Why Cruising is Safer Now Than It’s Ever Been Before

by  Donna Heiderstadt | Sep 20, 2021

As a percentage of the population has resumed non-essential travel, ocean cruise lines have spent the past three months welcoming passengers back aboard an increasing number of ships.

Here are several reasons why cruising is safer now than it has ever been.

Do Cruises Require Passengers are Required to be Vaccinated?

While vaccination against COVID-19 doesn't guarantee 100% protection against infection — and breakthrough cases among vaccinated people can happen — transmission is likely to be reduced when everyone onboard is vaccinated, 

Policies are evolving and subject to change, but as of September 2021, the following cruise lines require all passengers to be at least two weeks past their COVID-19 vaccination date: 

  • Virgin Voyages
  • Viking Ocean Cruises
  • Norwegian Cruise Line
  • Princess Cruises
  • Holland America Line
  • Regent Seven Seas Cruises
  • Oceania Cruises
  • Seabourn Cruise Line
  • Silversea Cruises
  • UnCruise Adventures
  • Windstar (note: vaccine-ineligible children under age 12 not allowed to sail through at least Dec. 31, 2021)

The following lines currently require all passengers age 12 and older to be fully vaccinated:

  • Azamara Club Cruises
  • Celebrity Cruises
  • Disney Cruise Line (which resumes cruising on Oct. 28, 2021)
  • MSC Cruises (through at least Oct. 31, 2021)

Carnival requires most passengers to be fully vaccinated; however, the cruise line allows a small number of children (as well as teens and adults with medical exemptions) to cruise on certain sailings from Florida, Texas, Louisiana, California, and Maryland through December 31, 2021.

Royal Caribbean's vaccination requirements vary depending on the port of embarkation. European ports, such as Barcelona, Rome, and Southampton, require all passengers age 18 and older to be at least two weeks past completing their full vaccination. Meanwhile, cruises departing from Seattle, WA; Galveston, TX; Cape Liberty, NJ; and all Florida ports require all passengers age 12 and older to be fully vaccinated. 

SeaDream Yacht Club requires all guests age 18 and older to be two weeks past being fully vaccinated. The line will limit the number of guests under age 18.

River cruise lines are following safety protocols, as well. Although river ships carry fewer passengers (typically 80 to 190 guests) than ocean vessels, many leading lines — including Viking River Cruises, Uniworld River Cruises, AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways, Scenic, Emerald Cruises, and Tauck — have enacted vaccination and testing protocols.

Do Cruise Passengers Have to Test Before Boarding?

Most cruise lines require that all cruise ship passengers receive a negative test result prior to boarding. Rules vary by ports of embarkation, country, and cruise line. This information was valid as of Sept. 20, 2021:

