Will COVID vaccines be mandatory for you to go on cruises?

Large cruise ship, which might require a COVID vaccine at some point, docked
Photo via kansasphoto/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
  • This story is regularly updated for relevance. Last updated: May 24, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic all but shut down business for major cruise lines. North American sailings on all major cruise lines have been canceled through May 2021 at least, according to the Points Guy, and cruises will look different when they resume. The CDC now requires passengers to wear face masks, and some cruise lines have said they will require passengers to get a COVID-19 vaccine before boarding cruises. 

Yet, the CDC has said that cruises could possibly resume in the U.S. by July.

English cruise line Saga Cruises announced on Feb. 2 that it will require passengers to provide proof of vaccination before boarding when it resumes operations in May 2021. American cruise lines American Queen Steamboat Company and Victory Cruise Lines recently announced they would be following course, requiring passengers to get vaccinated before traveling. 

“Vaccination requirements for both our guests and crew is the most prudent next step to ensure that we are providing the safest cruising experience possible,” CEO and founder of American Queen Steamboat Company John Waggoner told Cruise Critic

In late May, three lines owned by Carnival (Carnival, Princess, and Holland) announced they would begin sailing in July with only passengers who had been fully vaccinated.

A number of other cruise lines are also exploring vaccination requirements. The CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings—the parent company of Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, and Regent Seven Seas Cruises—said in early April that all passengers and crew would have to be vaccinated at least two weeks before they set sail.

“That one-two punch is ironclad,” Frank Del Rio told USA Today. “No one can argue that being on a cruise ship under those conditions is not the safest place on Earth.”

In mid-February, Crystal cruise line said each passenger would need to be fully vaccinated at least 14 days before their ship sets sail. In early March, Royal Caribbean announced that fully vaccinated cruises would begin leaving from Israel later in 2021. In late March, American Cruise Lines, a river cruise operator, also began requiring its passengers to have the vaccine.

For what it’s worth, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis doesn’t think cruise lines should have the ability to require vaccinations for their customers. As a result, it’s possible Norwegian pulls its business out of Florida.

Disney, meanwhile, isn’t even bothering to deal with vaccinated or unvaccinated customers—on Feb. 24, it announced it had canceled all sailings at least through the end of May.

In late February, multiple companies ended up canceling their Alaskan cruises for all of 2021, because Canada will not allow any cruise ship to sail into its waters until at least March 2022.

It’s not just cruise lines that might require COVID vaccinations for passengers to sail. Del Rio said various companies in the travel industry are looking at utilizing a vaccine passport for passengers, and when Joe Biden took office, he took action to make sure people who left the U.S. needed a negative COVID test to return to the country.

In mid-May, the CDC said vaccinated people could mostly take off their masks while indoors or outdoors, and that includes cruise ships.

Cruise Critic, the world’s biggest online cruise site, surveyed 3,000 readers to find out their opinions on a vaccine mandate. It found 81% of its audience would continue to travel with a vaccine mandate, and only 5% said they wouldn’t travel if they had to get vaccinated. The remaining 14% were undecided.

It is unlikely that all cruise lines will require vaccinations. Vaccine passports will likely be required on more upscale cruise lines, but it’s less likely they will be required for travel with a mass-market brand, according to Truist analyst Patrick Scholes.

Cruises will have to evaluate if they would gain more customers by requiring a COVID-19 vaccine than they would lose without a requirement. Scholes said potential vaccine requirements will depend on how safe passengers feel traveling. Some travelers oppose a vaccine mandate, but many others like the idea and would feel safer traveling if a mandate was imposed. 

“We have to build confidence in our customers and among ourselves that it’s safe to cruise,” Del Rio said.

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Sources: The Points Guy, Traveling Lifestyle, Travel and Leisure, Travel Pulse

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