At long last, Royal Caribbean's newest cruise ship has begun cruises with passengers onboard.
Odyssey of the Seas is set to depart Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on Saturday to begin her first revenue sailing.
The 16-deck-high, 1,138-foot-long ship is one of the largest ships in the world, and can accommodate 4,180 passengers.
The cruise industry shutdown greatly impacted Odyssey's timeline for debut, having been delayed in the construction yard and two different inaugural seasons cancelled in Europe.
Nonetheless, Odyssey of the Seas has begun her first sailing and is yet another Royal Caribbean ship that has been able to start up operations this summer.
The new ship sailed a test cruise on July 19 to gain approval by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Odyssey of the Seas is the second Quantum Ultra Class ship, which is essentially a stretched and enhanced version of the original Quantum Class ships.
While she may not be as large as the Oasis Class ships, she is still packed with plenty for families and guests of all ages to enjoy, including multiple pool areas, an aqua park for kids, sky-diving simulator, surfing simulator, and even bumper cars.
Cabins onboard range from studio staterooms fit for a single traveler to spacious loft suites that span two decks.
Odyssey is the first Quantum Ultra Class ship to cruise from the U.S., which features SeaPlex - the largest indoor and outdoor activity complex at sea - and a vibrant, Caribbean-inspired pool deck.
Just like all Quantum Class ships, Odyssey has four signature activities on its top deck: North Star observational pod, the Ripcord by iFly sky diving simulator, FlowRider surf simulator, and Skypad virtual bungee trampoline experience.
Other fun activities and things to do on Odyssey include:
- Caribbean-inspired pool deck– Sporting a whole new look across two decks, Odyssey’s two open-air pools, four whirlpools and Splashaway Bay, anchored by a Quantum Ultra Class first – The Lime & Coconut bar – are designed for all travelers to enjoy the sun and stars in style.
- SeaPlex – The next-generation of a longtime Quantum Class favorite, this SeaPlex is the largest indoor and outdoor activity center at sea, and debuts this venue’s first Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade.
- Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar and Teppanyaki – Two Royal Caribbean restaurants new to North America join the varied lineup of dining options on board. The fresh take on the cruise line’s signature trattoria is the first to introduce its new wine bar concept while the other serves up East Asian flavors in the traditional Japanese style for which its named.
- One-of-a-kind entertainment – In typical Royal Caribbean fashion, Odyssey’s full-scale productions take top billing in teched-out venues such as the Royal Theater and Two70, where immersive technology, unparalleled special effects and world-leading performers and aerialists take the stage alongside six agile Roboscreens for a multidimensional live show.
Odyssey will sail 6- and 8-night Southern and Western Caribbean cruises from Fort Lauderdale.
Royal Caribbean had originally scheduled Odyssey of the Seas to begin sailings in 2020, but the global health crisis forced that debut to be delayed by a year.
Subsequently, her inaugural season from Rome was cancelled, and instead scheduled to sail from Israel this summer. Violence in the region forced Royal Caribbean to cancel her entire summer season and the ship was re-scheduled to start sailings from Fort Lauderdale.
More Odyssey of the Seas information
Royal Caribbean is preparing to sail its second cruise ship to sail to Alaska this year.
Ovation of the Seas will begin her simulated voyage later today.
The test cruise for Ovation will take 5-nights and sail from Seattle, returning back to Seattle on August 4.
Ovation of the Seas will make one stop in Ketchikan, Alaska during her voyage.
The volunteers onboard are a mix of cruise line employees, travel agents, and volunteers. All passengers will be fully vaccinated. Royal Caribbean will have 100% of its crew members fully vaccinated on all its sailings.
Simulated cruises are part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) phased approach to cruise ships restarting in the United States.
Simulated voyages (also known as test cruises) are when cruise lines can operate ships with volunteer passengers in order to prove their new protocols work.
These are not cruises you can book, but rather, are limited voyages where a cruise line invites certain unpaid volunteers to help go through all the necessary steps and procedures to ensure cruise ships can be run safely.
Thus far, four other Royal Caribbean ships have successfully conducted test cruises: Freedom of the Seas, Serenade of the Seas, Odyssey of the Seas, and Allure of the Seas.
