If you're tired of being locked-down during the pandemic, don't want to hang around the Midwest for another frigid winter, and you don't mind taking on the role of guinea pig, some cruise lines would like a word.

Think it over. Would you be willing to hop aboard a cruise ship to test COVID-19 protocols in exchange for getting a free cruise? I did a completely non-scientific poll in the hallway outside my office this morning, and it came back at around 50-50.

As you're no doubt aware, the cruise industry has been absolutely devastated by COVID-19 shutdowns, with the industry as a whole deciding to push back sailing from U.S. ports until after the first of the year. But they're doing all they can to be ready for a green light to sail when it comes.

Before Royal Caribbean can restart cruises with paying passengers, they say they will need to conduct test sailings, but it is not clear yet how volunteers will be selected for that process.

Royal Caribbean's Senior Vice President, Sales, Trade Support and Service, Vicki Freed:

We're going to be doing a series of sailings using our employees and other volunteers to test out the new protocols and make tweaks and modifications to ensure that everything is running smoothly and still deliver that Royal Caribbean amazing vacation experience. We haven't decided how we're going to select people at this point. I know it will be our employees. You must be 18 or older, but we will be looking possibly for volunteers.

When word of a need for volunteers began circulating, Royal Caribbean found themselves on the receiving end of a bunch of phone calls from travel agents who have customers ready to do it

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued 40 pages of requirements for cruise lines to be able to conditionally restart sailings, and running test sailings with volunteer passengers is a major component of the plan. It's safe to assume that other cruise lines will be doing the same thing as Royal Caribbean.

The CDC will require these volunteers be at least 18 years old and sign a waiver to acknowledge that there are risk associated with a test cruise. According to the CDC's list of requirements, all volunteer passengers and crew members must follow testing protocols, which include rapid testing prior to both embarkation and disembarkation.

And, it's not just testing protocols. Here's what the CDC says they want to see happen on these test cruises:

  • embarkation and disembarkation procedures, including terminal check-in,
  • on board activities, including at dining and entertainment venues,
  • private island shore excursions (if a port is visited)
  • evacuation procedures,
  • transfer of symptomatic passengers or crew, or those who test positive for SARSCoV-2, from cabins to isolation rooms,
  • quarantine of all remaining passengers and non-essential crew, and
  • other activities as may be listed in CDC technical instructions and orders.

You might not be into the idea, but looking at Royal Caribbean's blog page, I see that there's no shortage of folks who are totally up for it.