Royal Caribbean management called the new guidance 'transformational,' adding that both pathways are viable.
Given the upddate, a mid-July restart from the US is 'looking very realistic,' said Michael Bayley, president and CEO, Royal Caribbean International. The CDC changes show the industry is 'clearly being heard,' he added.
The CDC reinforced that vaccinations more than anything have the greatest impact on the timeline/conditions on which a ship can move forward to sailing.
Simulated voyages waived for vaccinated cruises
With 98% crew and 95% of passengers vaccinated, there's no need for simulated voyages. Ships can bypass the test voyages carrying volunteers and apply for permission to offer sailings with paying passengers.
Ships that don't meet these vaccination thresholds continue on the other track, and need to run the trial voyages.
In Royal Caribbean's case, more than 80% of passengers booking since January have indicated they've been vaccinated or expect to be vaccinated by the time of their cruise departure. The percentage is higher for older passengers.
And Royal Caribbean's crew surveys indicate 98% of crew plan to get vaccinated. Bayley noted the company doesn't mandate the flu vaccine for crew but the voluntary uptake for that is mid-90%.
The 30-day and 60-day application requirements for simulated voyages and restricted passenger voyages are now 'suggested as guidelines,' and CDC will review and respond to applications within five days.
Fifty percent of nonessential crew can embark before port agreements are finalized.
Multi-port agreements permitted
Multi-port agreements are permissible, so if one port has limited medical/housing capacity, a nearby port would be able to supplement. The state health authority must sign off on such an arrangement.
Cruise lines with clear and specific vaccination timelines may have only a limited need for shoreside medical and housing facilities compared to operators that only plan to plan or encourage vaccinations.
CDC acknowledged shoreside medical facilities cannot guarantee bed capacity, and preferential acceptance of patience on a space-available basis is acceptable.
The agency also clarified guidance on quarantine guidelines for passengers who may be exposed to or contract COVID-19. For example, local passengers may be able to drive home and those who have traveled by air to their cruise may quarantine in a hotel.
Requirements for cruise-provided security and the need for separate hotel ventilation systems were removed.