the private island:
    • Only one ship can port at the island at any one time.
    • A routine screening testing protocol must be implemented for island staff who are expected to interact with volunteer passengers or crew.
    • Mask use and social distancing must be observed on the island.
  • Port of call shore excursions if any are planned during restricted passenger voyages. The following measures must be observed on port of call shore excursions:
    • Self-guided or independent exploration by passengers during port stops must be prohibited.
    • Shore excursions must only include passengers and crew from the same ship.
    • Cruise ship operator must ensure all shore excursion tour companies facilitate social distancing, mask wearing, and other COVID-19 public health measures throughout the tour.
    • Cruise ship operators must have a protocol for managing persons with COVID-19 and close contacts at all foreign ports of call. At a minimum, the protocol must include the following:
      • Disembarkation and housing of persons with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 needing shore-based hospital care and their travel companion(s) for the duration of their isolation or quarantine period.
      • Commercial repatriation of U.S.-based persons with COVID-19 and close contacts only after meeting criteria to end isolation and quarantine per CDC guidance. For commercial repatriation of foreign-based persons with COVID-19 and close contacts, cruise ship operators must consult with all relevant public health authorities.

Royal Caribbean Group CEO talks about changes we can expect on a cruise this summer

In:
24 May 2021

After a few weeks absence, Royal Caribbean Group Richard Fain is back with a new update with his most optimistic outlook yet for cruises to restart.

Mr. Fain started off his video update to travel agents by stating how good things are looking, "we can now state with a high level of confidence that ships from the Royal Caribbean group will be operating out of US ports as early as next month."

Cruises restarting as early as next month follows up on the news that Royal Caribbean applied to the CDC for test cruises to begin, which Mr. Fain repeated again, "Last week, we formally submitted our request for sailing authorization to the CDC."

"We're hopeful that they will issue that permission shortly."

The opportunity for cruises to restart again from the United States is something Fain sees as the result of widespread vaccine distribution, public pressure on government officials, and a change in the relationship with the CDC.

While the cruise industry's relationship with the CDC was tenuous after some early requirements, things have changed, "over the past weeks, that level of dialogue has improved one thousand percent and that dialogue has allowed us to understand their concerns. But in addition to that, dialogue has enabled the CDC to understand our concerns."

"It has also enabled the CDC to review so much helpful data that we have acquired from our sailing's abroad."

Vaccines

Mr. Fain talked about how vaccines will work, and he said Celebrity Cruises and Silversea will follow the CDC's option to have 95% passengers vaccinated and 98% of crew members vaccinated, but Royal Caribbean International will go a different route.

Mr. Fain echoed a new policy posted on its website that says everyone who is eligible to get a vaccine will be expected to get one. However, since Royal Caribbean is so family oriented and there are often large numbers of children, he does not think reaching 95% is possible.

"On these cruises[with many children], we may not reach the ninety five percent threshold, but even here the vast majority will be vaccinated."

Health protocols and changes onboard

So what will a cruise be like once they can sail again?

"As we restart, there will be some more restrictions than before," Mr. Fain explained, "but we expect there will be temporary and similar to what we've all become used to on land.

Mr. Fain talked about what to expect, and here are some key takeaways.

  • Buffets will be full service
  • No masks for fully vaccinated, "We're optimistic that masks won't be required anywhere if you're vaccinated and since most people will be."
  • Some ares where social distancing required, but with lower capacity onboard initially, it should not be an issue.
  • Upgraded air conditioning
  • Guests will have choice of going on their own shore excursions, "In most cases, our guests can also arrange their own excursions and these will be regulated by by local rules."

These updates are exactly what Celebrity Cruises announced last week for what guests could expect, and a good sense that those rules are going to be the reality.

Royal Caribbean Group CEO: "We will not need to be wearing masks" on cruise ships

In:
24 May 2021

Everyone wants to know what the health protocols will be like on a cruise ship when they restart sailings, and it appears expectations are changing.

