Would you volunteer to go on a cruise ship right now, even if it was free?
Major cruise line Royal Caribbean is currently looking into arranging trial cruise voyages to convince regulators it can run successful COVID-era trips.
And it says it’s been inundated with interest from would-be cruisers keen to volunteer.
If it sounds like a precarious proposition, that’s because it is. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recently lifted its ban on cruise ships operating in U.S. waters, says in its latest guidance that “sailing during a pandemic is an inherently risky activity.”
But the CDC’s framework for conditional sailing also stipulates cruise lines must run “simulated voyages” designed “to replicate real world onboard conditions of cruising” if they want to get permission to recommence regularly scheduled cruises.
“Royal Caribbean has some of the most loyal guests in the cruise industry, and we have been overjoyed with their interest to take part in our simulated trial sailings,” the cruise company’s spokesperson Jonathon Fishman told CNN Travel.
“This week alone, we have received more than 5,000 emails, not including the tweets, comments and messages across social media.”
Most major cruise lines have canceled sailings through the end of the year, and there have been some issues as the industry makes tentative steps to return. Seadream 1, the first cruise ship to return to Caribbean waters, is currently experiencing a COVID-19 scare.
It’s not clear whether volunteers for mock cruises will be paid, travel for free or have to contribute toward costs.
Fishman said Royal Caribbean still has “a lot of details to work out to make sure everyone’s experience onboard is as safe and as enjoyable as we can make it,” adding that there were “no dates to announce yet.”
Mock Cruise Guidelines
Before cruise lines can get started on simulated voyage plans, they must confirm they’ve met the CDC’s requirements for protecting crew members on board ships, namely that they’ll be regularly tested.
The CDC framework also requires simulated cruise voyages to meet a series of requirements—including that passengers are informed in writing “that they are participating in a simulation of unproven and untested health and safety protocols” and, as mentioned earlier, “that sailing during a pandemic is an inherently risky activity.”
Volunteer passengers are also required to be at least 18 years old, and they must confirm they don’t have any pre-existing medical conditions that could make them more susceptible to coronavirus.
The cruise lines also can’t promise volunteer passengers employment or future reward.
The simulated cruises will include activities many cruise fans know and love—from dining and entertainment on board to private island shore excursions—but they’ll also include trialing what would happen if a passenger tested positive for COVID, such as quarantine and cabin confinement.
The mock cruises must also meet the CDC requirements for on-board face coverings, hand hygiene and social distancing—and laboratory testing will take place for all passengers and crew when they embark and disembark the ship.
The cruise line must send a report after the mock cruise is completed, which the CDC will then review, give feedback and issue a COVID-19 Conditional Sailing Certificate, assuming all requirements have been met. It’s possible a series of mock cruises might need to take place.
While mock cruises might be a little way off, cruise fans are still excited, and it’s understood that Royal Caribbean is gathering information from people who have expressed interest via its “Volunteers of the Seas” Facebook page, and will be in touch with them once the cruise line has finalized plans.
Royal Caribbean is also participating in Singapore’s “cruises to nowhere” initiative. Its Quantum of the Seas cruise ship is due to set sail in December.