(2:45 p.m. EST) -- Norwegian Cruise Line modified its health and safety protocols Tuesday, announcing the removal of its masking requirement for all vaccinated passengers and the ability for a small number of unvaccinated children under five years of age to sail with the line beginning March 1, 2022.
The changes -- which were announced on the Norwegian Cruise Line website -- will include a requirement for mandatory pre-cruise COVID-19 testing, to be paid for by passengers. Currently, all Norwegian Cruise Line sailings departing until February 28, 2022 include complimentary pierside antigen testing paid for by the cruise line.
The new protocols are applicable for all sailings departing from a U.S. port of embarkation, and remove some of the restrictions put in place during the onset of the omicron variant of COVID-19 in the winter of 2021.
Norwegian Cruise Line Removes Masking Requirements
Norwegian is revising its mask policy onboard, stating that masks will become optional for passengers as of sailings embarking on March 1, 2022 or later.
The line continues to recommend face masks be worn except when actively eating or drinking, or in areas where physical distancing cannot be maintained.
"Our cruises will operate with 100 percent vaccination of crew and guests age five and over, therefore face coverings are not required while onboard," says the Norwegian Cruise Line website.
"However, we recognize the added protections provided when wearing a mask covering and recommend that all guests do so onboard when indoors, except when actively eating or drinking, or seated at a table in a dining setting, or when in their stateroom.
"The decision to wear a mask covering when onboard is at the discretion of each guest."
Face masks will continue to be required for all sailings departing through February 28, 2022.
Unvaccinated Children Under 5 Can Now Sail With Norwegian Cruise Line
Perhaps the biggest announcement is that Norwegian Cruise Line will now welcome a small percentage of children under five years of age who are unvaccinated (note that children five and over who can be vaccinated are required to be in order to set sail).
Previously, the line had prohibited any unvaccinated passengers -- of any age -- from setting sail.
Norwegian says that the number of unvaccinated children under age five will not be greater than five percent of all passengers onboard.
"While we welcome unvaccinated children ages four and under onboard, it is the responsibility of the guest to be aware of any local protocols and/or travel restrictions in place at the visiting destinations at the time of sailing."
All passengers aged five and over will still be required to be fully vaccinated in order to sail. The new exemption for children under five comes into effect with voyages embarking March 1, 2022 or later.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings top boss Frank Del Rio has been a staunch supporter of vaccination mandates for all passengers who are eligible. This will be the first time the family-friendly cruise line will have carried children under five years of age in nearly two full years.