With Royal Caribbean quietly changing its Covid-19 vaccine requirements on its website over the weekend, it appears the cruise line is preparing to pivot some of its onboard policies based on the changing science we see in the world today.

Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain was interviewed by the BBC over the weekend, and he spoke about a few topics related to cruise ship restart plans, including wearing a mask.

Having to wear a mask on a cruise ship has been one of the most polarizing topics among cruise fans and if they feel comfortable going on a cruise ship and wearing one.

Mr. Fain was asked if mandatory mask wearing as set to continue, "as the vaccine is rolling out, and certainly in the cruises from the States where pretty much everybody will be vaccinated on board, I think you're right."

"I think we will not need to be wearing masks. And I think very quickly we'll be going back to cruising, which will be virtually indistinguishable from what it was two years ago."

Mr. Fain pointed out that on the limited cruises that have been able to operate with masks required onboard (such as Quantum of the Seas), guest satisfaction levels are actually higher than they were before in a regular cruise.

"Not sure I can explain that," quipped Mr. Fain.

Last week, Celebrity Cruises told travel agents fully vaccinated passengers are not required to wear masks inside or outside while maintaining a safe distance from other passengers.

Unvaccinated guests, such as children, would need to wear a mask in certain situations, such as walking between venues.

Royal Caribbean has not announced a similar policy change yet on its ships, but did say masks will not be needed at all at Perfect Day at Cococay.

Even the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has relaxed some of its mask requirements for cruise ships recently.

On May 12, the federal agency said fully vaccinated passengers are no longer required to wear a mask outside.

Mr. Fain also talked about the role of vaccines on cruises, and dismissed the idea a vaccine passport would be needed, but did mention there are other options to use.

"I don't think we're talking about a vaccine passport. I think we are talking about people who are vaccinated. There are lots of different ways to show that."

"In terms of one of these computerized passports, we're certainly not seeing that in the States and in other countries, there are different forms that we'll be looking at."

The topic of having to show proof of a vaccine has been contentious in certain states, such as Florida, where businesses are prohibited from asking customers to show proof of a vaccine.

Royal Caribbean has submitted its first plan to the CDC to get approval for test cruises

In:
22 May 2021

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.

Read moreHere's how to sign up to be a volunteer for a Royal Caribbean test cruise

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.

Florida tells Royal Caribbean it does not need its permission for cruise ships to sail

In:
21 May 2021

The Florida Health Department informed Royal Caribbean this week it can directly appeal to the CDC to begin cruises.

One of the mandates included in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) plan for cruise ships to be able to restart sailings from the United States is for each line to  secure agreements with port and health authorities in the U.S. cities they plan to visit.

Royal Caribbean Group announced it had signed a port agreement with Port Canaveral to operate cruise ships, and Port Everglades informed RoyalCaribbeanBlog it had also signed a similar port agreement with Royal Caribbean Group on May 10.

The agreement explains what the cruise terminal would do in the case of Covid-19 cases on a cruise ship, as well as how it intends to keep the cruise terminal and gangways sanitized.

The CDC's instructions for cruise lines under the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) are to submit the port agreements to the state Department of Health, but Florida has responded by saying they do not need to give cruise lines permission to operate, and directed cruise lines to go right to the CDC for test cruise permission.

The letter was sent on Thursday by State Surgeon General Scott Rivkees, MD, to Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises CEOs Michael Bayley and Lisa Lutoff-Perlo.

In the letter, Dr. Rivkees said Florida has "limited statutory authority with respect to cruise lines, and the Department's permission is not required for your company to resume operations."

Dr. Rivkees went on to be even more specific about the lack of need for cruise lines to seek permission, "To be clear, nothing in state law stands in the way of cruise ship operations."

"The Department is in full support of your company resuming operations and we look forward to continuing this collaborative relationship when your company begins sailing again."

