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EU Releases Health Guidelines for Cruises: Masks, Social Distancing, No Indoor Pools
EU Releases Health Guidelines for Cruises: Masks, Social Distancing, No Indoor Pools
Masks, Distancing & More: CDC Releases Full Guidelines For U.S. Cruise Resumption
The CDC in Atlanta, Georgia (Photo: bear_productions/

Masks, Distancing & More: CDC Releases Full Guidelines For U.S. Cruise Resumption

Masks, Distancing & More: CDC Releases Full Guidelines For U.S. Cruise Resumption
The CDC in Atlanta, Georgia (Photo: bear_productions/

May 06, 2021

Fran Golden
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(10:25 a.m. EDT) -- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its Operations Manual for cruise ship operators, setting a series of rules such as mask wearing, social distancing and a restriction on independent shore experiences.

It's the guidance that the cruise industry has been waiting on for months -- and it won't make everyone happy. The rules are part of the Conditional Sail Order to allow cruising to resume in the U.S., and will be in effect through October.

The extensive new rules are not dissimilar to those that have allowed European cruises to restart. But they go considerably further than the opening-up of U.S. hotels, restaurants and attractions on land -- and make no allowances for people who have been fully vaccinated, as opposed to those who have not.

To make sure cruise ships follow the rules, the CDC reserves the right to conduct inspections "in-person or by remote means."

Here are some of the specifics.

Mask wearing

Woman wearing a face mask (Photo: narongpon chaibot/

The CDC makes clear that it expects guests and crew, as well as port personnel, to wear masks in indoor and outdoor areas except for brief periods while eating and drinking and says that "removal of the mask for extended meal service or beverage consumption would constitute a violation of this Order."

The mask order includes while guests are seated in outdoor pool areas.  If you are swimming you can remove your mask as long as you maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet --with the number of bathers restricted. Cruisers will not have to wear masks in their own cabins.

The CDC also suggests as a best practice that face-to-face interactions between crew and passengers be reduced "to the extent possible."

Social distancing

Social distancing sign on Quantum of the Seas (Photo: Heidi Sarna/Cruise Critic contributor)

The CDC order requires social distancing of at least 6 feet "between individuals who are not traveling companions or part of the same family."

Cruise ships must also put in place crowd reduction measures in all areas where passengers congregate and high traffic areas such as limiting capacity in restaurants and entertainment venues. In theaters and casinos, ships have to provide social distancing between seats -- and "set up physical barriers where it is difficult for individuals to remain at least 6 feet (2 meters) apart."

In fitness centers, ships will have to provide social distancing between equipment -- by having people clock out or removing some equipment. Capacity will be limited for rock-climbing walls, mini-golf, sports courts, jogging tracks, video arcades and similar activities.

Pool loungers and tables will also be set up to be socially distanced. Hot tubs will be restricted to members of the same family or your own travel companions.

The agency further suggests that entertainment venues and activity areas such as fitness centers and spas be limited to reservation-only timeslots.

The ships will also be required to ensure that social distancing applies at dining room entrances, guest services, disembarkation points and other areas where cruisers tend to congregate. In terms of elevators, capacity will be limited, and the agency suggests that to maintain social distancing guests be encouraged "to take stairs when possible."

The CDC recommends that muster drills be conducted virtually, or in a staggered manner to allow for social distancing. The agency suggests as a further preventative measure that cruise lines consider the use of "wearable proximity alerting technology" such as wristbands to alert guests if they are breaking social distancing protocols.


10 Terrible Cruise Habits You Must Break (Photo: Carnival Cruise Line)

In addition to social distancing and limited capacity in restaurants and bars, the CDC requires ships to "eliminate" self-serve food options such as buffets, salad bars and drink stations.

In terms of when you dine, the CDC says cruise ships must discourage crowded waiting areas, instead notifying guests by phone app, text or other personal technology, while avoiding buzzers since those are shared objects.

In places where it is difficult to maintain social distancing, the CDC says cruise ships should install physical barriers such as sneeze guards and partitions. The CDC also says that ships should provide and encourage both outdoor dining and room service, and consider providing alternative options such as "prepackaged grab-and-go meals, for consumption on open decks or in individual cabins to minimize risks associated with congregate indoor dining."

The CDC also recommends cruise lines considering allowing cruisers to order ahead of time to eliminate time spent in restaurants.

Shore Excursions


Cruise ship operators must, under the new rules, prohibit self-guided or independent exploration by passengers in ports of call. In addition, the number of participants on shore excursions needs to be restricted for social-distancing purposes.

The agency further recommends, but does not require, that shore excursions only take place in foreign ports listed as Level 1: COVID-19 Low in the CDC's Travel Recommendations.

In the Caribbean, the list of CDC safe spots currently includes Anguilla, the Cayman Islands, Grenada, the British Virgin Islands and St. Kitts and Nevis. It does not include the Bahamas, Bermuda, Jamaica, St. Maarten or other announced destinations for startup cruises beginning next month.

Iceland and Greece, also initial embarkation destinations, are not on the list either.

The CDC requirements on shore excursions go against what some lines, such as Norwegian, have already said will be put in place on their international voyages. So theoretically, the rules set up a system where passengers on a ship leaving from the U.S. would have to take ship-sponsored excursions, whereas people traveling on a ship from Jamaica would not.

Cruise Critic will update this story with more information if necessary.

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