Royal Caribbean reversed course on its vaccine policy last week, making the jab optional for most of its cruises after the company initially planned to require it.
The new policy, which was announced as the cruise line detailed summer sailings out of Florida and Texas, will allow unvaccinated passengers to board a Royal Caribbean cruise as long as they "undergo testing and follow other protocols." Previously, Royal Caribbean required guests 16 and older to be fully vaccinated at least 14 days before embarking on a cruise with plans to drop that to 12 and older after Aug. 1.
An exception to the new policy is those boarding a ship to Alaska where the cruise line will still require guests 16 and older to be vaccinated, and 12 and older starting Aug. 1.
In general, Royal Caribbean said guests "are strongly recommended" to have been vaccinated before boarding, and all crew will be vaccinated.
It wasn't immediately clear what other protocols would be required for unvaccinated guests. A spokesperson for Royal Caribbean didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from Travel + Leisure.
Vaccines have increasingly become a political flashpoint in recent months. Earlier this year, several states — including Florida and Texas — banned the concept of vaccine passports, directly affecting some cruise lines that mandated vaccines, including Norwegian Cruise Line.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended all passengers and crew get the jab before boarding, said vaccinated passengers can potentially ditch their masks, and waived the need for volunteer test sailings for cruise companies where 98% of crew and 95% of passengers are fully vaccinated.
For its part, Royal Caribbean has already been approved to start test sailings later this month ahead of its planned restart this summer.
On July 2, Royal Caribbean plans to sail from Miami on the Freedom of the Seas to its private island, CocoCay. On July 3, the Odyssey of the Seas will sail from Fort Lauderdale on 6- and 8-night Caribbean cruises, followed by sailings out of Port Canaveral, Seattle, and Galveston later in the summer.
Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. When she's not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.
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