For American families looking to cruise this summer, options will be far more limited than in the past. Some cruise ships are returning and welcoming young children onboard -- including during the July and August school vacation period.
Royal Caribbean, Carnival, MSC Cruises, Celebrity and Disney will all have ships sailing from the U.S. and open to families with young children (with testing requirements in place). Others have vaccine requirements that will prevent children who are too young to be vaccinated at this time from sailing.
Add to that a limited number of ships and homeports back up and running as a whole -- plus the potential for destinations to implement their own vaccine requirements, even if the cruise line does not -- and choices are certainly a lot more limited than in the past.
That being said, cruising remains an overall value for families and with limited capacity onboard in summer 2021, there may be fewer crowds and lines onboard too. The cruise lines will be using their private islands, such as Perfect Day at CocoCay and Castaway Cay, which have waterparks and family attractions. Usually those islands can be quite busy, so having more space to yourself might be ideal.
It's more important than ever for families with kids to understand the specific protocols of the cruise ship you're considering. Beyond requirements being announced for full cruise line fleets, requirements can also vary from ship to ship -- and even state to state. So be sure you're familiar with both vaccine and testing requirements of the ship you're sailing on -- and the state you're sailing from.
You will also want to ask specifically which kid-friendly facilities will be open during your sailing. Cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean have indicated they will open kids' clubs even with fewer youngsters expected onboard. You'll want to research in advance rules for waterslides and video arcades and other attractions -- some may require masks.
Also be aware of the policies onboard and ashore for ships that are welcoming non-vaccinated guests, as most have said there will be a different set of protocols for unvaccinated guests. While those protocols have yet to be announced, we can likely expect things like masking, testing, distancing and potentially areas onboard limited to only those who are vaccinated. Destinations could also have varying policies for guests who are vaccinated, compared to those who are not. Which, for families, would be something to be sure you're aware of in advance.
Here is thecurrent list of all lines sailing from U.S. ports which are welcoming families (we will update this article as the lines release more information).
Carnival has so far announced two ships returning to service that will welcome a limited number of unvaccinated kids under age 12 onboard (everyone age 12 and up needs to be fully vaccinated to board), Carnival Vista and Carnival Breeze, both sailing from Galveston, Texas.
Based on CDC requirements, the line plans to sail with 95 percent of guests vaccinated -- which means kids and anyone else who is unable to be vaccinated would fill only 5 percent of passenger capacity. The line said it would institute an online lottery system for families with young kids hoping to get onboard.
So far for the other six Carnival ships returning to sailing from US ports this summer -- specifically ports in Florida, Seattle (for Alaska cruises) and Long Beach, Calif. (for Mexican Riviera itineraries), the indication is only vaccinated guests will be allowed onboard, though that could change.
Celebrity Cruises has announced a three-ship restart from the U.S. and will be the first line to restart cruising from the U.S. with Celebrity Edge due to set sail on June 26 from Fort Lauderdale. This will be followed by Celebrity Summit, which will operate a new series of four-and-five-night sailings to the Caribbean and the Bahamas beginning September 2, 2021 from Miami. And Celebrity Millennium will head to Alaska in September.
The line will require a minimum of 95 percent of all passengers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. All passengers over 16 years of age must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 at least two weeks prior to departure. As of August 1, 2021, all passengers over 12 years of age will be required to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination before being allowed to board.
Royal Caribbean also has vaccine policies that vary by ship and departure port and will impact the family crowd. The line plans to have a dozen ships sailing in August, including its newest ship Odyssey of the Seas out of Fort Lauderdale on July 31. Of these, vaccines will not be required -- though highly recommended -- on many US sailings, though they will be required for anyone age 16 and up (which switches to 12 and up on August 1) on Alaska itineraries.
Even without the vaccine requirement the line said it still expects about 90 percent of guests to be vaccinated. Unvaccinated adult travelers will be required to pay for PCR testing; there will be no charge for testing unvaccinated kids.
Here are the current requirements:
Cruises from Florida: It is strongly recommended that guests set sail fully vaccinated, if they are eligible. Those who are unvaccinated or unable to verify vaccination will be required to undergo testing and follow other protocols at their own expense. These expenses are still being finalized. Based on our guest survey’s, we expect 90% of all our guests to be fully vaccinated
Cruises from Texas: Guests who are 12 years of age or older must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19
Cruises from Seattle to Alaska: Passengers aged 16 and above must be full vaccinated (this drops to age 12 from August 1).
Disney has one ship that has been approved for a test cruise, Disney Dream, which will be running its simulated voyage from June 29 to July 1, 2021 from Port Canaveral. If all goes well, it is expected to resume revenue sailings on August 9, 2021. The ship will resume its popular itineraries to its private island in The Bahamas, Castaway Cay.
Disney has not yet announced its vaccination requirements. If however, it follows the same guidelines it has announced for its UK "seacation" sailings, the line will require all over-18s to be vaccinated.
Norwegian Gem will kickstart the line's return to service from the U.S. on August 15, sailing weeklong itineraries to the Caribbean from Miami. Norwegian Breakaway will begin sailing to Bermuda from New York, starting September 26.
All the ships are sailing with 100 percent of passengers vaccinated, through October. Older kids who have been vaccinated will be included in the mix.
MSC Cruises plans to return to Miami with MSC Meraviglia, with a series of three- and four-night sailings beginning on August 2, 2021 -- and weeklong sailings beginning September 18, 2021.
MSC Divina will also launch sailings from Port Canaveral in September. All itineraries will include a call on MSC's private island, Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve. The line plans test cruises, an indication that it plans to carry less than 95 percent vaccinated passengers onboard -- which leaves room for unvaccinated kids (as well as adults) in the mix.
Those who are not vaccinated will, according to the line, be subject to additional requirements and restrictions, such as additional testing, and other measures that are yet to be announced.