(Updaetd 5:30 p.m. EDT) -- Several cruise lines introduced changes overnight to mandatory testing requirements for passengers sailing on cruises this month, shortening the window for producing a negative COVID-19 test from three days prior to embarkation to just two.
Late Thursday, Carnival Cruise Line and Princess Cruises have modified their health and safety protocol webpages to reflect the changes. However, as this requirement is being mandated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, passengers booked on sailings departing from U.S. homeports later this month should be prepared for the shortened testing requirements.
Other lines now mandating two-day testing for U.S. departures include Celebrity, Holland America Line, MSC Cruises and Royal Caribbean, all of which adjusted their policies today.
There is no change for Norwegian Cruise Line sailings from the U.S., as Norwegian mandates every embarking passenger ungergo rapid antigen testing pierside prior to embarkation. The same is true for Disney Cruise LIne, which already mandates all passengers undergo pierside testing (passengers under 12 years of age on Disney are still required to obtain a negative PCR test prior to embarkation, however).
For Carnival, Celebrity, Holland America Line, MSC and Royal Caribbean, any sailing departing on or after September 13, 2021 will require passengers to be tested no more than two days in advance. For Princess, the requirement goes into effect with the September 19 voyage of Majestic Princess from Seattle. (Cruise Critic will be onboard for this one.)
Both Carnival and Princess are taking pains to advise booked passengers on what the new testing window means. For example, passengers sailing on a Saturday could get tested as early as Thursday; those departing on Sundays could be tested as early as Friday.
This is a change from the previous requirements, which were hour-based.
"The two-day timeframe provides you with more flexibility than a 48-hour timeframe," reads a statement on the Princess Cruises website. "By using the two-day window, your test validity does not depend on the time of your embarkation or the time of the day that your test was administered."
Accepted tests can be either antigen or PCR. Some at-home self-test kits can be used, provided those tests meet certain criteria, including the mandate that self-test kits "must include a telehealth service affiliated with the manufacturer of the test that provides real-time supervision remotely through an audio and video connection."
Unvaccinated passengers must take a PCR test.
The Changing Landscape of Requirements
This new mandate is the latest in a line of changes that have occurred with seemingly little to no notice, based on guidance from the CDC and the changing landscape of COVID-19 brought about by the widespread delta variant.
Masks and testing were introduced aboard Carnival ships in early August, and the line recently announced it would deploy mobile testing centers to its U.S. homeports for those unable to test in time for embarkation -- a move that suggests precruise testing will be here for some time yet.
Princess Cruises also stated it would look into deploying mobile testing units for use pierside for passengers who cannot get test results back in time.
"We understand that it may be difficult for some of our guests to find testing that can provide results within a 2-day turnaround," states the Princess Cruises website. "Accordingly, for guests who did not receive their test results within 2 days prior to their embarkation, we are working to set up mobile testing sites near our embarkation ports to conduct COVID-19 testing the day before, or day of, your cruise departure."
Princess warns on its website that such pierside testing, when available, will not be free of charge, but that costs can possibly be billed back to an insurance provider. No further details were available at press time.
The issue of precruise testing is stressful for many, as sourcing tests can be difficult depending on where you live. Price, too, depends on where you reside or what kind of insurance coverage you have. While major international airports offer rapid PCR and antigen testing by appointment, these options often carry hefty fees.
Pre-COVID, cruisers didn't need to worry about any of this. These days, though, travelers need to keep their eyes glued to the health and safety pages of their cruise line's website, their emails and their cruise line apps for any last-minute health and safety modifications required on their voyage.
These can, and will, change with little to no notice.
Cruise Critic will update this article as more information becomes available.