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Freedom of the Seas ship returns to PortMiami after simulated voyage

Volunteer passengers speak about simulated voyage aboard Freedom of the Seas ship
Volunteer passengers speak about simulated voyage aboard Freedom of the Seas ship

MIAMI – Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas ship returned to PortMiami Tuesday morning after setting sail on a simulated voyage and becoming the first ship to sail with passengers from the U.S. since the pandemic began.

“There’s a huge comeback. There is lots of ships being planned to be restarted with lots of paying guests. We are very excited to get started again,” said Patrik Dahlgren, senior vice president of the Royal Caribbean Group.

The simulated sailing left Miami on Sunday with some 600 employee volunteers onboard.

“I think it was actually not too much different. I’d have to say,” one volunteer, Elisa Shen, said. “Everything you would normally want to do in a cruise ship, you could do.”

The cruise line’s goal is to test some of the new health and safety measures outlined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before the cruise line welcomes paying passengers next month.

“I understand how hard we have worked for this comeback and all the protocols that are in place, so I feel pretty safe,” volunteer Klaus Meisel said.

The test cruise came after Gov. Ron DeSantis claimed victory in court when a judge issued a preliminary injunction to temporarily stop the CDC from enforcing its conditional sailing order, which was issued last year.

Those within the industry are thankful to finally see a potential cruise comeback.

“We are ready,” Dahlgren said. “We are ready to take them safely onboard and to create amazing experiences for all of them. We are looking forward to (getting) many people onboard our ships.”

Tyler Segal was one of the company volunteers selected for the special, two-night sailing.

On top of limiting the ship’s capacity and having to complete a COVID-19 test prior to boarding, he says the overall experience still felt pretty normal.

“You were sanitizing more than usual, which I thought was great, just because you felt super safe. So like, everything on board was super safe, there was social distancing places in place, but it still was -- it felt like a normal cruise to us,” Segal said.

Passengers say masks were also required to be worn, but only in certain public spaces that are shared between vaccinated and unvaccinated guests.

Some select venues were also limiting who could come in.

“There were a few spots that were designated for vaccinated guests only, but it did not have an impact on the cruise at all. You were still able to do a bunch of things,” Segal said.

In a statement from Royal Caribbean International, the cruise line said they are “pursuing one of two pathways laid out by the CDC to get back to cruising. A requirement is that U.S-based ships conduct simulation cruises to test health and safety protocols if the cruise line expects to return to sailing with under 95% vaccinated guests or crew.

“As a family brand, Royal Caribbean typically sails with 10 percent of our guests under 12 years old, and today, they are ineligible for the vaccine. We are committed to continuing to deliver memorable vacations to families and is why we are conducting simulated cruises.”

The cruise line says all crew members will be vaccinated against COVID-19, and the following vaccination requirements will be in place for passengers:

  • Cruises departing from all U.S. ports (except Florida ports): All guests 16 years of age and older must be fully vaccinated, and from Aug. 1, all guests 12 years of age and older must be fully vaccinated. Younger travelers not yet eligible for the vaccine will be able to sail with a negative test result and must follow our protocols.
  • Cruises departing from Florida ports: We strongly recommend all guests eligible for the vaccine be fully vaccinated. Travelers eligible but not fully vaccinated or able to show proof of vaccination will be subject to testing and additional health protocols at their own expense. Children not eligible for vaccines will be tested at no cost.

About the Authors:

Trent Kelly is an award-winning multimedia journalist who joined the Local 10 News team in June 2018. Trent is no stranger to Florida. Born in Tampa, he attended the University of Florida in Gainesville, where he graduated with honors from the UF College of Journalism and Communications.

Amanda Batchelor is the managing editor for Local10.com.