As a result of the letter, Port Everglades re-executed its MOA between the port and Royal Caribbean International/Celebrity Cruises, and believes the cruise lines can now send its application into the CDC for test cruise permission.

Once the CDC accepts the agreement, Royal Caribbean Group can make an application to the CDC to begin test cruises.

More ships coming to get crew vaccinated

Meanwhile, more Royal Caribbean ships are coming to get its crew members vaccinated in preparation for cruises to sail.

The quick pace of approval with Florida's ports means ships are coming to various ports for brief stops to get crew members inoculated with the Covid-19 vaccine.

Explorer of the Seas stopped in Port Canaveral on Wednesday to administer 210 vaccines, and Adventure of the Seas arrived on Friday morning to administer 1,050 vaccine doses. Explorer will return on Saturday for another 210 vaccines to be administered.

What about Port Liberty?

With all of the news recently of Florida cruise ports working with Royal Caribbean to sign port agreements, many cruise fans have been asking about the state of affairs as it relates to Port Liberty in Bayonne, New Jersey.

A spokesperson for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey issued a statement after RoyalCaribbeanBlog.com reached out for an update.

"We are working closely with Cape Liberty Cruise Port in anticipation of the ‘trial cruise’ required by the CDC’s Conditional Sail Order to take place by mid-August, with a regular schedule of cruises expected to resume by the end of August."

"At this time, there is no timeline for cruise resumption at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal."

Judge orders mediation in Florida's lawsuit against the CDC to get cruise ships sailing

In:
18 May 2021

Judge Steven D. Merryday has ordered mediation for the State of Florida's lawsuit against the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

After hearing deliberations on May 12, Judge Merryday said Florida and the CDC must work out an agreement prior to June 1, 2021.

Rather than grant Florida their injunction against the CDC's Conditional Sail Order (CSO), the Judge wants the groups to come together to find an agreement.

Mediation is a common process in the courts where a neutral third person called a mediator helps the parties discuss and try to resolve the dispute.

While courts can mandate that certain cases go to mediation, the process remains "voluntary" in that the parties are not required to come to agreement. The mediator does not have the power to make a decision for the parties, but can help the parties find a resolution that is mutually acceptable. 

The only people who can resolve the dispute in mediation are the parties themselves. 

Mediation can proceed in a variety of manners once it begins, but it usually starts with a joint session where the process is laid out, and the role of the mediator is established.

Some mediators conduct the entire process in a joint session. However, other mediators will move to separate sessions, shuttling back and forth between the parties. If the parties reach an agreement, the mediator may help reduce the agreement to a written contract, which may be enforceable in court.

Florida Governor Ron Desantis filed the lawsuit against the federal government, United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and CDC, demanding cruise ships be reopened immediately.

Essentially, Florida believes the CSO is unlawful.

DeSantis criticized how long cruises have been shutdown without any end in sight, "I don't think you can just indefinitely shutter major, major businesses and cost all these jobs. So we want a way forward."

"We have people flying on airplanes, they're on buses, hotels, restaurants, theme parks, casinos, bars, you name it. But somehow the cruise is viewed as differently."

DeSantis pointed out to how effective the Covid-19 vaccine is, and believes that alone is proof enough to get cruises going again.

Governor DeSantis believes the CDC has no right to shutdown the cruise industry for this long, given the "very little evidence and very little data" provided by the agency.

CDC will only require cruise ship passenger Covid-19 tests after the cruise on sailings more than 4 nights

In:
18 May 2021

There has been another tweak made to the rules for cruise ships that want to restart sailings from the United States.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a small update on Tuesday to its Operations Manual that address the tests given to cruise passengers at the end of their sailing.

Last week, the CDC added new rules for the type of tests that are required for fully and unvaccinated passengers.

Fully vaccinated passengers do not need to be tested at all, but not fully vaccinated passengers would need to undergo a NAAT or antigen test on the first and last day of the cruise, as well as when transitioning on back to back sailings.

