March 20, 2020
(4:45 p.m. EDT) -- Due to the coronavirus pandemic, most major cruise lines have temporarily ceased operations around the world. Prior to halting sailings, a handful of major lines adopted strict boarding protocols for passengers 70 and older, who -- in addition to passing health and temperature screenings at the port -- were required to obtain doctor's notes clearing them of any chronic medical conditions.
Although these policies are moot while ships are not in service, cruisers have been left scratching their heads about whether age-specific rules will still be in place when voyages resume. Below, we answer some of the related questions we've received here at Cruise Critic.
The following cruise lines implemented age restrictions requiring anyone 70 or older to present a doctor's clearance, stating that the passenger does not have chronic medical problems, such as diabetes, cancer, HIV/AIDS, or chronic heart, lung, liver or kidney disease:
Carnival said it does not yet know because the situation continues to evolve.
"We will share our policies and guidance once they're finalized," a representative from the line told Cruise Critic."We apologize for the confusion, but these are unprecedented times with information changing rapidly."
A spokesman for Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. -- which operates Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity, Azamara and Silversea -- had a similar response.
"We are assessing developments constantly and will update these measures as needed. Guests with questions may contact the customer care departments of our individual cruise lines or their travel professionals."
To protect the cruising public, many policies -- temperature checks for all passengers, the banning of cruisers with passports from certain countries, etc. -- were implemented specifically for coronavirus. Similar to those rules, it's likely the age restrictions were not intended to be permanent, even if they do remain in place upon the initial restart of operations. Cruise Critic is following the situation and will update this story accordingly.
Following a spate of coronavirus outbreaks on cruise ships, the U.S. Department of State and the Centers for Disease Control issued a statement advising all Americans to avoid cruising. The age restrictions were put in place to urge the government to reconsider that recommendation.
More specifically, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), which lobbies on behalf of member cruise lines, submitted a proposal to address several points of concern, including the protection of older passengers -- particularly those at higher risk due to chronic health issues.
CLIA did not provide Cruise Critic with a copy of the proposal when asked about cruise lines' implementation of age restrictions, but it did confirm that age restrictions were included in the proposal.
"In our meeting with Vice President Mike Pence on March 7th, he placed great emphasis on protecting the most vulnerable populations, which include travelers of a certain age and those with chronic health conditions, as specified by the CDC," CLIA told Cruise Critic in a statement. "We believe the plan that we submitted, which included asking seniors to present a doctor's note at boarding, is responsive to those concerns."
The plan submitted by CLIA to the U.S. Government resulted in the State Department's and CDC's loosening of the directive for Americans not to cruise. Instead, they specified that elderly travelers and passengers with ongoing medical conditions should avoid cruising.
Since then, CLIA member cruise lines have announced full or partial suspension of voyages on 99.6 percent of the organization's 277 oceangoing member vessels, but the CDC continues to waffle on its recommendations for whether or not passengers should cruise.
If you're unable to sail due to age restrictions or health conditions, you have options. Most cruise lines have relaxed their usual cancellation policies to accommodate affected passengers.
For its part, Carnival is allowing cruisers with scheduled departure dates between May and September 2020 to cancel up to 30 days prior to their sailing for a future cruise certificate that can be used to rebook a cruise within one year of the original voyage. Passengers with questions can reach out to Carnival directly or contact their travel agents.
A letter from Royal Caribbean International to passengers booked on upcoming sailings reads, "If you are unable to provide a 'fit to travel' letter from your doctor or if you have a severe, chronic medical condition, please contact us or your travel advisor immediately, and we'll provide you with a future cruise credit to come back and sail with us a later time."
The cruise lines' offers of future cruise credit indicate that, at this time, they don't intend to permanently restrict older passengers with health conditions from sailing.