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Cruise ship COVID rules are changing as unvaccinated passengers now allowed

Guests from both the Carnival Freedom and Mardi Gras cruise ships went ashore as scheduled on Grand Turk on Thursday, May 26, 2022, despite a fire in Freedom's funnel earlier in the morning.    (Carnival Cruise Line/Carnival Cruise Line/TNS)
By Anna Jean Kaiser Miami Herald

The biggest changes to public health protocols on cruise ships since cruising restarted last summer during the pandemic are taking effect in early September, when most cruise lines leaving from U.S. ports will allow unvaccinated passengers. Many of them also are loosening coronavirus preboarding testing requirements.

Consumers planning cruise vacations should be sure to closely read the pending new rules for individual cruise operators. Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention backed away from regulating cruise ships earlier this year, individual cruise companies have made their own policies, causing confusion among some travelers.

We compiled a list of the new COVID-19 rules for the most popular global cruise lines, many of whom are based in South Florida.

Carnival Cruise Line: Starting Sept. 6, unvaccinated passengers will be allowed on Carnival cruises that are less than 16 days, but they must show a negative antigen virus test taken within three days of cruise departure. Passengers with vaccination proof don’t need a test. Children under age 5 are exempt from all vaccine and testing requirements.

Norwegian Cruise Line: Starting Sept. 3, passengers with no inoculations will be allowed on NCL ships with proof of a negative, medically supervised PCR or antigen test done within 72 hours of boarding. Vaccinated passengers and travelers age 11 or younger don’t need a virus test before cruising.

Royal Caribbean: Starting Sept. 5, cruise ships leaving from U.S. ports will not require vaccination. Passengers who are not vaccinated must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days before a voyage departs. Vaccinated guests do not need to test.

Holland America: Starting Sept. 6, Holland America, which is owned by Carnival Corp., will allow passengers who haven’t been inoculated, as long as they show proof of a negative virus test (medically supervised or at-home) taken within three days of cruising. Vaccinated people will not need to show a negative test for cruises that are shorter than 16 days.

Celebrity Cruises: Starting Sept 5, Celebrity Cruises, which is owned by Royal Caribbean, will welcome unvaccinated passengers who have tested negative for COVID-19 within three days of a ship’s departure. Vaccinated passengers don’t need the test for cruises that are less than nine nights.

Princess Cruises: Beginning Sept. 6, people with no virus shots can board Princess ships with a negative test done within three days, either a medically supervised PCR or a self-done antigen test. Vaccinated passengers don’t have to show the negative test. The Princess line also is owned by Carnival.

Other options to sail

MSC Cruises: European brand MSC Cruises, which has been expanding in South Florida, will continue to require proof of vaccination for passengers over age 12. Starting Aug. 29, the line will drop its virus testing requirement for vaccinated people, but still require a negative COVID-19 test for unvaccinated children ages 2 to 11.

Disney Cruise Line: Passengers on Disney still also need to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination and a negative virus test.

Virgin Voyages: Richard Branson’s new cruise line for adults is allowing only 10% of passengers to be unvaccinated on individual voyages. People who aren’t inoculated and would like to sail can book through Virgin Voyages’ customer service representatives. For the other 90% of passengers on each cruise, proof of vaccination is required, but a COVID-19 test is not.

Things to keep in mind

—The relaxed public health rules and requirements are for cruises leaving U.S. ports. Check with your cruise line, if you’re departing on a trip from another country.

—All of the changes to vaccination and test mandates are subject to local regulations, so cruise lines recommend passengers bring vaccination cards with them. That means the testing and inoculation requirements in the ports of call that your cruise will visit remain in effect. For example, certain popular ports of call are keeping a proof of vaccination rule for passengers, including Canada, Bermuda, Australia and Greece.

—Review your respective cruise line’s policies about what happens, if you test positive for COVID-19 while traveling on a ship. Some companies will cover your hotel and return travel, if you need to quarantine at the home port after a cruise, but others don’t.