While cruise lines have made their long-awaited return to the seas during the past 12 months, the COVID-19 rollercoaster continues to hit ups and downs that still affect the industry in what feels like an ongoing case of deja vu.
This year has seen an increasing number of cruise lines fully return to service, while also moving to scale back or remove capacity restrictions onboard ships. Moreover, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxed its stance regarding the use of masks in early March, cruise lines began rolling back this requirement, telling passengers the decision to mask -- or not -- was up to them.
However, upticks in COVID cases and localized outbreaks have resulted in some cruise lines reconsidering this stance.
Recently, Princess Cruise Lines brought back the mandatory face covering requirement onboard Island Princess out of an abundance of caution. On May 26, the ship embarked on an 18-night itinerary from Fort Lauderdale to Southampton. The line provided passengers with complimentary KN95 masks to comply with the updated requirement.
A similar recommendation was made aboard Holland America’s Rotterdam, where it was reported on Cruise Critic’s forums that during the ship’s May 24 sailing, passengers were informed on embarkation that masks would be required for the duration of the voyage.
RIght now, both Princess and Holland America Line are requesting passengers mask up on select voyages to Alaska due to an increase in the number of shoreside cases in the state.
On June 13, Princess and Holland America Line began notifyng passengers on select Alaska cruises -- primarily north and southbound sailings -- that they would be required to mask when inside indoor areas. A note sent to passengers states those who do not comply with the new order face mandatory disembarkation.
"In an abundance of caution masks are required at all indoor locations on northbound and southbound Alaska voyages between Whittier and Vancouver until further notice," a Princess Cruises representative told Cruise Critic in an email.
Lines note that masks will be required in all tenders, motorcoaches, and other indoor spaces until further notice. Masks are not required when eating or drinking, or in the privacy of your own stateroom.
In addition, both lines strongly urge passengers to mask while ashore.
Most cruise lines are upholding an "up to the passengers’ discretion" policy when it comes to masking, while still recommending that face coverings be used in public areas. Nonetheless, revisions and exceptions to the policies can and do occur, whether specific to certain ships as was the case of Island Princess and Rotterdam or in observance of local regulations.
Royal Caribbean, for instance, informs on their website that all masks are optional, except for sailings departing from Singapore, where guests are required to wear masks indoors at all times.
Norwegian, citing its policy of 100% vaccinated crew and guests ages 12 and over, also takes an optional stance to face coverings, albeit recommending guests to wear masks indoors onboard for added protection. The cruise line also highlights that, while docked in Greek or Italian ports, local authorities require all guests to wear masks indoors onboard the ship.
Carnival joins Royal Caribbean and Norwegian in highly recommending guests to wear masks while indoors, as well as during the entire embarkation and debarkation process (except where required by local authorities) and while on public transportation in a U.S. port. Furthermore, masks are required in the ships’ medical centers.
Cruise Lines are tacitly observing the ongoing threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, recognizing that, while social distancing is more feasible and effective onboard ships than other modes of transportation, no one is immune to sudden outbreaks of the highly contagious virus.
By adhering to optional masks policies while voicing recommendations to mask up, cruise lines walk a tight rope. Face coverings remain a contentious issue with passengers, as pandemic fatigue and frustration increases. Passengers have taken to Cruise Critic’s message boards to voice mixed reactions to mask mandates, with some applauding the added precautions while others bemoaned the discomfort of having to wear a mask at all times while indoors.
"That is the reason we are not booking until we are sure the masks have gone away for good," writes Keksie. "Would hate to have a cruise booked thinking the protocols were to our liking only to have them changed before the cruise."
"I have no problem with the masks," writes deliver42. "Better safe than sorry."
Updated June 14, 2022