Royal Caribbean Will Participate in CDC’s Voluntary Program

Royal Caribbean decides to opt into CDC's voluntary program for cruise ships under the program’s "Highly Vaccinated" category.

Royal Caribbean confirmed it would be participating in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) voluntary program. The CDC had set a deadline of February 18 before cruise companies needed to confirm they would participate. Royal Caribbean joins Carnival Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line, ensuring that at this time, all cruise ships sailing from the US have opted-in. 

Royal Caribbean will be sailing under the highly vaccinated category starting February 25. New policies regarding wearing masks will also change at this time, which means that guests who are fully vaccinated will no longer need to wear a mask.

Royal Caribbean Confirms Participation in Voluntary Program

Royal Caribbean president Michael Bayley announced that Royal Caribbean would be participating in the CDC’s voluntary program just before the CDC’s deadline would expire. The company plans to be sailing under the highly vaccinated category. This means that 95% of the guests and 95% of the crew members need to be fully vaccinated. This number excludes kids under 5-years old. 

Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship
Photo Credit: Philip Armitage /

Michael Bayley, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean International: “As many may know the CDC conditional sail order expired mid-January and we continued to operate voluntarily under the program. Recently the CDC issued the next phase of guidelines consisting of three categories each built on the same foundation of protecting health and each with specific guidelines based on vaccination and booster status. All cruise lines had until today to opt-in or out of the program.”

“Today Royal Caribbean confirmed we will participate in the CDC’s voluntary Program. Specifically, we will operate under the program’s Highly Vaccinated category beginning with sailings departing from the U.S. as of Friday, Feb. 25.”

Guests should also have received all their booster shots if eligible. According to Michael Bayley, the current processes are a step closer to getting back to normal operations, with more updates to be expected before February 25. Bayley does recognize it is still not a perfect situation:

“We are thoughtfully working through the details regarding other changes to our health and safety protocols which we will share with our guests and travel advisors before Feb. 25. We recognize this is still not perfect however its getting closer to normal and is based upon CDC recommendations and our now extensive experience dealing with all of this!”

Royal Caribbean Must Now Follow All Guidelines From CDC

The fact that Royal Caribbean has opted-in to the voluntary program means the cruise line must implement all the rules and regulations the CDC has set out in its program, including mandates for vaccinations and relaxed mask protocols for vaccinated guests. Cruise companies cannot decide to follow one protocol but ignore another.

Under the highly-vaccinated category, masks will become an optional feature on board. Guests may choose to wear a mask or not, as long as they are fully vaccinated. Masks will be expected of unvaccinated children, and during all Adventure Ocean youth program activities, masks will be mandatory. This is because the youth program includes and is accessible to kids under five and kids 5 to 12 not fully vaccinated.

CDC Logo Sign
Photo Credit: bear_productions /

The voluntary program also includes a new setup for the ships’ color codes, which is already live on the CDC’s website. Under these codes, the CDC designates vessels a color based on the number of COVID-19 cases. These are:

  • Green: No reported cases of COVID-19 or COVID-19-like illness
  • Yellow: Reported cases of COVID-19 are below the threshold for CDC investigation.
  • Orange: Reported cases of COVID-19 have met the threshold for CDC investigation.
  • Red: Reported cases of COVID-19 are at or above the threshold for CDC investigation. Additional public health measures are in place.
  • Gray: Opted out of CDC’s COVID-19 Program for Cruise Ships. CDC has not reviewed or confirmed the cruise ship’s health and safety protocols.

According to the current list, the Royal Caribbean ships are mostly sailing under code Orange or Yellow if sailing with guests, except for Enchantment of The Seas, sailing under Code Green.

If a ship is operating under Code Red, there are several measures the CDC and the cruise line can or should take. This includes testing all passengers mid-voyage, making masks mandatory on-board, and even offering a full refund to any passenger booked on a subsequent voyage; and who decides not to sail because of the code red.

Although there has been a significant amount of criticism on the new voluntary program from the CDC, especially from industry representing organization CLIA, all major cruise lines, including Carnival and Norwegian, with a grand total of 110 cruise ships sailing to/ or from the United States, have opted in.


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