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15 Burning Questions About U.S. Cruise Vaccine Requirements

Fran Golden
Senior Editor, News and Features
Aaron Saunders

Jun 16, 2021

Read time
7 min read

Vaccines are likely to be a part of the cruise experience from now on -- at least, overseas. Plenty of cruises departing from foreign homeports require proof of vaccination against COVID-19 for all eligible passengers -- and some lines have gone so far as to say that even those who can't be vaccinated yet, like children, are unwelcome at this time.

Things are less clear for cruises departing from U.S. homeports, where vaccine requirements can shift depending on sailing and destination. Voyages out of Seattle to Alaska will require passengers to provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19, as will select small-ship and river cruise operators like American Queen Steamboat Company and UnCruise.

Sailings out of Florida get more complicated, with passengers being encouraged, rather than required, to present proof of vaccination. Under Florida state law, businesses are prohibited from asking any patron for proof of vaccination, with a penalty of up to $5,000 per person for each infraction.

So where does that leave cruises? Here's what we know so far -- and the burning questions about vaccination mandates we're still trying to clear up:

1. What counts as proof of vaccination?

So far, it looks like it's up to each cruise line. Alaska cruises departing from Seattle will require you to show proof of vaccination in the form of the original vaccination card, as will many cruises in the Caribbean that depart from non-U.S. homeports.

2. At what point do I have to show my vaccine card?

Again, this will likely vary from line to line. Chances are good most lines will require you to upload a copy of this as part of the digital check-in process, many will probably ask for it at embarkation. Sailing out of St. Maarten and Athens, Celebrity, for example has required passengers to bring their original vaccine card. Representatives take pictures of it at check-in. Sailing out of Nassau, Royal Caribbean required original vaccine cards; these were scanned at the port prior to embarkation.

3. Can I show a picture, or a printout, of my vaccine card?

It depends on the line -- most say no to printouts and photos, but a few, like American Queen Steamboat Company, say copies are acceptable.

4. Do I need to note that I am vaccinated at time of booking?

That's still being worked out. For the moment, no. Passengers should familiarize themselves with the current restrictions for each cruise line and destination, and ensure they meet those before booking. If the cruise line says unvaccinated children aren't allowed, don't try to book the family onboard -- at least right now.

5. Why do I still have to have a PCR test if I can show I’ve been vaccinated?

This is up to the individual cruise line, and most are employing PCR testing as an additional safeguard. It is also dictated by the countries the cruise visits. For example, passengers have to have a PCR test to enter St. Maarten. Additionally, antigen testing is being employed prior to return to the United States, as currently mandated for all travelers (even American citizens) seeking to re-enter the country.

6. If everyone onboard is vaccinated, will I have to wear a mask and social distance?

It’s up to the cruise line what mask and social distancing requirements are onboard ships where everyone is 100 percent vaccinated. If you are embarking from a U.S. port, under current CDC rules everyone must wear a mask within the terminal -- or any other transportation hub. Additionally, guests will decide their own level of comfort regarding masks; some people will opt to wear them regardless of cruise line requirements.

7. I have young kids and want to sail Carnival in Texas? How does the lottery work?

At this point that is unclear. Carnival says book your cruise and they will let you know later if your kids can come. If that sounds iffy, it is. A maximum allowance of five percent of guests will be unvaccinated, including kids. What is also not clear, with so few kids onboard, is what Camp Ocean kids’ programs will look like -- or if they will even be offered at al.

8. Can I cruise if I am not vaccinated?

It depends on the cruise line and where you are sailing. Norwegian Cruise Line’s initial sailings, until November 1, are open exclusively to vaccinated guests. For sailings out of Florida, some allowance is being made for unvaccinated passengers -- primarily young children that are not eligible for vaccines against COVID-19 yet.

Most cruise lines are encouraging any eligible person to be vaccinated, and may impose additional restrictions on passengers who do not provide proof of vaccination.

9. What will happen if I don’t show proof of vaccination, or if I haven’t been vaccinated?

You may not be allowed to embark. Whether a cruise line allows vaccinated passengers varies between operators and destinations.

Lines that are allowing unvaccinated passengers are doing so largely to accommodate young children, but some provisions will likely be made for adults, too. However, being unvaccinated on a mixed ship with vaccinated passengers will mean additional steps and procedures to follow.

10. If I am not vaccinated, will I be required to do PCR testing or wear masks?

Yes -- and on your dime. Passengers who cannot show proof of vaccination could be required to complete as many as three PCR tests and will be required on most lines to continue to wear masks and practice physical distancing. Several lines, including Royal Caribbean have hinted that the costs for PCR tests will be passed along to the consumer for those who cannot provide proof of vaccination.

11. How does this 95 percent capacity requirement work, anyway?

Good question. We don’t know all the details yet. You would think that the cruise line could just ask guests when they book if they are vaccinated, and require they show their vaccination card at the pier -- to show the 95 percent compliance, based on the CDC rules.

In Florida, however, a new law taking effect on July 1 bars any business in the state from requiring proof of vaccine. The big question becomes: how can a cruise line confirm to the CDC that it is complying with the 95 percent but cannot ask guests if they are vaccinated? Celebrity appears to have a novel approach that makes the answer voluntary.

If you don’t indicate you are vaccinated, you may be restricted from certain areas of the ship. But there remains the question of what cruise lines will do fewer than 95 percent of passengers are vaccinated.

12. My kids are too young to be vaccinated. What should I do? Can I still set sail?

You can set sail on some ships. Always check first with a trusted travel advisor or by calling the cruise line or researching its website. Don't assume just because you can book a cruise that prohibits unvaccinated children does not mean you'll be allowed to set sail.

13. Why are the crew still wearing masks? Are they vaccinated, too?

The CDC is requiring 95 percent of all crew to be vaccinated but nearly every line says they are aiming at 100 percent crew vaccination. Nearly all cruise lines are still having staff members mask up as an extra layer of protection.

14. Will I have to wear a bracelet indicating if I am vaccinated or not?

Likely a bracelet or a device so crew can track anyone breaking the rules. Some cruise lines may track this through their app, or tie vaccination information to your cruise keycard.

15. What will the vaccine requirements be in the fall?

We don’t know yet. The CDC’s Conditional Sailing Order expires October 31, which probably will mean each cruise line sets their own rules after that. A good hint is that Norwegian’s 100 percent vaccination requirement is currently set to expire on November 1, 2021.

*Cruise Critic will update these questions with firm answers as more information is made available. *

Updated June 16, 2021
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