Today's update changes that slightly, by only requiring disembarkation testing for not fully vaccinated passengers on cruises that are more than 4 nights in duration.

"All disembarking passengers if the voyage is more than 4 nights. Specimens may be collected up to 24-hours prior to disembarkation but results must be available prior to disembarking."

This is the third update to the operations manual by the CDC in less than a week.

The agency updated a handful of the rules on May 12, and then added the testing rules on May 15.  

These changes apply to the rules a cruise line must adhere to in order to offer test or restricted revenue cruises from U.S. waters.  Cruise lines must get each ship approved by the CDC in order to operate while the Conditional Sail Order (CSO) is in effect.

While these updates are a clear sign the CDC is working with cruise lines to address concerns, there are still a number of policies and procedures the CDC requires that lack common sense when taking into account the high levels of vaccinated passengers, as well as what is happening in society on land today.

Carnival Cruise Line President Christine Duffy told NBC News yesterday Carnival is working with the CDC, but cruise lines are still being held to a different standard than any other form of leisure travel.

Ms. Duffy pointed out other industries did not have to apply for permission to operate, or have a vaccine mandate in order to operate, "There's no mandate for any other business to have that requirement."

RoyalCaribbeanBlog readers were also perplexed at the changes. Loops wondered why the duration of a sailing factors into unvaccinated passengers getting tested or not, "Why would the length in time of the cruise matter?"

Royal Caribbean expects new CDC update on cruise ship protocols this week

In:
17 May 2021

Royal Caribbean's first cruise ship to sail from North America is less than a month away from beginning, but the line has not released its travel requirements and health protocols yet.

In an email to those booked on Adventure of the Seas from Nassau, Bahamas, Royal Caribbean said it is holding back the requirements and changes passengers can expect onboard because the the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) is going to provide new guidance "later this week."

The email from Royal Caribbean International Assistant Vice President of Guest Experience, Aurora Yera-Rodriguez, says the cruise line is expecting new guidelines, and that is why passengers have not been informed of the new protocols.

"We were almost ready to hit send on our travel requirements and health protocols for your sailing onboard Adventure of the Seas departing from The Bahamas and then we learned that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control plans to share updated guidance with us later this week."

Adventure of the Seas will begin cruises on June 12 from outside the United States, which allows the ship to operate without approval by the CDC.

Adventure will become the second Royal Caribbean International cruise ship to restart operations, following Quantum of the Seas from Singapore.

Other ships are also scheduled to sail this summer from outside the U.S., including Vision of the Seas from Bermuda, Jewel of the Seas from Cyprus, and Anthem of the Seas from England.

Read moreSummer 2021 Cruise Planning Guide

Initially, Royal Caribbean had promised to give guests booked on the sailing an update around 30 days before sailing, but that date came and went last week.

"While we know you've been patiently waiting for protocols, our teams have been diligently preparing and working with our medical teams, government health authorities, and testing providers to ensure we provide you with the best experience before, during, and after your cruise, and we are optimistic about this upcoming update. Please bear with us for a little more time - as we want to make sure that when we do update you, it's as close to final as possible."

It seems Royal Caribbean may have been ready to announce those protocols last week, but held back due to new guidance from the CDC.

On a webinar with travel agents, Royal Caribbean's Senior Vice President, Sales, Trade Support and Service, Vicki Freed, said the line intended to announce them on May 12, but plans changed, "We had truly hoped that we would be able to announce our protocols and our return to service today."

The CDC has been busy with updates for cruise lines lately, issuing a number of revisions to what it requires and suggests for cruise lines in order to restart operations.

Just last week, the CDC issued two different updates to its operations manual for cruise lines, which outline what a cruise ship must do in order to receive permission to sail from the United States.

Sailings that do not visit a U.S. port, such as Adventure of the Seas, are not reliant on CDC guidelines or approval, but it appears Royal Caribbean wants to hear what the CDC has to say before announcing their own protocols.

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