MIAMI — Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas came back Tuesday morning from its first simulated voyage. The ship went on the test run over the weekend to make sure that all safety protocols were in place before they can welcome paying customers.
It's a significant milestone for an industry that's been shut down for more than a year due to the pandemic.
"I think it was just really positive and very informative," said volunteer passenger Elisa Schen.
The ship departed Sunday night with about 650 passengers.
"You feel like the world got smaller during the pandemic, and so I feel this really felt like we were really accessing this freedom again to travel, to experience and just enjoy life," Schen said.
"It was amazing. I had a great time," said volunteer passenger Santiago Pineiro. "I felt very safe, honestly. We got super nice weather in CocoCay, so it was a great time. We really loved it."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cruise line companies can either do a test cruise or only set sail with 95% of crew and passengers fully vaccinated.
Laura Hodges Bethge with Royal Caribbean Group said the purpose of the simulated voyage is to observe its multi-layered health and safety measures in accordance with the CDC requirements.
"Yes, we encourage all of our guests to be vaccinated," said Hodges Bethge. "All of our crew are vaccinated. But in addition to that, we have testing for our unvaccinated guests, as well as really enhanced cleaning on board and all of our different technology, with our app, to make sure that there's not any lines. Keeps crowding to a minimum. Works quite well."
Everyone on the simulated cruise was vaccinated, but to prepare for future voyages and practice safety protocols, volunteers were marked as vaccinated and not vaccinated.
"There are certain areas onboard the ship that are for vaccinated guests only," said Hodges Bethge. "Certain venues and areas, it allows for a relaxed environment [and] not mask-wearing, etc. But there's lots of areas for unvaccinated guests."
Unvaccinated guests are required to get tested when they embark and debark the ship.
The cruise line hasn't received a conditional sailing order from the CDC, but Freedom of the Seas expects to set sail on a paid cruise July 2.
"Just being able to walk around and experience such a thing that seems so inaccessible to everybody just six months or a year ago, it just gave me chills," said Schen.