If Ovation's test cruise goes well, she will be ready for paying passengers to begin sailing on August 13, 2021.
Ovation will join Serenade of the Seas as the other Royal Caribbean ship to sail to Alaska this year.
Ovation will sail 7-night cruises beginning in August to Skagway, Sitka and Juneau, Alaska and through the famed Inside Passage. The cruise line recently extended Ovation’s Alaska season into October with four additional sailings.
Test cruise requirements
Test cruises come with a variety of requirements that must be completed in order to demonstrate the ship can be operated in a safe manner with the new health protocols
While the ship is indeed conducting a cruise as if it were a normal cruise, the CDC wants the cruise ship to test out procedures and ensure it can handle any health situation it could encounter.
Each ship must conduct at least one simulated cruise, and each voyage must be between 2-7 days in length with a least one overnight stay, including through embarkation, disembarkation, and post-disembarkation testing.
The CDC recommends a test cruise is at least 3 days with 2 overnight stays.
Passengers and crew must meet standards during the simulated voyage for hand hygiene, use of face masks, and social distancing for passengers and crew, as well as ship sanitation.
Royal Caribbean must modify meal service and entertainment venues to facilitate social distancing during the simulated voyage.
And then there is a laundry list of activities that the CDC says the ship needs to test across one or many separate test cruises:
- Embarkation and disembarkation procedures, as approved by U.S. port and local health authorities as part the cruise ship operator’s Phase 2A agreements, including procedures for terminal check-in.
- Onboard activities, including seating and meal service at dining and entertainment venues.
- Medical evacuation procedures.
- Transfer of symptomatic passengers or crew, or those who test positive for SARS-CoV-2, from cabins to isolation rooms.
- Onboard and shoreside isolation and quarantine, as per the terms of the cruise ship operator’s Phase 2A agreements, of at least 5% of all passengers and non-essential crew.
- Recreational activities that the cruise ship operator intends to offer as part of any restricted passenger voyages, e.g., casinos, spa services, fitness classes, gymnasiums.
- Private-island shore excursions if any are planned during restricted passenger voyages. The following measures must be observed on the private island:
- Only one ship can port at the island at any one time.
- A routine screening testing protocol must be implemented for island staff who are expected to interact with volunteer passengers or crew, unless they are fully vaccinated or have documentation of recovery from COVID-19 in the past 90 days.
- Mask use and social distancing must be observed in indoor areas while on the island.
- Port of call shore excursions if any are planned during restricted passenger voyages. The following measures must be observed on port of call shore excursions:
- Shore excursions must only include passengers and crew from the same ship.
- Cruise ship operator must ensure all shore excursion tour companies facilitate social distancing, mask wearing, and other COVID-19 public health measures throughout the tour while in any indoor areas.
- Cruise ship operators must have a protocol for managing persons with COVID-19 and close contacts at all foreign ports of call. At a minimum, the protocol must include the following:
- Disembarkation and housing of persons with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 needing shore-based hospital care and their travel companion(s) for the duration of their isolation or quarantine period.
- Commercial repatriation of U.S.-based persons with COVID-19 and close contacts only after meeting criteria to end isolation and quarantine per CDC guidance. For commercial repatriation of foreign-based persons with COVID-19 and close contacts, cruise ship operators must consult with all relevant public health authorities.
While cruise ships are sailing again, there is still confusion about Covid-19 vaccine requirements, and Royal Caribbean International's CEO tried to address the issue again this week.
Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley posted on social media an explanation of where things are right now with vaccine requirements.
Mr. Bayley has taken on a "hands on approach" to addressing customer concerns, especially on social media.
He started off by acknowledging the trouble some cruise fans have had with new protocols lately, "There is a lot of confusion and understandable concern over vaccine requirements."
He explained that depending on where a ship sails from, each country can have different regulations, "What guides our policy is primarily determined by which port and country the ship is home ported and sails from and returns to."
"For example If the ship sails from and returns to a USA port we are guided by CDC/FDA guidelines."
Mr. Bayley brought up the example of the United States, because he has heard from many Canadian guests and how they were guided by their government on when and how to get vaccinated against Covid-19 versus the U.S.
