Since the restart of cruising began in earnest in 2021 following the global pandemic, pre-cruise COVID-19 testing has been a mandatory part of the embarkation experience. Line had, in the past, required passengers to produce proof of a negative COVID-19 rapid antigen test or a more thorough PCR test.
But with the removal of the requirement for travelers to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test in order to enter (or re-enter) the United States, and other countries like Canada following suit in scrapping their own on-arrival testing requirements, cruise lines have begun doing likewise -- slowly.
Which Cruise Lines No Longer Require a Pre-Departure COVID-19 Test?
Viking became the first major line to do away with testing requirement in early June. After requiring passengers to perform daily COVID-19 tests and pre-embarkation tests, the line announced in mid-June that it will no longer require either.
"Effective immediately, Viking will discontinue all on board COVID testing fleetwide," Viking said in a statement.
"Viking highly recommends, but no longer requires, a pre-departure COVID-19 test –-- unless one is required by the destination."
Viking notes passengers onboard Viking Orion and Viking Octantis departing from ports in the U.S. and Canada will still need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test prior to embarkation, as health authorities in both countries set that requirement.
COVID-19 testing is still available onboard Viking's ships for those passengers' exhibiting symptoms. Viking is the only cruise line to have built dedicated PCR testing laboratories onboard its oceangoing ships.
British line P&O Cruises followed suit on June 24 -- on selected sailings on one ship, it's newest and biggest, Iona.
Passengers will not need to take a COVID test before boarding Iona on June 25, July 2, July 9, July 16, and July 23, which are all Norwegian fjords cruises to and from Southampton. All passengers aged 12 and over must be fully vaccinated and those aged 16 and over must have received a booster jab.
The line stated taking a pre-COVID test applied for all other sailings, but that the rule could change on future sailings.
Will Other Cruise Lines Stop Requiring Pre-Departure COVID-19 Tests?
Right now, cruise lines that operate outside of the United States and Canada could stop requiring pre-cruise COVID-19 testing, in accordance with local regulations. In North America, stopping the requirement depends heavily on the decisions of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada - or PHAC, as it is known north of the border, takes some, but not all, of its cues from what happens Stateside.
Were the CDC to drop the pre-cruise testing requirement, it is likely Canadian officials would follow suit sooner rather than later, particularly after the government moved to once again allow unvaccinated individuals to board domestic flights and trains throughout the country.
With the removal of the testing requirement to enter the United States for vaccinated travelers, it is likely that, at some point, this restriction -- the only one of its kind in existence in the travel industry -- will soon be a thing of the past.
What About Other Health and Safety Requirements?
Other health and safety requirements aren't going anywhere, regardless of whether a negative test is mandated at embarkation.
Masks are once again being required in interior spaces of Holland America Line and Princess cruise ships headed to Alaska, following rising cases on land in that state. Proof of vaccination is also not likely going anywhere, as vaccination helps prevent severe outcomes for those who do happen to fall ill with COVID-19 while onboard.
But the removal of the pre-departure test -- long a source of anxiety among cruisers -- helps the industry get back on its feet and removes a burdensome cost for passengers looking to set sail. That's bad news for the cottage industry of pre-testing sites and kits that have sprung up over the last year and a half, but good news for those looking to travel in 2022.
Cruise Critic has reached out to the CDC for comment on its pre-cruise testing requirements, and will update this feature as more information becomes available.