Cruise lines are continuing to incrementally relax health and safety protocols, easing restrictions while still monitoring for necessary adjustments to keep passengers, crew members, and local communities safe. For Royal Caribbean International, the updated protocols relaxing mask wearing onboard will take effect Friday, February 25, for all sailings departing the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
No Masks Required Onboard – With One Exception
According to Royal Caribbean’s Healthy Sail Center, for all sailings departing on or after Friday, February 25, 2022, face masks will become optional for all fully vaccinated passengers – with one exception.
Children participating in the cruise line’s Adventure Ocean, which includes supervised activities for ages up to 12 years, are required to wear masks while at the youth program, even if they are vaccinated. Children under age 2 are not required to wear masks at any time.
Any unvaccinated children on board are still expected to wear masks indoors and in crowded settings where social distancing cannot be maintained, as the voluntary guideline only applies to fully vaccinated passengers.
All guests, of any age, are also required to comply with local masking requirements and other health and safety guidelines while in ports of call. Guests are also advised that protocols will be continually reevaluated, and are subject to change when necessary.
It is also important to note that this relaxation of the mask policy does not apply to sailings departing from Europe at this time.
Changes From Previous Mask Guidance
Royal Caribbean has had two levels of mask-wearing guidance in effect in recent months. When cruising restarted and in the early months of resuming operations, masks were generally required in indoor areas, though fully vaccinated passengers had access to exclusive “vaccinated-only” venues where masks were not required. This included selected bars, lounges, and show venues at certain times.
When the highly contagious Omicron variant emerged in December 2021, however, Royal Caribbean – as well as other major cruise lines – tightened mask wearing guidelines and began requiring masks for all guests, in all indoor areas as well as outdoors wherever social distancing could not be maintained.
The stricter policy was first tightened on December 17, and while it was initially implemented just for a three week period, it was eventually was extended twice, to February 14.
The cruise line began easing its mask requirements in mid-February, returning to the pre-Omicron guidelines that permitted guests to remove masks in designated vaccinated-only venues. It is surprising, then, that the restrictions are being eased even more just 10 days after that first relaxation took effect, though it will be welcome to travelers weary of mask requirements and changing restrictions.
Participation in the CDC Program
These changes to Royal Caribbean’s health and safety protocols come as the line has opted in to follow the CDC’s voluntary program for cruise ships. Royal Caribbean announced its participation in the program just before the opt-in deadline of February 18 expired, joining the last minute acceptance of Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Holland America, and Seabourn.
Norwegian Cruise Line was the first cruise line to opt in to the program, on January 14, along with its sister lines, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
Royal Caribbean intends to sail under the “Highly Vaccinated” classification of the program, which requires 95% of guests and 95% of crew members to be fully vaccinated. The CDC has clarified, however, that this percentage excludes children under 5 years old, who are ineligible for vaccination at this time.
As part of the “Highly Vaccinated” designation, cruise lines are able to make masks optional, unless a ship is designated as Red according to the Cruise Ship Color Status, which would indicate a severe outbreak of COVID-19 onboard. At that time, masks would become required in all indoor areas once again.
At this time, no Royal Caribbean ships under the CDC guidelines are classified as Red vessels.
As all cruise travelers have learned in recent months, mask guidelines and requirements are always subject to change, and protocols can be updated on short notice. Anyone booked on a Royal Caribbean cruise in the coming weeks, or with any cruise line, should stay updated for the protocols and requirements for their specific sailing.