(Updated 12:25 p.m. EDT) – UnCruise Adventures has become the latest cruise line to institute a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for adult passengers and crew to its 2021 guidelines for sailing.
In a letter outlining the protocols, UnCruise Adventures owner Dan Blanchard said the policy has been made because of the "dramatic change in the availability of the vaccines." The change also allows the line's ships to make port call visits to Port Angeles, Washington, and Ketchikan and Sitka in Alaska, he said.
A negative COVID-19 PCR test will also be required to board the line's vessels, taken in the four days prior. The line suggests a Tuesday test for a Saturday embarkation. All children or teens under 17, who are not able to get the vaccine at this time, must also be tested.
The line joins Virgin Voyages, American Queen Steamboat Company, Crystal Cruises and in the U.K., P&O Cruises and Princess Cruises in mandating passengers be vaccinated.
The vaccine requirement also sets UnCruise apart from some of the other small ship lines that are able to sail Alaska this season. None of the other lines -- American Cruise Lines, Lindblad, Alaskan Dream Cruises or The Boat Company -- have announced anything yet.
UnCruises' vaccine policy does not apply to the line's Galapagos sailings. UnCruise Adventures is planning to start chartered sailings with Metropolitan Touring in the archipelago at the end of April (both Ecuador and the Galapagos have strict COVID-19 testing requirements to enter). In the case of the Galapagos, Blanchard states the vaccine availability in Ecuador has not yet reached the point where they can mandate vaccinations for all crewmembers.
Alaska cruises on UnCruise are currently scheduled to start May 10; the line has six ships lined up in Alaska for the season (Safari Explorer, Safari Quest, Wilderness Adventurer, Wilderness Explorer, Wilderness Discoverer, The Legacy). A seventh, Safari Endeavor, is on-standby to be reactivated if demand allows. All are American built and crewed, and are well under the 250 passenger and crew limit that exempts them from the current CDC ban on cruising.
"The message to the public of this world is that this wild Alaska free space is going to be theirs this summer," said Blanchard. "And the small towns are going to be like they are during the winter and the spring -- they won't be jammed with tourists."
The line also sails to the Pacific Northwest, Hawaii, Costa Rica and Panama, Belize and Mexico, although return dates for those voyages will be later in the year.
UnCruise has updated other safety requirements on its site. Passengers and crew must wear masks in the ship interior or within six feet of others, except when in their cabins or consuming food and drink. No masks are required on deck or during activities, if physical distancing is possible.
"If the federal government eases mask requirements for vaccinated cruises, we will act accordingly," the line said on its site.
Other changes include buffets replaced with plated meals; cocktails and hors d'oeuvres given individually instead of party style and guests given their own adventure and gear to use throughout the cruise. Increased sanitization will also take place.
Several cabins will be set aside, in the event that someone does become sick. The ships will all have the capability to administer and analyze rapid PCR COVID-19 tests onboard.
UnCruise did attempt to return to cruising in 2020, relying primarily on testing. In what ended up being a false positive, a passenger tested for the virus on the first voyage, effectively ending the season before it began.
In 2021, the line is taking no chances. In its FAQ, the line suggests that people who do not or cannot take the vaccine for various reasons delay their trip until 2022, and Blanchard noted in a press conference with members of the media that the decision to vaccinate was an easy one.
"I have to tell you, as a Mariner myself and someone who's been in this business for 25 years, I believe I would be negligent...to my crew if I didn't make this decision," said Blanchard. "I need to protect them because they're on the boat for weeks at a time. "
Blanchard noted he fully expects vaccines to become a mandatory part of cruise travel for most lines going forward.
"I think for the industry this will probably become much more of a standard pretty soon," he said. "Going the vaccinated cruise route is definitely the way to go."