In recent weeks, cruise lines have added new protocols that prohibit some level of mixed vaccines, which depends on the mix of manufacturers and where you are sailing from.
Royal Caribbean issued a mixed vaccine policy, but then revised their policy after getting a lot of questions from Canadian customers who would suddenly find themselves unable to sail.
The revised policy allows mixed vaccines in some situations, which is a step ahead of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) preference for vaccinations not be mixed.
According to Bayley, Royal Caribbean has brought up the issue of the differences in the Canadian government's approach with that of the CDC, "Please understand we are not in a position to disregard the relevant governing authority."
"I have received many emails on this issue and we raised this yesterday with the CDC and while obviously sympathetic they cannot change the current position. All cruise lines are in a similar position."
Celebrity vs Royal Caribbean's approach
Mr. Bayley also addressed the different paths Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises have taken in getting back to service.
In a comment to the same mixed vaccine post, Mr. Bayley responded to a question about, "Why Celebrity cruises, sailing out of Florida ports, are following the CDC guidelines, while Royal is bending to Governor De Santis’ orders?"
Mr. Bayley explained the different restart plans have to do with Royal Caribbean being a family cruise brand.
"In a normal year the majority of our guests are families. At any time throughout the year we carry approx 10 per cent plus of our guests who are kids 12 and under and they of course travel with their family."
"Because of the kids we have been sailing at around 90 percent vaccinated and so we would not be able to operate at the CDC 95 / 95 and so like Disney Cruises or MSC all family brands we chose this path.
He said Florida's law, "presents challenges", but he said Royal Caribbean always complies with federal, state and local laws.
"Our wonderful sister brand Celebrity also welcomes kids and families and while they have a great time the number of kids and families is far less than Royal. Hope that clarifies."
"To be very clear both brands fully follow above and beyond the CDC guidelines."
Every Friday, we show off the Royal Caribbean photos that our readers have sent us in a special blog post.
This is a fun opportunity to highlight cruise photos RoyalCaribbeanBlog readers have taken, and for a little bit of time, take a mental escape onboard.
Of course, you can always send in your favorite photo to be posted right here as well.
First up is a lovely photo of Allure of the Seas docked in Port Canaveral.
Nancy Baker's better half took this photo while on a morning bike ride in anticipation of their upcoming sailing on August 29.
Jason Bloomberg sent in this photo of Oasis of the Seas and Empress of the Seas docked together.
The photo was taken in February 2020 while in Cozumel, and it is not only a reminder of the significant size difference between these ships, but also of Empress before being sold.
There is always room in these photo posts for a sunet photo, and we have another to share this week.
Iva Burroughs took this photo while sailing on Grandeur of the Seas as they headed to Bar Harbor, Maine.
I did say there's always room for a sunset photo, right? How about two?
This photo is by Josip Jurkovic, who used to work for Royal Caribbean, and took this photo while on Mariner of the Seas.
He wrote, "As former employees and first time cruisers with our 3 kids, we knew where to catch perfect sunset photo on our last night of our cruise."
Our next photo is of Harmony of the Seas docked at Perfect Day at CocoCay.
Tracy took this photo, surrounded by the beautiful blue water of The Bahamas.
Here is a look at the pool deck on Ovation of the Seas.
Stuart Cole snapped this photo while the ship was in Sydney right before a 3-night sampler cruise.
We are back to CocoCay with this photo by Rose Pinckney.
This was taken in 2019 when Royal Caribbean experimented with late night stays to the island.
Check out this fun shot of Anthem of the Seas' pool deck at night.
Joe Moran got this view while up in the North Star as the ship was docked in Bermuda overnight.
Here is a fun shot of Vision of the Seas "peeking" through the mountains in Cabo San Lucas.
Michael Kho shared this photo.
Our final photo this week comes to us from Gary Howes.
It is a photo of Anthem of the Seas in the background, and we can see the 32-foot-tall whimsical work giraffe onboard.
Royal Caribbean is adding a new requirement for sailings from the United States that will require proof of a negative Covid-19 test result in order to sail.
With increasing Covid-19 case counts around the country, Royal Caribbean has announced the policy change "in an abundance of caution".
