Update, July 1: What follows now applies to Celebrity Cruises as well as its sister line Royal Caribbean. Celebrity has announced that for sailings from Florida, passengers who fail to show proof of vaccination at boarding "will be treated as unvaccinated and subject to additional protocols, restrictions, and costs for Covid-19 testing." Consult the travel requirements page on the Celebrity Cruises website for details.
Royal Caribbean has announced new rules for cruises, starting July 1, that will, in effect, create two classes of travelers aboard each ship: the vaccinated and the unvaccinated.
On the "Healthy Sail Center" section of its website, the cruise line posted the following statement applicable specifically to July and August sailings of the ship Freedom of the Seas, which is departing from Miami. It's expected the statement will be echoed on other ships, particularly those departing from Florida and Texas.
"We strongly recommend all guests 16 and older be fully vaccinated. To be considered fully vaccinated, the final dose of the vaccine must be completed at least 14 days before sailing.
"At check-in, guests will be asked to provide documentation of their vaccination, such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Covid-19 Vaccination Record Card. Those who are 16 and older and do not have or are unable to provide documentation will be considered unvaccinated.
"Our unvaccinated guests must undergo additional Covid-19 testing at their own expense, and follow the health protocols described below, which are based on guidance from the CDC."
That expense will be $136 per person ($178 per person on sailings of seven nights or more), which will only be charged to passengers who choose not to volunteer their vaccination status.
Royal Caribbean's new guidelines also stipulate that "if you do not wish to undergo or pay for additional testing, or adhere to these health and safety protocols, we are happy to provide you with a refund. We believe that in the coming months, restrictions and requirements will be more accommodating as public health circumstances evolve."
Royal Caribbean warns that access to many of the ship's facilities will be limited for the unvaccinated: "Since the majority of our guests will be vaccinated on Freedom of the Seas, there will be venues and events restricted to vaccinated guests only."
On June 30, details emerged about the specific amenities that will be off-limits to the unvaccinated. In short: Unvaccinated passengers won't be admitted to the spa or casino, they won't be welcome at the ship's most popular specialty restaurants (including its sushi bar and its tasting restaurant), they will have fewer hours available to them in the gym, and many of the ship's bars will be barred to them, as will the nightclub and some of the shows.
In addition, guests will be seated by status. "In the Main Dining Room, we will designate areas for vaccinated and unvaccinated reservations to dine separately," says Royal Caribbean, going on to note that vaccinated passengers will get the best dining times. "Unfortunately, My Time Dining will not be available to unvaccinated guests."
Unvaccinated travelers will have to mask up more often than vaccinated travelers will. "Masks won’t be required for vaccinated guests when in venues (bars, lounges, restaurants and entertainment) or at events designated for vaccinated guests only," the line states.
Vaccinated passengers will be given a wristband that designates their status and gains admittance to vaccine-only areas. Unvaccinated passengers, and those who refuse to reveal their status, will have a hole punched into their room key card to let staff know they have not been verified as vaccine-safe.
All of this could set the cruise line up for a confrontation with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who recently signed a law that would fine cruise lines as much as $5,000 per incident for requiring passengers' vaccination status.
Today, a federal judge sided with DeSantis, saying that he did not think cruise lines should "mandate vaccination." But the new rules do not mandate vaccination; they put the choice to disclose status in the passengers' hands and then give benefits for choosing to disclose.
Which raises the question: As Florida Republicans, the cruise industry, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention battle for policy supremacy, will Royal Caribbean's new rules stick?
It's hard to tell, but you might want to put off booking your next cruise until these matters are settled. They will deeply affect the cruising experience in the coming weeks.