Unvaccinated cruise guests in US treated as second-class citizens: report

Royal Caribbean’s 4,275-passenger Freedom of the Seas (IMO 9304033) has restarted sailings from Miami to the Bahamas, but is treating vaccinated and non-vaccinated passengers differently, reports Bloomberg.

Guests who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 are identified with special wristbands and have a full run of the ship. However, unvaccinated guests cannot use the sushi bar, casino, or spa.

Freedom of the Seas was the first ship to depart from a US port since last March without a vaccination requirement, and it was also the first to depart from Miami, Florida. That state is at the centre of a dispute with the CDC, because Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has barred businesses from requiring vaccination cards, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requirements make it hard for cruise ships to abide by this rule.

The CDC rules for cruise companies require lines to enforce mask-wearing and social distancing when unvaccinated passengers are on board.

Royal Caribbean’s list of restrictions for Freedom of the Seas, which it released in mid-June. applies to all sailings on the ship in July—and will probably apply to four other ships the line plans to launch from Florida this summer, with capacities of up to 6,680 passengers.

Those with a hole punched in their SeaPass – thus indicating that they either they have not been vaccinated against Covid-19 or have declined to show a vaccination card – will be segregated to one deck of the main dining room and will be banned from some of the better, more intimate for-a-fee dining venues. The maritime-themed Schooner Bar pub and Viking Crown nightclub, the casino, art auctions, and the indoor Solarium pool and bar, will be barred to unvaccinated passengers.

Unvaccinated passengers who go to  a show have to sit in a segregated area in the back of the theatre. They can only use the gym during specified hours.

The trip is also more expensive for unvaccinated guests. Anyone over the age of 12 who does not show proof of vaccination will have to provide a negative result from a Covid-19 PCR test taken within three days of departure. They’ll also have to pay for a second test at the pier and a third upon disembarking on the last day.

In addition, Royal Caribbean is requiring unvaccinated travellers leaving from Florida to purchase travel insurance – at least $25,000 per person for medical expense coverage and $50,000 per person for medical evacuation – from August 1st through to the end of 2021.

The implication is clear. While Royal Caribbean is keen to stick to the requirements of the state of Florida, it will make those passengers committed to the unvaccinated route pay considerably more for the privilege.

Only 7% of the passengers on the first Freedom cruise are unvaccinated, and most of these are under-12s.

The line is currently only sailing at 40% capacity to allow for social distancing and to put the new health protocols to the test. There are plans to ramp up capacity throughout the summer.

Both cruise passengers and cruise line executives have agreed that a vaccination requirement would be the ideal way to go. The CDC has recommended that at least 95% of passengers and crew be vaccinated.

Celebrity Cruises and Carnival Cruise Line have crafted carefully worded policies that boil down to vaccine requirements for anyone on board, but without breaking the Florida government’s orders.

Alaska and Galveston, Texas have given cruise lines the choice, and as a result only vaccinated guests are allowed, with the exception of under-12s. Norwegian Cruise Line has said that its ships will sail only with vaccinated passengers through October.

2006-built, Bahamas-flagged, 156,271 gt Freedom Of The Seas is owned and managed by Royal Caribbean Cruises of Miami, Florida, USA. It is entered with Gard on behalf of Freedom Of The Seas Inc.