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Royal Caribbean won’t require U.S. cruise passengers to get vaccinated

In a reversal, the cruise ship company now says it will only recommend that passengers get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas is docked at PortMiami on Jan. 20.
Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas is docked at PortMiami on Jan. 20. [ MATIAS J. OCNER | Miami Herald ]
Published Jun. 5
Updated Jun. 5

MIAMI — Royal Caribbean International will no longer require any of its cruise passengers to be vaccinated for COVID-19 as it had previously planned to.

In a press release Friday announcing cruises for sale on eight of its ships from U.S. ports this summer, starting with Freedom of the Seas from PortMiami on July 2, the company said it will recommend passengers get the COVID-19 vaccine, but not require it. The announcement is a reversal from previous statements and vaccine protocols the company submitted to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month that said it would require all passengers at least 18 years old and older to be vaccinated.

“Guests are strongly recommended to set sail fully vaccinated, if they are eligible,” the company said in a statement. “Those who are unvaccinated or unable to verify vaccination will be required to undergo testing and follow other protocols, which will be announced at a later date.”

Related: CDC approves first cruise from Florida, but DeSantis may stand in the way

The about-face is an apparent submission to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has insisted that there will be no exception made for cruise companies to a newly passed Florida law that fines companies $5,000 each time they ask a patron to provide proof of vaccination. Royal Caribbean International’s sister brand Celebrity Cruises (both owned by Royal Caribbean Group) is still requiring all passengers 16 years old or older be vaccinated on its seven-night Caribbean cruises that are restarting from Port Everglades on June 26.

Lyan Sierra-Caro, a spokesperson for Royal Caribbean International, said the plans to require passengers be vaccinated that the company submitted to the CDC only applied to its test cruises. According to CDC rules, cruise ships that don’t meet certain vaccination thresholds for passengers and crew must first do a successful test cruise before they can restart revenue cruises.

“Our intention is to comply with all federal, state and local laws,” she said via email.

On May 26, the cruise line updated its website to say that passengers 16 years old and older on its cruises from Seattle and The Bahamas are required to be vaccinated. Previously, the website said passengers 16 years old and older on all of the company’s U.S. cruises had to meet the requirement.

In a statement CEO Michael Bayley thanked DeSantis and other elected officials for their support of the industry, which has been paralyzed since it was forced to shut down in March 2020 after COVID-19 outbreaks and deaths on several ships.

“As of today, 90 percent of all vacationers booking with Royal Caribbean are either vaccinated or planning to get vaccinated in time for their cruise,” Bayley said in a statement. The company said all crew members will be vaccinated.

The recently passed Florida law crafted by the Republican-controlled state Legislature and promoted by Gov. Ron DeSantis bars businesses, schools and government entities across Florida from asking anyone to provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccination. Under the law, which takes effect on July 1, businesses can be fined up to $5,000 per violation.

It is unclear if cruise companies will be allowed to ask passengers if they have been vaccinated as part of the boarding process, even if they don’t require vaccination to board.

The summer cruises announced by Royal Caribbean International Friday are still pending approval from the CDC after each ship successfully completes a test cruise with volunteer passengers.

The CDC has so far approved nine cruise ships, including Freedom of the Seas, Carnival Horizon and MSC Meraviglia from PortMiami, for test cruises, meaning the ships won’t meet a CDC threshold of 95 percent of passengers and 98 percent of crew be vaccinated, and two ships — Celebrity Edge and Celebrity Equinox from Port Everglades — for revenue cruises.