All guests over the age of 2 will be required to provide a negative Covid-19 test, regardless of vaccine status, prior to boarding on sailings 5-night or longer.
The new policy is effective for all U.S. sailings between July 31 and August 31.
The test must be administered no more than three days prior to sailing and proof of negative results must be shown at check-in. Either PCR or antigen tests are acceptable.
The results can be printed out, or can be presented on your phone, such as the email result from your test provider. Costs associated with this test are the guests' responsibility.
There are no other changes to requirements and policies previously announced by Royal Caribbean.
In a statement by the cruise line, the change is being done as a precaution, "This is an additional layer of precaution to ensure the safety of everyone onboard. We will continue to monitor public health circumstances as they evolve and make necessary adjustments to our protocols."
Here is a copy of the full statement Royal Caribbean made:
In an abundance of caution, and to ensure that our guests, crew and the communities we visit remain healthy we are requiring all guests over the age of 2, regardless of vaccine status, to provide a negative COVID-19 test prior to boarding on sailings 5-night or longer. This new policy is for all sailings in the U.S. from July 31 to August 31. The test must be administered no more than three days prior to sailing and proof of negative results must be shown at check-in.
All other testing requirements and policies are still in place. This is an additional layer of precaution to ensure the safety of everyone onboard. We will continue to monitor public health circumstances as they evolve and make necessary adjustments to our protocols.
Prior to this change, unvaccinated passengers were required to get multiple Covid-19 tests, but not vaccinated passengers.
Unvaccinated passengers were required to get tested at the terminal prior to embarkation and onboard prior to disembarkation.
Royal Caribbean requires negative test results for passengers sailing on Adventure of the Seas from Nassau, Bahamas, but this is the first time since sailings restarted that a test result for all passengers has been implemented in the United States.
For at least cruises on sailings this weekend, there may be a short-term option to get tested near the cruise port.
Guests sailing on Odyssey of the Seas for the July 31st sailing will have an option to show up to the port and get off-site testing completed nearby. It is not clear which other sailings will have this opportunity as well.
The cruise industry is not the only business making changes to ensure the safety of their customers.
Walt Disney World announced this week it would require face masks again for its customers while indoors, and Lollapalooza will require either proof of vaccination or a negative test for the viral infection within the past three days.
The second, and last day, of the Allure of the Seas test cruise takes us to Royal Caribbean's private island of Perfect Day at CocoCay.
A visit to CocoCay is always welcome, and we had fabulous weather with just a few clouds and no rain.
I always check with Royal Caribbean's chief meteorologist forecast on Twitter, and sure enough he gave our chances at good weather today a big thumbs up.
Mornin' Mornin' @RoyalCaribbean #AllureoftheSeas, and welcome to #CocoCay! Great day shaping up for us with only isolated t-storms possible, so anything that does pop up would only be brief pause. Careful in the heat, easy to lose track of that with all the fun in front of you! pic.twitter.com/iOqqXW56u2
— James Van Fleet (@JamesVanFleet) July 28, 2021
Before heading ashore, I went down to breakfast at Park Cafe, which is my top choice for breakfast on any ship. Bagel bar, breakfast sandwiches and more, and it is all super quick.
Royal Caribbean opened up all of the Thrill Waterpark to all guests for no additional cost, and I was gifted with a floating cabana at the Coco Beach Club.
It was super generous to have access to the cabana, and my wife and I headed over there to begin our day of relaxing on the water.
The floating cabanas live up to the hype with lots of room, cushy seating choices, and great service.
I noticed the Up, Up & Away helium balloon was going up, so we decided now would be a great time to ride it. My wife has never done it before, and I have not been on the balloon since 2019.
Up, Up & Away operates when the weather permits, which basically means when the winds are calm enough to allow it. It can go up to 450 feet high, and we got to hit that limit today with the very calm winds.
The conditions were so favorable for being in the balloon, that you could clearly see animals in the ocean.
Our operator, Michael, pointed out sharks and sting rays, as well as gave us an overview of the island's layout.
As someone who doesn't love heights, I found it much less scary than I thought. I recall when I rode in 2019 the balloon swaying more from side to side, whereas today was much more stable
After we returned to the ground, we were both pretty warm from being out in the sun, and so it was time to go back to the Coco Beach Club and cool off in the infinity pool.
