Royal Caribbean can hit the high seas again — after the cruise liner was given approval by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for one of its ships to do a test sail with volunteer passengers.
It will be the first known cruise to set sail in US waters since the pandemic brought the industry to a standstill over a year ago.
Michael Bayley, CEO of Royal Caribbean International, announced the news Tuesday on social media, where he posted the letter from the CDC.
“After 15 months and so much work by so many during very challenging times,” he wrote alongside the approval notice.
Royal Caribbean Cruises will begin sailing tests with volunteer passengers in US waters.Joe Raedle/Getty Images
“To all our colleagues, loyal guests and supporters all over the world I am proud and pleased to share some bright and wonderful news! Boom!”
Royal’s Freedom of the Seas ship will be allowed to sail next month with volunteer passengers on a “simulated voyage” as part of the CDC’s Framework for Conditional Sailing Order, which replaced its previous No Sail Order in October.
All volunteers must be 18 years of age or older, and passengers don’t need to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Michael Bayley, President and CEO of Royal Carribbean, announced the news on May 26, 2021 on social media.Jonathan Wong/South China Morning Post via Getty Images
However, all onboard must agree to be evaluated for COVID-19 symptoms before and after embarking — and to be tested for COVID-19 up to five days after the cruise, according to the CDC.
The announcement is a major step toward resuming commercial operations by mid-summer for the crippled industry.
“Over the past month, senior leadership from CDC have met multiple times a week with cruise line senior executives to discuss the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO),” CDC spokesman Benjamin Haynes said in a statement.
Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas berthed at the Overseas Passenger Terminal in Circular Quay on March 18, 2020 in Sydney, Australia.Getty Images
“During these meetings, participants asked questions and discussed the fastest path back to sailing without compromising safety. CDC and the cruise industry agree that the industry has what it needs to move forward and no additional roadblocks exist for resuming sailing by mid-summer.”
Shares of Royal Caribbean were up three percent Wednesday morning on the back of the news. Shares of rivals Carnival Corp. and Norwegian Cruise Line were up about two percent.
The federal restrictions on cruise lines have recently garnered criticism — particularly from Florida where cruise travel is a key industry that supports hundreds of thousands of jobs, according to the state’s cruise lobby.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has also blasted the CDC restrictions on the industry as “baseless.”
Earlier this month, the Sunshine State sued the federal government to demand they allow cruising from US ports to resume immediately.
The CDC first issued a no-sail order on the cruise industry in March, 2020, after numerous COVID-19 outbreaks and deaths caused by the virus were linked to cruise ships around the world.
Then-CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield went so far as to say cruise ship travel “exacerbates the global spread of COVID-19.”
Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas cruise ship is docked at PortMiami on March 02, 2021.Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Since then, the cruise industry has been losing hundreds of millions of dollars per month as its ships sit idle.