Courtesy of Lindblad Expeditions
Lindblad Expeditions is one of the few cruise lines still asking passengers to mask up onboard.
It’s hard to keep track as regulations continue to change and evolve. This is the latest for those heading out to sea soon or considering it.
Two years after the start of the pandemic, cruise lines are back in business and more ships are returning to sea. On all of them, you need to be vaccinated in order to cruise and precruise testing is now a fact of life.
COVID tests are no longer required for international flights to the U.S. but cruises will continue to mandate them, as well as vaccines, for the foreseeable future. Royal Caribbean, for instance, recently extended its vaccine and testing rules through September on cruises in North America. If adults want to cruise this summer, they will need to be fully vaccinated, meaning they have had all inoculations at least 14 days prior to their sailing date. (While the CDC considers people to be up to date on their vaccines if they have received a booster shot for those who are eligible, most lines are still accepting the original one or two shots to be considered vaccinated and are simply recommending boosters.) There are some exceptions for kids under the age of 12.
If you are planning to cruise in Europe and some other parts of the world, you may also be required by your cruise line to have received a booster shot, based on the government COVID-19 travel policies of the countries you are sailing to.
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) earlier this spring dropped its warning to travelers about health risks on cruise ships. After two years of first banning and then advising against cruising and warning of its health and safety risks due to the pandemic, the agency took cruises off its warning list in late March.
In May, the CDC also scaled back slightly its tough restrictions for cruise lines by allowing ships to declare themselves as “highly vaccinated” if 90 percent of passengers and at least 95 percent of crew are vaccinated. Previously, the number was 95 percent for passengers. The change will allow more unvaccinated children who don’t yet qualify for a vaccine (currently those under the age of five) or have not obtained a vaccine to come onboard this summer.
The agency has also provided the cruise lines with greater leeway to set and monitor their own policies. Consequently, most cruise lines have opted to make masks optional for vaccinated guests (though some lines such as Lindblad are requiring masks onboard).
But the CDC still maintains a close watch, publishing a color-coded chart of ship outbreaks that is updated every few days. And cruise ships have not been immune to COVID outbreaks even recently. Any time there’s a surge on land there’s a surge on ships, too, and that is the case currently. As of May 25, 2022, of the 93 U.S.-based cruise ships currently sailing (three with crew only), the CDC was investigating outbreaks on 86 of them and monitoring four others. It’s worth noting that the threshold for investigation is very low—only 0.3 percent or more of total passengers and crew testing positive.
Vaccine and pretrip testing requirements can be confusing, especially if you are cruising internationally. Cruise lines have their own rules; countries have their own rules. And the rules are constantly changing.
Before your trip, you will need to review your cruise line’s health and safety protocols. In most cases, you will be expected to arrive at your ship with a negative COVID test result—either a PCR test or tele-health-monitored antigen test, paid for by you. The cruise line may also require a test at the pier, paid for by the cruise line.
Unvaccinated children have more stringent requirements that may include a series of tests both precruise and on the ship.
Here’s a rundown of the basic rules for some leading cruise lines. Booster shots are only required by those lines specified below and are simply recommended by the others. Note: There may be additional requirements if you are traveling internationally, and the rules can change—sometimes overnight. Be sure to review the latest requirements prior to boarding.
International travel requirements and restrictions continue to evolve. Check the U.S. State Department’s detailed COVID-19 travel information and country-specific advisories, which are updated regularly.
The CDC also has detailed recommendations for travel during the pandemic, both for vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers as well as for cruise travel.
This article was originally published in May 2022; it was most recently updated on June 13, 2022 with current information.
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