(1:47 p.m. EDT) - In a change of policy, Carnival Cruise Lines will now require masks for all passengers, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, in certain areas indoors onboard its ships, as well as mandatory pre-cruise COVID-19 testing.
The onboard mask policy goes into effect for all cruises departing on or after Saturday, Aug. 7, and for departures through Oct. 31, 2021.
The pre-cruise COVID-19 testing requirement for all passengers goes into effect for all cruises departing on Saturday, Aug. 14 through Oct. 31, 2021. Even fully vaccinated guests must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test (PCR or antigen) taken within three days of embarkation.
These tests must be arranged and paid for independently by cruisers. Pierside testing in the terminal will not be available. Passengers will be required to show proof of negative test, plus proof of vaccination against COVID-19, prior to embarkation.
The moves put Carnival Cruise Line more in line with other cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, both of which have mandatory COVID-19 testing requirements for all passengers.
Carnival has been requiring that 95 percent of its passengers be vaccinated. Unvaccinated passengers must apply for an exemption to be among the five percent. Most of the exemptions seem to be given to families with children under 12, who are unable to be vaccinated.
With the rise of the Delta variant in the United States and abroad, Carnival's current policies seem too lax.
On the current sailing of Carnival's newest ship, Mardi Gras, for example, there was no pre-cruise testing of vaccinated guests, and no mask requirements for them (even unvaccinated children have few masking requirements, save in a few areas). The ship is also sailing at two-thirds capacity.
Unlike other cruises we've been on recently, there are no social distancing reminders or seats spaced out. Unmasked crowds have developed at times in elevators, with large crowds gathering when embarking and disembarking in port, and in nightclubs and shows.
Carnival's new requirements aim to change that. After August 7, all passengers age two and older will be required to wear face masks "in elevators and in designated indoor entertainment areas, all retail shops, and in the casino, except when eating or drinking."
Other areas where masks will be required include prior to being seated in main dining rooms and in the Lido Buffet area and "occasionally in other designated areas where larger number of guests may congregate (signs will be posted)."
Masks will also be required at any indoor activity with children under 12 years, such as Build-A-Bear, Family Harbor, and Sky Zone.
In its news release, Carnival noted that similar entertainment venues, including Disney World, Nevada casinos and Broadway, have instituted masking requirements, even for the vaccinated.
"These new requirements are being implemented to protect our guests and crew while on board, and to continue to provide confidence to our homeports and destinations that we are doing our part to support their efforts to protect public health and safety,” said Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line.
"We expect these requirements will be temporary and appreciate the cooperation of our guests. Our first month of guest operations has been met with tremendous enthusiasm and very positive guest feedback, and we are committed to continue our restart with both fun and safety in mind.”
Duffy had alluded that there might be changes in a Q and A with Brand Ambassador John Heald onboard Mardi Gras earlier in the week.
Cruise Critic will update this story with more information as it develops.