After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ended its COVID-19 cruise ship program last month, many cruise lines changed their health and safety protocols and dropped some testing requirements.
Major companies like Royal Caribbean Group and brands like Carnival Cruise Line rolled back their COVID-19 rules and removed testing for vaccinated passengers on some voyages, while other lines scrapped them for all sailings.
Tests are still required in a number of cases, though. Policies may vary depending on local requirements at various destinations. Here’s what passengers need to know about cruise protocols, from testing to face masks and social distancing.
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When do cruise lines still require COVID-19 testing?
►Carnival Cruise Line will require testing for vaccinated passengers 2 years and older only on sailings six days or longer as of Aug. 4, according to its website. Guests can test up to three days before their voyage.
Unvaccinated passengers 2 years and older will need to provide proof of negative test results from a test taken within three days of embarkation for any sailing. They will also need to have a vaccine exemption if they are age 5 and older.
►Royal Caribbean Group will require testing for vaccinated guests only on trips lasting six nights or more beginning Aug. 8. Unvaccinated guests will need to test for all sailings, a spokesperson told USA TODAY via email. Passengers will need to test within three days of embarkation.
►Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. previously announced in July that it would drop pre-cruise testing where local rules allowed, but the rule change did not apply to the U.S. Norwegian Cruise Line is still requiring tests for sailings from the U.S., a spokesperson told USA TODAY.
Vaccinated guests age 2 and older must show a negative test taken within two or three days of embarkation depending on the type of test, per Norwegian’swebsite, or proof of recovery from COVID. Unvaccinated passengers between ages 2 and 11 need to have a negative NAAT test taken within three days of embarkation, in addition to antigen testing at both embarkation and disembarkation (NCL covers the cost of the antigen testing).
Passengers 12 and up who are not vaccinated are not permitted to sail.
►On sailings from the U.S., MSC Cruises requires tests for fully vaccinated passengers sailing on trips six nights or longer and for all unvaccinated passengers age 2 or older, regardless of trip length, according to a press release. Tests must be taken within three days of embarkation. The cruise line recommends guests test within one day of the the trip when possible.
►Princess Cruises requires fully vaccinated passengers age 5 and older to take an antigen test within two days of their trip, or a PCR test within three days, according to the cruise line’s website. Passengers who have also received booster doses can take an antigen test within three days or a PCR test within the same time frame.
Passengers who are not fully vaccinated will need a PCR test within three days of sailing, as well as an antigen test at the terminal and a vaccine exemption.
►Holland America Line requires all guests age 2 and older to test before their trip.All guests 12 and up must be vaccinated, according to the cruise line’s website. Passengers between 5 and 11 can also be unvaccinated but will need an exemption.
Guests who are up to date on their vaccines and have received a booster when eligible can test within three days before sailing. If they are vaccinated but not up to date, they will need to test within two days.
What kind of COVID-19 tests do cruise lines require?
Cruise lines still set criteria for the tests they accept. Carnival, for instance, requires a “lab-administered or supervised self-administered” PCR or antigen test, per its website, and MSC has similar requirements.
Norwegian Cruise Line also requires an NAAT or antigen test “administered by a verified third party,” according to its website, as well as the additional antigen testing for unvaccinated children. The type of test travelers take can also impact how long they have to test before boarding, so be sure to check the cruise line’s rules.
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What kind of on-board testing requirements do cruise lines have?
Cruise lines still have on-board protocols in place, as well. For its part, Carnival requires passengers who are exposed to or in close contact with anyone who tests positive for COVID or displays symptoms to be tested, along with their close contacts, according to its website. Those passengers may have to quarantine in their rooms until medical staff clears them.
Other cruise lines have similar protocols in place, like Norwegian, which advises passengers who have COVID symptoms while sailing to contact the ship’s medical center, which is equipped to test on board, per its website. Royal Caribbean Group’s namesake brand, Royal Caribbean International, also offers testing to travelers who feel sick, and its medical lab “allows for rapid, accurate onsite PCR testing with results in under an hour, alongside a multitude of other evaluative tests,” its website reads.
What other protocols do cruise lines have in place?
► Masks: Carnival highly recommends guests wear masks in public indoor areas except when eating or drinking, and “when in large congregate events outdoors where physical distancing cannot be maintained,” per its website. The cruise line also recommends masking during embarkation and debarkation and requires masks in the medical center. Crew members also wear masks indoors at all times.
On Royal Caribbean International, masks are optional for passengers who are vaccinated. They are recommended for unvaccinated kids. MSC has a similar policy. On Princess sailings, masks are recommended but not mandatory in most areas of the ship, though the cruise line notes on its website that “you may need to wear them in select venues or certain situations.” Masks are optional on all Norwegian voyages.
►Cleaning: Many cruise lines continue to emphasize heightened cleaning on board. Norwegian, for example, has “enhanced cleaning and sanitation protocols” in place with EPA-approved disinfectants, and is making use of medical-grade air filters, according to its website. Royal Caribbean similarly boosted its cleaning regimen, including cleaning frequently used places like elevators and stairways every two hours. Crew must also take continual training classes and “refreshers,” per its website.
MSC is also utilizing “hospital-grade disinfectants, electrostatic sprayers, increased cleaning frequency and a focus on high-traffic, frequently-touched areas,” according to its website.
►Physical distancing: Cruise lines may recommend social distancing during parts of trips. Royal Caribbean International recommends distancing in select parts of the ship indicated by signage. MSC is also reducing theater capacity to allow for social distancing.
Cruise lines may also change their policies as needed.
“Our member lines continuously monitor health conditions onboard and employ health and safety protocols commensurate with those conditions,” Anne Madison, a spokesperson for Cruise Lines International Association, told USA TODAY in an email. “This may result in cruise lines adjusting protocols when appropriate in consultation with medical and other health experts in order to continue to make science-driven and medically informed decisions.”
Passengers can find more information on ship protocols on their cruise line’s website.