Royal Caribbean reverses vaccination mandate for passengers on cruises departing from ports in Florida and Texas as tension over vaccine passports intensifies
Royal Caribbean announced Friday that passengers will not be required to show proof of vaccination.
The move is a reversal from a May policy that mandated vaccines for all travelers over age 16.
The policy applied to ships in Florida and Texas, states that recently passed laws against vaccination requirements.
Royal Caribbean cruises are back - but vaccinations will be optional.
The travel company announced on Friday that an additional six ships will resume trips from US ports in Florida and Texas starting in July and August. In a statement, Royal Caribbean said that while all crew members will be vaccinated against COVID-19, guests are "strongly recommended to set sail fully vaccinated" but will not be mandated to do so nor show verification.
"Those who are unvaccinated or unable to verify vaccination will be required to undergo testing and follow other protocols, which will be announced at a later date," Royal Caribbean said on Friday.
The decision is a stark reversal from the company's initial vaccine mandate announced last month, which required vaccinations for all passengers over 16 years old on ships sailing from the US and the Bahamas.
"The combination of the vaccines and testing and contact tracing, all these kinds of protocols really helps us reach our objective, which is to make cruising safer than in your home community," Richard Fain, Royal Caribbean's CEO, told the BBC in May. "We want you to be more comfortable walking onboard a ship than walking down Main Street."
After Friday's announcement, Royal Caribbean's frequently asked questions page has been updated to show that vaccines will only be required for ships departing from Seattle, Washington and the Bahamas.
The reversal comes on the heels of efforts by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to prohibit vaccine requirements, including a recently passed bill that fines businesses $5,000 each time they request proof of vaccination. A similar policy that bans certain companies for requesting vaccine verification was enacted by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in April.
"In Florida, your personal choice regarding vaccinations will be protected and no business or government entity will be able to deny you services based on your decision," DeSantis said during the bill signing last month.
The Florida policy is slated to go into effect on July 1, as cruise ships in the US begin to set sail for the first time in a year due to the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention previously halted cruise operations - which became early hotbeds for the spread of the virus - from sailing in March 2020.
Under current CDC regulations, cruise lines can resume business on the condition that its crew is fully vaccinated and that it completes a test trip with volunteer passengers to demonstrate its ability to ensure safety protocols. A ship can skip the test by adhering to a vaccine threshold that calls for a combined 95% of employees and passengers to be vaccinated.
In a statement, Royal Caribbean International CEO Michael Bayley thanked Gov. DeSantis and fellow Florida politicians for "their steadfast support of our industry." Despite removing the proof of vaccination requirement, he pointed to company data that claims 90% of Royal Caribbean consumers are "either vaccinated or planning to get vaccinated in time for their cruise."
"This is it. Vacationers can finally plan to take their precious time off this summer and truly get away after what has been a challenging time for everyone," Bayley said in a statement. "I would like to sincerely thank our guests and travel partners for their incredible patience and understanding during this very difficult period."
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