Royal Caribbean Completes First Test Sailing to Resume Cruises in the U.S.

The cruise line sailed with 650 Royal Caribbean employees who volunteered for the voyage on its Freedom of the Seas ship.

Royal Caribbean completed a simulated cruise with volunteers this week — a significant step in getting its ships back out to sea for the summer season.

The cruise line sailed with 650 Royal Caribbean employees who volunteered for the voyage on its Freedom of the Seas ship, docking in Miami, the company shared on Twitter Tuesday. Royal Caribbean was the first cruise company to be approved to start test sailings under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's cruise restart protocols.

The three-day, two-night cruise sailed from south Florida and stopped at Royal Caribbean's private island in the Bahamas, CocoCay, Michael Bayley, Royal Caribbean's president and CEO, wrote on Facebook. Bayley said the company was awaiting feedback from the CDC.

The test cruise was required to carry at least 10% of the ship's maximum capacity and volunteers must agree to post-trip testing. Freedom of the Seas can accommodate a total of 4,553 passengers.

The CDC is requiring cruises in the U.S. to complete test sailings with volunteers unless 98% of crew and 95% of passengers are fully vaccinated. Royal Caribbean has made vaccines optional for guests except on sailings to Alaska.

Any passenger who wasn't vaccinated had to show written documentation from a health professional or self-certify that they were not at increased risk for COVID-19.

Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Seas at port
Joe Raedle/Getty

"It's been a long 15 months, and we're really excited to get back to cruising again and get started," Laura Hodges Bethge, the senior vice president of Shared Services Operation at Royal Caribbean Group, told the Miami Herald. "This is a great way for us to do that with a simulated sailing, to work with our employees and volunteers and guests to really try out all of our protocols to make sure that they're working and ensure kind of a seamless transition to revenue voyages."

A representative for Royal Caribbean didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from Travel + Leisure.

While this is a step toward resuming operations for Royal Caribbean, the cruise line suffered a setback last week when it was forced to postpone some July sailings after eight crew members tested positive for COVID-19.

Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. When she's not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.

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