  • Azamara: In addition to pre-travel testing requirements in the country of boarding, Azamara will require passengers to undergo a COVID-19 test in the terminal prior to embarkation. 
  • Carnival: Both vaccinated and unvaccinated passengers must present negative test results before boarding.
  • Celebrity: All passengers age two and older must present a negative COVID-19 test prior to boarding. 
  • Disney: Unvaccinated kids ages 11 and under must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test result (rapid PCR test or lab-based PCR test) taken between three days and 24 hours prior to the embarkation date. As of Sept. 13, 2021, all passengers are also required to take a COVID-19 test at the terminal before boarding.
  • Holland America Line: All passengers must produce a negative COVID-19 PCR or Antigen test taken within two days of embarkation for sailings from U.S. ports through Dec. 31, 2021. While Holland America encourages passengers embarking in European ports to take a viral test three days before travel, they will require all passengers to take a complimentary rapid test in the cruise terminal prior to boarding. 
  • MSC: All fully vaccinated passengers are required to test at their own expense and present a negative COVID-19 PCR, NAAT, or Antigen result taken within two days of embarkation. Meanwhile, unvaccinated children between ages two and 11 must present negative PCR or NAAT results taken within three days of boarding.
  • Norwegian Cruise Line: The cruise line encourages all passengers to take a COVID-19 PCR test, or at the very least an Antigen test, within 72 hours prior to boarding. Before boarding, all passengers must also undergo a required rapid Antigen test in the cruise terminal. 
  • Regent: The cruise line encourages all passengers to take a pre-travel COVID-19 test three to four days prior to the sail date. Cruisers are also required to take a pre-boarding Antigen test.
  • Royal Caribbean: All passengers sailing from U.S. ports must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test. Vaccinated passengers are required to present a negative PCR or Antigen test within two days of boarding, while the timeframe for unvaccinated kids aged two to 11 is three days. Testing rules vary based on international ports. 
  • Oceania: The cruise encourages guests to take a pre-travel COVID-19 PCR or Antigen test at least 72 hours before boarding. Passengers will also be tested prior to embarkation. 
  • Princess: All passengers must present proof of a negative COVID-19 test (PCR or Antigen) taken within two days of embarkation. 
  • Seabourn: The cruise will follow pre-travel testing policies required by the country of embarkation. There are pre-boarding health evaluations but no additional testing.  
  • SeaDream: In addition to the pre-travel testing requirements in the port of embarkation, SeaDream will administer pre-boarding COVID-19 Antigen tests to all passengers. 
  • Silversea: The cruise line's pre-travel testing requirements for passengers vary by ship and based on the port of embarkation. Some itineraries require all passengers to take a pre-boarding rapid Antigen test, along with another one mid-cruise.
  • UnCruise Adventures: The cruise line is requiring that all passengers receive a negative PCR/molecular COVID-19 test result prior to embarkation — four days in Alaska and three days for Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, and Mexico. UnCruise Adventures will not visit destinations with low vaccination rates, either.
  • Viking Ocean Cruises: Testing is a priority aboard all six Viking Ocean ships, which have onboard PCR testing labs. All passengers and crew will be tested upon embarkation as well as every day onboard using non-invasive, saliva-based tests.
  • Virgin Voyages: All passengers are required to take a rapid Antigen test at the terminal prior to boarding the ship. 
  • Windstar: In addition to any pre-travel PCR testing required by the country of embarkation, Windstar passengers are required to take a rapid Antigen test in the terminal and produce a negative test result before boarding. 

Crew Vaccination and Testing is Also a Priority Aboard Most Ships.

The cruise lines have been ambitious in getting their onboard staff fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Most ships also have testing protocols for crew members, all of whom are required to wear masks.

Testing varies widely, but examples include daily saliva-based PCR testing aboard all 930-passenger Viking ships and testing at least every two weeks aboard Virgin Voyages' 2,770-passenger Scarlet Lady.

Can Unvaccinated Passengers Take a Cruise? 

Cruise lines that allow unvaccinated guests (including children not yet authorized to be vaccinated and those medically exempt from vaccination) are requiring them to undergo additional onboard testing — often at an additional cost.

Some lines exempt kids from the cost and offer travel/medical insurance that covers COVID-19. Unvaccinated passengers may also be prohibited from participating in specific shore excursions, dependent on the port.

Are Ships Sailing at Full Capacity?

In turn, this creates more space per passenger, allowing social distancing protocols to be more easily implemented. Additionally, some onboard activities that previously required venues to be filled to capacity have been scaled back or moved outdoors. 

Onboard Cleaning & Air Filtration Have Been Enhanced on Cruise Ships.

Cruise lines have invested in updates — such as high-efficiency HEPA filters, air-conditioning systems, ultraviolet germicidal radiation, and enhanced cleaning protocols — that have made ships more sanitary.

Social Distancing and Preventative Behaviors Are Encouraged on Cruise Ships.

Although diligence varies by cruise line, most crew members are instructed to enforce social distancing guidelines in indoor public venues. This can range from the number of passengers allowed to dine or drink at the same table to capacity restrictions in shops, spas, and other indoor venues.

In general, ship staff members either require or encourage passengers to wear masks indoors when social distancing cannot be maintained.

Passengers Can Enhance The Safety of Their Own Cruise Experience.

Cruisers can and should use their own best judgment to decide what is comfortable for them. This includes wearing masks in settings even when they aren't required, drinking and dining outdoors (with the occasional room service, too), avoiding crowded indoor environments (such as large dining rooms or theaters), making frequent use of the onboard hand-sanitizing stations, and keeping a distance from others. In combination with the cruise lines' efforts, these personal acts of responsibility can go a long way to creating a safe cruise environment for everyone onboard.

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