• Tom Drake

Royal Caribbean's First Test Cruise Begins Tonight.

Freedom of the Seas will sail with 600 volunteer vaccinated employees.

According to, Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas is scheduled to set sail from PortMiami at 7 p.m. today with about 600 employee volunteers on board to test COVID-19 health and safety measures before the ship starts welcoming paying passengers. This trial cruise should put the cruise line one step closer to resuming operations out of U.S. ports, 15 months after the COVID-19 pandemic shut the industry down.

Royal Caribbean said all of the volunteers have been vaccinated, and there will be a representative from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention onboard. The cruise line chose this path as one of the ways to meet the requirements outlined by the CDC for a restart. According to CDC guidelines, a cruise line may either opt to perform a trial cruise or agree to set sail with almost all fully vaccinated passengers and crew -- 95% for both groups.

Patrik Dahlgren, senior vice president of global marine operations for Royal Caribbean Group, told CNN it has been a long and evolving journey for the company to get to the point where it is ready to cruise again safely. "We engaged the greatest experts in this country and in the world in terms of setting out what measures we should have in place," he said.

"How do we avoid and prevent cases from coming on board to the max extent, and how do we mitigate them onboard the ship, leveraging technology, leveraging testing? And of course, the big game-changer is really the vaccines, and that has changed everything for us," he said.

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