With more than 28 million children in the United States age 5-11 now eligible to get the kids’ version of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, there's a better positive outlook for family cruises, perhaps even in time for the holiday sailings.
Most major cruise lines currently require passengers aged 12 and older to be fully vaccinated. Some lines have been welcoming younger kids aboard if they have recent negative COVID-19 test results, while still others have allowed only a limited number of unvaccinated children onboard
The kids’ vaccine can be the game changer for those families that have been waiting to take their children on a cruise. The vaccine, which is one-third the dose given to teens and adults, requires two shots administered three weeks apart. Kids that get their vaccinations out of the way now – or sometime around Thanksgiving --- will be fully covered and eligible for cruising on most lines by Christmas. And, certainly, by spring break.
While no cruise line has put forth a policy yet requiring kids to be vaccinated, cruise lines that have vaccine requirements already have noted that passenger lists can now be more inclusive.
"We have been anxiously awaiting the approval of vaccines for children under 12 so that we can welcome more families back on board, as we sail more children than any other cruise line in the U.S." says AnneMarie Mathews, a Carnival Cruise Line spokesperson.
Carnival's current policy requires that at least 95 percent of the passengers onboard are vaccinated, which has limited the number of unvaccinated kids that can sail. Families with unvaccinated children have had to apply for an exemption. Now more children will fall into the vaccinated category.
"We have announced our intention to operate vaccinated cruises and follow all existing protocols through at least the end of February 2022, so getting children into the fully vaccinated category will allow more of them on board and allow them access to the guest experience our current guests are enjoying," Mathews said.
Both Princess Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line currently require all passengers to be vaccinated, a policy that leaves families with small children out. Both lines have said that extending the vaccine to younger cruisers opens the door for more families.
"Given the CDC news on recommending the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children 5-11 years old, we can now extend vaccinated cruising to this age group who receive this specific vaccination," said Princess Cruises spokeswoman Negin Kamili.
Princess is currently operating vaccinated cruises through at least February 28, 2022, and now kids 5–11 years old will be eligible to sail on these cruises. Through at least February, the policy requires that guest be fully vaccinated at least 14 days prior to the beginning of the cruise and provide proof of vaccination, plus proof of a negative, viral COVID-19 test within two days of departure.
Norwegian Cruise Line’s posted policy notes that for the foreseeable future it is requiring all guests and crew to be fully vaccinated at least two weeks prior to departure. In an earnings call November 3, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings President and CEO Frank Del Rio said that the vaccine requirement would likely be extended "indefinitely."
At the call, Del Rio referred to the vaccine for 5 to 11 year olds, and said that there's a possibility the vaccine age could be lowered to 4 years old in early 2022. The line said in a statement that "given the recent health updates regarding the expansion of the age criteria to receive the vaccination, we look forward to welcoming these younger guests back onboard soon."
Holland American Line went a step further, announcing a new offer that allows fully-vaccinated kids ages 5 to 17 to sail for free as the third and fourth passengers in a stateroom. The offer is valid on select Caribbean and Mexico sailings, including holiday sailings, through May 2022, and must be booked by November 18, 2021.
"Now that kids ages 5 and older can receive the COVID-19 vaccine, getting out and seeing the world is on everyone's mind," said Gus Antorcha, president of Holland America Line. "A multigenerational cruise is the perfect way to return to travel, and we can't wait to welcome our junior guests and feel the excitement as everyone is able to explore the world together again."
Cruise lines that do allow unvaccinated children, such as Royal Caribbean, MSC Cruises and Disney Cruise Lines, have yet to release any updated requirements for passengers aged 5 to 11. It's unclear whether kids will be required to be vaccinated to sail.
Bari Golin-Blaugrund, spokeswoman for Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA, said that the organization’s members are continuing to "evaluate the latest science, requirements and advice of government authorities and public health experts as new developments unfold, including as it relates to the availability and approval of vaccines amongst those aged 5-11."
Some families are being proactive and making plans. A recent survey of Virtuoso travelers asked: "Are you more likely to travel as a family now that the CDC recommends the Pfizer vaccine for kids ages 5-11?" and 62% said yes.
On the Cruise Critic message boards, members are making appointments. "Got our boys booked at Walgreens for Saturday and then 11/27. I will be so relieved come 12/11 (the cruise date) when they have full vaccine protection. It’s been a long time coming," said **pyrateslife4me8 **on a thread on the Royal Caribbean board.
Some members speculated that parents may be hesitant to get their children vaccinated, and worried that a vaccine requirement for kids would force them to cancel their upcoming cruises. Other members noted that if outside destinations such as The Bahamas start requiring vaccines for kids, the lines will have to follow.
Others were simply relieved.
"I am excited for a couple reasons that the vaccines were approved," said KimA75. "We were able to get a booking for vaccines this Saturday, which will have them completely vaccinated by our December 12 cruise, with one or two days extra time. I am assuming we will be able to book outside excursions, or just get off the ship, because we will all be vaccinated. Only one test for the kids instead of three. I am happy about this one."