There are not words to describe how good it felt to take a dip in there.
Shortly thereafter, it was time for lunch. While you can have your lunch delivered to your cabana, I prefered to dine at the restaurant.
I went with the coco chicken sandwich and grouper, and my wife ordered the filet mignon.
I really believe the filet at the coco beach club restaurant is the best steak available anywhere on Royal Caribbean.
After lunch, we took another dip in the pool before heading back to the cabana.
Laying out on the sofa they have in the cabana was the perfect move. The cabanas have bluetooth speakers built in, and I put on some music and may have dozed off for a bit.
We spent the rest of our time in the cabana until it was time to head back to the ship.
Back on the ship, it was time to change and get ready for dinner.
I stopped by the Diamond Lounge to check it out, since Allure is the last Oasis Class ship with the original Diamond Lounge location on deck 11.
Unfortunately, as I was walking in the Diamond Ambassador informed me I would not be able to go in because of some sort of invite-only event. I was not quite sure what was happening, but alas, I did not get a chance to see what the lounge really looks like.
Instead, I headed down to Vintages for a pre-dinner glass of wine.
I did not realize Vintages has a rather extensive tapas menu on Oasis Class ships. I did not order any, but next time I may have to sample a few.
For dinner, we decided to go to 150 Central Park. This is a specialty restaurant that I have always enjoyed in the past, but it had been quite a bit since we last dined there.
I was curious how the experience holds up, and I am pleased to say it was just as good as I remember.
By far, the beef tenderloin for two is their standout dish, and it is the best non-filet steak I have had on Royal Caribbean. It was quite tender, and I ate more of it than I originally planned.
I also wanted to try the Lamb Wellington, which was something different to try and I enjoyed it. But the beef tenderloin was just so darn good, that I wanted to eat more of that than the lamb.
The other amazing item on the menu is the deep-fried cheesecake, which is such a great indulgence. I will have dreams about that.
Overall, the Allure of the Seas test cruise went well, and it really just felt like an extremely empty cruise.
I did not see any drills or simulated emergencies occur, but I assume there was some level of practice going on elsewhere. These test cruises are as valuable to Royal Caribbean for the opportunity to get the crew onboard and working again as it is for government approval.
For any guest that gets an opportunity to go on an upcoming test cruise, do not hesitate to book it. It is not only a free cruise, the level of drilling you will experience is very likely slim to none.
The added benefit of having discounted drinks, excursions, and a host of other experiences is a really nice bonus as well.
Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO talked about the cruise industry restart process, and specifically addressed the growing concern about the delta variant of Covid-19.
In his new video update, Mr. Fain emphasized the importance science has played in providing his company with the tools it needed to safely restart cruises in a manner that was better than any store or business on land.
"We wanted to be not only just as safe as the places, we wanted to be safer," Mr. Fain said while explaining the importance of setting ambitious goals.
"We established a goal of being safer on board than a ship on Main Street."
"We've shown that an ambitious goal can be achieved based on hard work and an unemotional review of the facts and the science."
With all the progress Royal Caribbean Group has made, there still lies the top concern among many today, which is the spread of the delta variant.
"The delta virus is spreading worrisomely in the United States, and in other countries. We should worry about the delta variant and the other variants that will inevitably follow."
"We shouldn't, though, panic."
Mr. Fain believes science is advancing on how to address these concerns, and also saw an ethical concern among the many people in regions of the world that want to be vaccinated, but cannot yet, such as parts of the Caribbean, South America and Africa.
"There are hundreds of millions of people who have no access to vaccines. Ethically, that should trouble us all."
"But even practically, that also presents a risk to all of us, as the unvaccinated provide an incubator for variance and for spread."
Mr. Fain also talked about how their restart plans have been successful so far, with more ships restarting.
The restart process is not just about turning cruise ships back on, but proving the onboard protocols can work well.
"The protocols we've developed for cruise ships prove there is another way that people can be allowed to carry on their lives without causing outbreaks. Today, we have dozens of ships operating with hundreds of thousands of guests every month."
