As the list of cruise lines and destinations requiring proof of vaccination against COVID-19 grows, it's time to start considering not only how you'll provide that proof, but also how you'll go about safeguarding your documentation and personal information on your next cruise.
It can be as simple as paperclipping your paper CDC card inside your passport, or as elaborate as buying a snazzy new passport holder designed specifically for today’s traveler -- with a clear pocket just for the vaccine card. (You know you've been waiting for a reason to treat yourself to a faux leather document holder; maybe the time has arrived.)
To help you decide what you'll need to show and how to go about it, we dug into the cruise line health and safety requirements and turned to the Cruise Critic message boards for ideas and advice from those who have recently returned from summer 2021 cruises. Here's what we know.
1. What You Need to Show
Paper still rules for North American citizens
It may feel like we've reverted to 1968, carrying around the flimsy, not-very-secure, four-by-three piece of paper provided to most people in the U.S. as proof of our vaccination status, but it is the main thing everyone will want to lay their eyes and hands on throughout your trip. Keep your CDC original CDC card handy, and guard it as you would a passport.
Other paper options
Those who got early vaccines or were vaccinated in places where the cards were not available may have their documentation on a standard 8.5" x 11" page of paper. Cruise Critic members report success in most cases returning to their vaccination clinic for a replacement with the standard CDC card.
These paper printouts, unwieldy as they are, will still work as proof of vaccination status if no card is available in your area.
You may also use a signed statement from your physician and even a printout from national pharmacy chains, if you were vaccinated there, like the one Walmart provides, complete with a QR code.
It's important to note that all these papers should contain the same name as your passport and should have your birthdate displayed for identification verification purposes. To be valid for travel, most cruise lines will require that these printouts display which vaccine you were given, and the dates of your first and second doses.
Apps are also a good backup plan
Some cities, states, and healthcare providers have digital apps designed to show your proof of vaccination. But because they aren't coordinated by one entity (like the CDC) these are all best left as backups for U.S. and Canadian citizens.
For U.S. citizens, there are also free apps from Clear and CommonPass that provide you with digital proof of vaccination. Clear has partnered with several airlines and entertainment venues, providing scannable QR codes that speed up the queues where they are being used. Unfortunately, no cruise line has yet partnered with either company, so none have announced that these third-party digital docs are acceptable.
Photos are great for your peace of mind, but aren't likely to be accepted as proof
Snap a photo of your CDC card or valid documentation as a backup, just don’t assume it will be good enough to get you onboard a cruise ship or off it in some countries.
If your country uses digital proof or vaccine passports, the cruise lines want that
If you live in a country where digital vaccine documentation is standardized by the government and required where you live, it will also be acceptable by the cruise lines.
2. Where You'll Need to Show Proof of Vaccination
At the ticket counter or departure gate if your flight is international
If you are flying domestically to your departure, you probably won’t be asked for proof of vaccination. But if you fly internationally, the airlines will require you to show whatever the destination country requires before you can board your flight -- in most cases this is verified at check-in, or at the departure gate if you're connecting onward. So, if you are flying to Barbados, for example, the airline at your departure airport will require proof of vaccine and required test result before you board.
The cruise line health team will review your vaccine document, test status, and health questionnaire before allowing you to proceed with embarkation. Have your documents ready and in-hand with your passport or ID.
Disembarkation in some ports
There may be countries that require all passengers to show their vaccine documentation as they enter the cruise terminal. Your cruise line will let you know when this is necessary.
Possibly in some businesses or attractions in ports
Some countries, states and provinces have rules that require people going into museums or eating inside restaurants to be vaccinated. Carry your card or documents safely with you in port in case need to flash businesses and attractions some vaccine love, as they have no way to know that you arrived for the day onboard fully vaccinated cruise ship.
On arrival in your home country
If your cruise departs from outside the United States (or if you are an international citizen travelling to the U.S. for a cruise), be prepared to show your vaccination documentation to border officials upon returning home. Doing so is still the only way to bypass quarantine rules in many countries.
3. How to Protect Your Documents
To laminate or not to laminate
This has been a hot topic since the first card was handed over in the beginning of the vaccination process. Lamination seems logical for protection purposes but makes adding subsequent shots to the same card a challenge. Cruise Critic members report successfully having second and booster shots recorded on top of the lamination using a Sharpie marker, but why run the risk of that rubbing off with all those handoffs?
Sleeves and holders
An inexpensive method of protection that preserves the integrity of the paper card for future jabs is a 4" x 3" clear plastic pouch-- like a name badge holder at a convention. These are easy to find at office supply stores or online. Some even come with a lanyard. And think how much easier that little sleeve is to sanitize if someone else must handle your card.
The same principle can be used if your documentation is a full-size sheet of paper. Another option for docs of all sizes for those who keep their travel itineraries and docs in a folder is to buy adhesive index card holders. Stick these to the inside of the folder and you'll never worry about where your card is.
And as we mentioned, the market has exploded with a variety of combo passport and vaccine card holders if that sort of thing floats your boat. Because we are already pretty good at keeping up with our passports when we cruise, the idea of keeping your vax card and passport together for safekeeping is a valid one, even if all you do is use a paperclip.
Copy, copy, copy
As with almost any important document you need for travel, it is a good idea to have copies and/or photos of your vaccine proof, just in case the worst happens, and your card is destroyed or lost during your cruise.
Don’t share those photos
Perhaps the most important tip for safekeeping your information, besides keeping it in your possession, is to keep the photos to yourself. It sounds fun to snap a selfie with your prized vax card as you board your first cruise in more than a year, but the consensus is that because it contains valuable information that could be the missing piece of the puzzle an identity thief needs to create a fake you, it's best to leave the card out of the photo.