(5:40 p.m. EDT) -- Celebrity Cruises released its finalized Health and Safety protocols for all U.S.-based departures on Tuesday, confirming it will require a minimum of 95 percent of all passengers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Unveiled during a webinar with Celebrity SVP Trade Support and Service Dondra Ritzenthaler, the line revealed 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.
For vaccinated passengers, the cruise experience will look much like it has in the past. Bars, lounges and public rooms will be open. Entertainment venues will be operating. Shore excursions will be offered in all ports, and independent exploration allowed in most ports, depending on local restrictions. And masks will no longer be required.
"If you are vaccinated, you will not need to wear a mask onboard at all," said Ritzenthaler. "The only folks that will need to wear a mask are the folks that are in that five percent that are not vaccinated."
Those passengers who are not fully vaccinated or who cannot provide proof of vaccination will be required to complete a COVID-19 PCR test prior to embarkation at their own expense and may be required to provide additional for-fee tests during the voyage along with mandatory masking and restrictions on going ashore.
Celebrity notes that passengers who do not meet its requirements for vaccinations may be denied boarding.
The new Health and Safety protocols will allow Celebrity to operate out of places like Florida that currently prohibit any business from demanding proof of COVID-19 vaccination while continuing to mandate that at least 95 percent of the vessel's passengers are indeed fully vaccinated prior to travel.
"In Florida, we will not require you to have to show proof of vaccination because we are doing this exactly the right way," she said, noting that the line will still sail from Florida "with 95 percent of our guests vaccinated."
Ritzenthaler did not elaborate, however, on at what stage passengers might be asked to volunteer proof of COVID-19 vaccination, or how that would be handled.
For passengers who do insist on booking and intend to sail without proof of vaccination, Celebrity notes those passengers will be responsible for covering the cost of additional PCR testing throughout the voyage; the cost of which Ritzenthaler says is still being determined.
Additionally, non-vaccinated passengers may not be allowed off the vessel during port stops, and will be required to adhere to masking and physical distancing guidelines while onboard.
Asked by travel agents how Celebrity would handle the five percent of passengers who may be travelling onboard unvaccinated, Ritzenthaler stated this would be managed on the back-end by Celebrity.
"That's not anything you have to worry about," said Ritzenthaler. "We're going to manage that. If we have to shut down cabin categories…we're going to make sure we will sail with 95 percent of our guests vaccinated. That's on us, not you."
However, Celebrity notes on its own health and safety protocols that anyone not adhering to the guidelines runs the risk of being denied boarding. Could that lead to passengers being denied boarding at the pier should the ship hit five percent of passengers unvaccinated? Ritzenthaler again told travel advisors Celebrity would use capacity control to manage those who are unvaccinated.
"How we're going to do that is we're going to manage the sailing," said Ritzenthaler. "We will make sure that we open some cabin categories, we close some cabin categories."
Given these new protocols, the most sure-fire way to ensure your Celebrity cruise goes as planned is to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
While Celebrity may allow a handful of non-vaccinated passengers onboard, it seems likely the experience will be more expensive and restricted for those who are unvaccinated against COVID-19.
Cruise Critic will have more information as it becomes available. The new restrictions are slated to be posted on Celebrity's website on June 9.