Royal Caribbean (RCL) – Get Royal Caribbean Group Report emails its customers, especially passengers on a soon-to-sail cruise often. During the worst of the pandemic, these emails were dreaded because they invariably meant your cruise was canceled. Even when you knew it was coming, the email put that final nail in the coffin of your trip.
In recent months, since the cruise line restarted sailing from U.S. ports in July, the company’s emails shared a variety of information. In a few cases, during the worst of the omicron variant, cancellation news was still delivered. In other cases, the company used its emails to tell passengers about changes in itineraries, and, most importantly changes in Covid protocols.
In recent weeks, this has produced a whipsaw effect of changes. Royal Caribbean tightened its mask rules when omicron hit, requiring that all passengers — regardless of vaccination status or venue — wear masks while indoors in public areas aside from when actively eating or drinking.
That was followed by an email changing the rules back to what they were pre-omicron where vaccinated passengers (everyone onboard 12 and over) could remove their masks in venues designated for vaccinated passengers. That includes the casino, most bars, and many restaurants.
Now, the company has made another change, and passengers booked on upcoming cruises are likely to be thrilled.
What Has Royal Caribbean Done?
The cruise line has opted into a new program from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which sets rules for safe operation. This program replaces the former mandatory Conditional Sail Order which the CDC has allowed to expire.
Royal Caribbean explained its actions in a recent email to passengers booked on upcoming cruises.
Royal Caribbean International will participate in the U.S. CDC’s voluntary COVID-19 Program for Cruise Ships Operating in U.S. waters, beginning with sailings departing on or after February 25th, 2022 from the U.S. (including Puerto Rico). We will be operating under the Highly Vaccinated category defined by the CDC.
To be considered Highly Vaccinated, requirements include sailing with 95% of crew members fully vaccinated, which we already meet with 100% of our crew. And, 95% of guests eligible for the vaccine must be fully vaccinated as well.
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In theory, this could limit the number of unvaccinated kids under 12 the cruise line can carry, but that’s not likely to be an issue as the company still require anyone 12 and over to not just be vaccinated, but prove vaccination, and show the results of a negative Covid test taken no more than two days prior to departure.
Opting in to the CDC program does change one major thing for passengers.
What Big Covid Rule Has Royal Caribbean Changed?
Royal Caribbean deciding to opt into the CDC’s guidelines also changes its mask policies on board.
“The updated protocols will include face masks being optional for all fully vaccinated guests and expected for unvaccinated children. All kids will be required to wear face masks during Adventure Ocean youth program activities,” the company said in its email.
This actually means the company will be adopting an even looser mask policy than it has before as wearing a mask will be optional for vaccinated guests in all situations. Some passengers, of course, may opt to keep their masks on, but many will not.
The new rules do not go into effect until Feb. 25. Royal Caribbean has not said whether it would change the protocols for ships that are at sea on that date.
Masks will still be required during boarding because cruise terminals are considered transportation facilities, which require masks under federal law. Royal Caribbean has not dropped its testing requirement, but it did say that more changes could be coming.
“We are thoughtfully working through the details and other changes to our health and safety measures to share with our guests and travel advisors before February 25, 2022,” the company wrote. “As a reminder, our health and safety protocols are subject to change.”
Ending mandatory masks for vaccinated passengers brings cruises a lot closer to what they were like before the pandemic. That could very well lead to lapsed customers booking trips that they had been putting off while the Covid protocols were strict.