He also pointwd out how the few cases of Covid-19 onboard did not result in everything shutting down, but instead, treated the cases and allowed others to continue enjoying their vacation, "There are a few cases of it on ships, just as there are cases on land. But they're handled smoothly without disruption."
"That's the goal to be better than it is on land. And science has provided us a path that allows people to carry on their lives while dealing simply with the few number of cases."
What is it like on a test cruise? I wondered the same thing, and luckily enough, Royal Caribbean invited me to see for myself.
Allure of the Seas is the next Royal Caribbean cruise ship to begin test cruises, which are required for ships to sail from the United States.
For this test cruise, Royal Caribbean invited travel agents, Pinnacle Crown and Anchor Society members, and a couple members of the media to volunteer to be test cruisers.
This is a two-night cruise with one stop at Perfect Day at CocoCay.
The basics for a test cruise are you come onboard for no cost for your cabin, and Royal Caribbean assigns you a cabin. You then play the role of a guest and Royal Caribbean reports to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) what transpires onboard. In addition, there are some members of the CDC to observe what is happening.
Being that we live in Orlando, the drive over to Port Canaveral was quick and easy. I happened to get a noon check-in time, which meant we parked at the terminal and waited for check-in.
In order to do a Royal Caribbean test cruise, you must be at least 18 years old and fully vaccinated. They checked our vaccination status, and then we proceeded with the usual check-in process.
Something different this time around is we were all issued tracelets, which are the contact tracing wristband we must wear onboard. In the event of a Covid case onboard, tracelets can tell Royal Caribbean who has been in close contact with the person and quickly identify those people for isolation and testing.
The tracelets first appeared on Quantum of the Seas sailings from Singapore, but this is the first time I have seen them in North America. I did not have tracelets issued on Adventure or Freedom of the Seas sailings.
Walking onboard, the crew was just as enthusiastic as other ships to welcome passengers back.
Just like Freedom of the Seas, all passengers must wear face masks onboard and there are special designated areas for fully vaccinated guests.
Crew can identify vaccinated guests by the purple wristband they wear.
There are 667 guests on this test cruise, which on a ship that can handle over 6,000 passengers is a microcosm of the usual load factor. To say the least, the ship did not feel crowded at all.
We completed our safety drill via the Royal Caribbean app, and reported to our muster station to check off that we know the location.
Our first drink onboard was at a favorite restaurant on any cruise ship, Sabor.
I had to get a margarita, because their menu really stands out as an excellent choice.
Next up, we wanted to explore the ship a bit. We toured Adventure Ocean, the fitness center, and Central Park.
The fitness center is primarily open to vaccinated passengers, which are not required to wear a mask. There designated times when unvaccinated guests can go into the fitness center as well, at which time masks are required.
Adventure Ocean has a capacity of 15 children per room, and the nursery can handle 4 toddlers at a time.
The ship looks fantastic, and it is interesting to compare the differences between Allure and her amplified sister vessels.
Around the ship, you will find signage to denote vaccinated areas, as well as reminders of where you have to wear your mask.
So the answer to my original question of what is it like to go on a test cruise is so far, exactly like a regular sailing.
Yes, there are a few passengers who were marked as unvaccinated in order to play the role of those guests, but I have yet to run into any of them.
For the crew, they get a chance to run through their operations. There are live performances, and even shows in Studio B. But the AquaTheater and Royal Theater shows are not operational yet.
For dinner, we booked Izumi Hibachi. There are so many fantastic choices for a meal on Oasis Class ships, but I wanted to take my wife to Izumi since she did not get a chance to experience it on Freedom of the Seas.
As expected, Izumi did not disappoint. Teppanyaki dining is always satisfying, and we had a fun table of veteran cruisers.
Tomorrow, we visit Perfect Day at CocoCay.
Royal Caribbean has once again extended its popular option for giving guests the ability to cancel a cruise up to 48 hours before their sail date.
Travel agents were informed on Tuesday that Royal Caribbean has extended the Cruise with Confidence program.
This allows cancelations up to 48-hours prior to the sail date in exchange for a 100% Future Cruise Credit when booking on or before August 31, 2021, for sailings departing by April 30, 2022.
