No Vaccine? No Problem, Cruise Lines Say

As of September 6, unvaccinated travelers will no longer need to show evidence of vaccination to board Carnival cruises less than 16 nights

The Independence of the Seas cruise ship off the coast of the Cayman Islands.
Josiah Weiss/Unsplash

It’s no exaggeration to say that cruise lines were among the heaviest, and earliest, impacted by the pandemic. In fact, in January 2020, the Diamond Princess — a Carnival cruise liner, departed from Yokohama, Japan — was one of the first publicized coronavirus outbreaks outside of Wuhan.

It’s the most likely reason why the CDC was so reluctant to roll back the risk assessment on cruise travel — it wasn’t until March of 2022 that the “COVID-19 Cruise Ship Travel Health Notice,” was officially dropped, putting them lightyears behind other sectors of the industry in terms of a road to recovery. That said, a new update to protocols across several of the major cruise liners may help expedite things.

According to a new report from Travel + Leisure, Carnival Cruise Line will become the latest “to simplify vaccine requirements or streamline testing rules.” In simpler terms: effective September 6, unvaccinated travelers will no longer need to be vaccinated to to board cruises less than 16 nights. Further, vaccinated passengers will no longer need to show proof of a negative test prior to embarking (unvaccinated travelers will need a negative PCR or antigen test taken within three days of embarkation).

“Our ships have been sailing very full all summer, but there is still room for more of our loyal guests, and these guidelines will make it a simpler process, and make cruising accessible for those who were not able to meet the protocols we were required to follow for much of the past 14 months,” Christine Duffy, the president of Carnival Cruise Line, said in a statement. Royal Caribbean and Princess Cruises have announced similar updates.

But, at risk of putting a damper on this no doubt momentous day, I’d be remiss not to mention that there seems to be… quite a bit of risk still associated with cruises. Like, arguably the most risk. So much so that, at the start of this year, the CDC was encouraging even vaccinated passengers to steer clear of them.

Of course, a lot has changed since the onset of the pandemic and it would be unfair to hold the cruise industry to the same standards we did two years ago, or to discredit all they’ve accomplished in terms of onboard health and safety measures since, but to scrap virtually all precautions feels a bit insidious… if for no other reason than in January, all 92 cruise ships carrying passengers in U.S. waters had recorded outbreaks of COVID onboard and that was with said precautions in place.

At some point, however, you have to let people choose. And as one cruiser infamously put it, they felt “safer on the cruise than in Walmart,” which is certainly… a metric.


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