Courtesy of Windstar Cruises
Luxury yacht line Windstar Cruises will require guests to show proof of vaccination when sailings resume this summer.
Will the move entice passengers back to the high seas?
If you’re wondering whether being vaccinated will open up certain travel opportunities that you wouldn’t have otherwise, several cruise lines have responded with a resounding “yes, yes it will” by requiring all guests show proof of COVID-19 vaccination prior to boarding.
Windstar and Lindblad are among the latest to join a growing list of cruise lines that began mandating COVID vaccines as early as February, just on the heels of the vaccine rollout in the United States.
“Vaccination is another layer of safety for all of us, and it’s the responsible course of action as our yachts resume cruising and our guests travel the world,” said Christopher Prelog, president of Windstar Cruises, in the announcement that Windstar will resume operations in June.
The following cruise lines require COVID vaccines and testing of some kind:
Celebrity Cruises marks its return to Europe this summer with the launch of its new 2,910-passenger Celebrity Apex in Greece—and those who are vaccinated, including Americans, are being invited to board. The seven-night sailings will kick off on June 19 out of Athens and stops will include the Greek islands of Mykonos, Rhodes, and Santorini; Limassol, Cyprus; and Haifa and Jerusalem, Israel. The cruises opened for booking on March 30.
All crew and guests older than 18 aboard the Celebrity Apex will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Those under the age of 18 must provide proof of negative COVID-19 PCR test results to board.
Celebrity will also return to the Caribbean on June 5, 2021, with cruises on the 2,218-passenger Celebrity Millennium. On those sailings, adult passengers and crew sailing the seven-night cruises out of St. Maarten will all need to be vaccinated. Children under the age of 18 will need to present a negative COVID-19 test result procured within 72 hours of embarkation.
Luxury cruise line Crystal announced in February that all guests will need to be fully vaccinated (meaning both doses if two doses are needed) at least 14 days prior to their cruise. The crew will also be expected to be vaccinated once the company resumes sailings—but having 100 percent of the crew fully vaccinated “may not be a viable option for all crew members given their age and/or the availability of vaccines in their home countries,” Crystal stated.
At that time, guests and crew will also be required to procure negative COVID-19 tests before each cruise, and they will be subject to temperature checks prior to boarding and an onboard masking policy. There will also be social-distancing guidelines and reduced capacity.
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Crystal’s decision was driven in part by a recent Cruise Critic survey of nearly 3,000 people, 80 percent of whom said they would cruise if a vaccine were required.
Crystal passengers will need to fill out an online form acknowledging the vaccine requirement before finalizing their cruise booking. They can find out all the details about the new policy on the Crystal website.
Expedition cruise line Lindblad (an AFAR Travelers’ Awards winner) announced the following requirements for passengers: proof of COVID vaccination for guests age 16 and up; two negative COVID-19 tests prior to boarding (one before leaving home, and a rapid test administered by ship staff at embarkation); and that you self-isolate at home and follow CDC guidelines for five days prior to leaving home. Lindblad has also been using an enhanced cleaning protocol since before the coronavirus pandemic, ACT CleanCoat (see more at expeditions.com/purity).
Lindbad will restart its expedition cruises with nature- and wildlife-driven Alaska and Galápagos departures starting in June. The Alaska cruises range from shorter 6- and 8-day itineraries out of Juneau to an epic 22-day journey from Ketchikan in southern Alaska to Nome in the north. The sailings take place onboard the 100-passenger sister ships National Geographic Quest and National Geographic Venture, and on the 62-passenger sister ships National Geographic Sea Bird and National Geographic Sea Lion.
In Ecuador’s Galápagos archipelago, Lindblad offers 7-, 10-, and 16-day sailings around the volcanic islands. The cruises take place on the 96-passenger National Geographic Endeavour ll and the 48-passenger National Geographic Islander.
On April 5, Norwegian Cruise Line parent company Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. sent a letter to the CDC outlining its plans to resume cruising from U.S. ports on July 4, 2021—when it will require that all crew and passengers be fully vaccinated at least two weeks prior to embarkation. Crew and guests will also all be tested for COVID-19. The initial sailings will operate at 60 percent capacity, and capacity will be ramped up by 20 percent every 30 days, the cruise company stated.
Under the current plan, unvaccinated minors will not be able to cruise with the company. “We look forward to the day when we can safely welcome onboard our ships minors who have not yet been eligible to be vaccinated, when the public health environment allows us to modify our protocols accordingly,” a spokesperson for Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. said in a statement sent to AFAR.
As a member of the Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. family, Oceania will be requiring that adult passengers and crew be fully vaccinated at least two weeks prior to boarding as well.
Owned by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., luxury cruise line Regent Seven Seas Cruises will also adhere to the above plan to require that all adult guest and crew be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 when sailings from U.S. ports resume in July.
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Royal Caribbean plans to begin sailing in Mexico and the Caribbean in June. For cruises through August, the crew will be vaccinated and only adult passengers fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will be able to board—passengers under 18 with negative COVID-19 test results will be able to join the cruises as well.
Virgin Voyages, Richard Branson’s forthcoming adult-only cruise line, will require both passengers and crew to have been vaccinated for COVID-19 prior to boarding. The line’s 2,770-passenger Scarlet Lady was originally slated to debut in April 2020. After numerous pandemic-related delays, it is now scheduled to launch this July.
“Our goal is to ensure that we’re providing the safest travel experience, which means vaccinations for both our crew and passengers,” Virgin Voyages president and CEO Tom McAlpin said in a statement sent to AFAR. “This is a step toward the safe return to sailing and is the right decision for Virgin Voyages. We’re really encouraged by the latest rollout plans in the May time frame from the new administration, and we know the future is about vaccinations.”
He added that “there’s a huge pent-up demand for travel.”
Windstar, the AFAR Travelers’ Awards winner for best small-ship and yacht cruises, will return to sailings on June 19, 2021, in the Caribbean and Mediterranean at reduced occupancy. Guests will have to show that their COVID vaccines were completed at least 14 days prior to embarkation date; they will also have to provide negative COVID-19 test results.
The ships will have enhanced cleaning protocol called Beyond Ordinary Care: “HEPA filters and UV-C germicidal irradiation to filter and disinfect the air, plus backpack sprayers to sanitize all surfaces throughout our yachts,” said Andrew Todd, CEO of Windstar and parent company Xanterra.
River cruise line Avalon Waterways is requiring that prior to sailing, passengers show proof of COVID-19 vaccination completed at least 14 days before travel, proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR or antigen test taken no more than 72 hours before travel, or proof of recovery from a COVID-19 diagnosis within three months of travel.
Vaccination will also be required by U.S. river cruise company American Queen Steamboat Company and its sister cruise brand Victory Cruise Lines, the latter of which operates cruises to Canada, the Great Lakes, New England, and Alaska.
Effective July 1, COVID-19 vaccination will be mandatory for all American Queen and Victory Cruise Lines guests as well as for all shipboard crew members and nonshipboard employees across all seven vessels in the fleets.
American Queen and Victory Cruise Lines also require precruise COVID testing for all guests and crew and have a mask mandate in place for all public areas of the ships where social distancing cannot be maintained.
This story was originally published on February 24, 2021, and was updated on April 5, 2021, to include current information. Laura Dannen Redman contributed reporting.
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