Prior to today's announcement, Cruise with Confidence was set to expire on July 31, 2021.
The Cruise with Confidence program was introduced at the beginning of the health crisis, and provides significantly relaxed rules concerning canceling a cruise if the situation changes for a guest.
Ordinarily, guests would incur a penalty for canceling a sailing beyond the final payment date, which is typically 90 days before a sailing commences. Cruise with Confidence provides a great deal more flexibility to change minds with no penalty.
In addition, the Best Price Guarantee program will be extended to the end of August.
The Best Price Guarantee means you can take advantage of better rates up to 48 hours prior to sail date. Usually guests in certain countries can reprice cruises only up until their final payment date to take advantage of a price drop.
How does Cruise with Confidence work?
Ever since Royal Caribbean shut down cruises in March 2020, it has offered guests increased flexibility in being able to change their minds due to the fluid nature of news and the global health crisis.
Essentially, Cruise with Confidence is the name of the program that allows guests to change or cancel a cruise up to 48 hours before their sail date with no penalty or change fees.
Guests can opt for a 100% Future Cruise Credit that is good for 12 months or more.
Today's change means Cruise with Confidence is applicable to guests booked on-or-before August 31, 2021 on sailings departing through April 2022.
The program includes refundable and non-refundable cruise fares, and only excludes chartered sailings.
It is important to note that if you elect to cancel a cruise on your own with this program, and later Royal Caribbean cancels the sailing, you waive any right to receive any refund oft he cruise fare paid.
The first Oasis Class cruise ship to potentially restart operations will give it a try later today when Allure of the Seas conducts her simulated voyage.
Allure has been docked in Port Canaveral for a few days in preperation for the test sailing.
The two-night test cruise will depart today and visit Perfect Day at CocoCay before returning back to Port Canaveral on Thursday.
Simulated cruises are part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) phased approach to cruise ships restarting in the United States.
While the State of Florida has won its lawsuit against the CDC, and test cruises from Florida are no longer required, Royal Caribbean said it will continue to follow CDC cruise ship recommendations.
Required or not, the purpose of a test cruise is to demonstrate to the CDC that the onboard health protocols can work, and keep crew members and passengers safe.
All the passengers onboard are volunteers, who are a mix of travel agents, top tier Crown and Anchor Society members, and cruise line employees.
So far three other Royal Caribbean ships have successfully conducted test cruises: Freedom of the Seas, Serenade of the Seas & Odyssey of the Seas.
If all goes well for Allure of the Seas on her test sailing, she could be ready for her first scheduled voyage on August 8.
What happens on a test cruise?
There will be CDC officials onboard Allure of the Seas to observe and critique the various new changes and health protocols onboard.
There is a list of activities that any cruise ship doing a test cruise must complete in order to pass the test. The CDC gives cruise lines the option of completing these requirements over one or multiple sailings, but thus far, Royal Caribbean has opted to complete test sailings over the course of a single voyage.
Test cruises are necessary for any ship sailing in U.S. waters that will carry more than 250 passengers and crew.
The test cruises are designed to test new embarkation and disembarkation procedures, medical evacuation procedures and procedures for transferring symptomatic passengers and crew to isolation rooms set up on board the ships.
There are also requirements for testing what happens during meals, entertainment onboard, and the pool deck.
Why is Royal Caribbean choosing to do test cruises?
Some cruise fans wonder why Royal Caribbean International does test cruises instead of requiring 95% of its passengers be fully vaccinated and skip test cruises, similar to what Celebrity Cruises has done.
The answer is Royal Caribbean sails with so many families, there are simply too many children that are ineligible for a Covid-19 vaccine.
As a family brand that traditionally has over 1 million children sailing onboard, leaving kids out (and subsequently their parents and extended family) was not an option Royal Caribbean ever considered.
Royal Caribbean International's senior vice president of Hotel Operations, Mark Tamis, called the decision "obvious" given how many kids sail with Royal Caribbean, along with the cruise line's dedication to remaining a family brand. "A good 20 to 25 percent of our guests are kids."
Live test cruise coverage
RoyalCaribbeanBlog will be onboard this Allure of the Seas test cruise, and I'll be sharing what it's like on a test cruise right here!