Major changes from the CDC for Cruising

Late Friday evening (May 14th, 2021), the CDC released some major changes regarding testing and mask-wearing for those that are fully vaccinated. There are 3 main takeaways.

Let me be clear: I believe it is a personal choice to vaccinate or not vaccinate with regard to covid-19. That being said, there are definitely travel benefits for those that choose vaccination. To access certain destinations, proof of vaccination is a requirement. In other cases, being fully vaccinated may result in less restrictions with regard to masks, testing, and quarantine.

For example, most cruises not departing or returning to the USA, are a) not regulated by the CDC, and b) required by their homeport to have 100% vaccinated guests, who show proof. Now I do realize that there are nefarious websites selling fake covid vaccination papers, and I also realize that vaccination is not 100% protection. According to a recent USA Today article, Digital Vaccine “Passports” are coming. Again, my point is not to take sides but rather make my assessments of what I think will happen in the travel world. I don’t actually make those decisions.

On Tuesday, May 18th, we will be talking live with Celebrity Cruises about sailings departing St. Maarten and Athens – cruising in about 2 weeks. Sign up here for the talk (if past May 18th, we will post a recording).

3 Key Takeaways

So what is the summary of the major changes from the CDC from Friday May 14th? Here are the key takeaways:

  1. Masks: The first 2 paragraphs below, copied from the CDC page, have not changed. But the 3rd has, and it’s highlighted (my emphasis).

Mask Use

At this time, all persons, including port personnel, crew, and passengers are advised that CDC’s Mask Order remains in effect and requires the wearing of masks on conveyances entering, traveling within, or leaving the United States, and in U.S. transportation hubs. (see Maritime-specific Frequently Asked Questions).

While the Order permits temporarily removing a mask for brief periods of time while eating or drinking, removal of the mask for extended meal service or beverage consumption would constitute a violation of this Order.
Masks do not have to be worn while inside one’s own cabin.
Travelers should not wear a mask when doing activities that may get the mask wet, like swimming at the beach or in recreational water facilities. A wet mask can make it difficult to breathe and may not work as well when wet. This means it is particularly important for bathers to maintain physical distancing of at least 6 feet (2 meters) when in the water with others who are not traveling companions or part of the same family.

Fully Vaccinated Travelers

Cruise ship operators, at their discretion, may advise passengers and crew that—if they are fully vaccinated—they may gather or conduct activities outdoors, including engaging in extended meal service or beverage consumption, without wearing a mask except in crowded settings.

So that is a major benefit for those that choose to be vaccinated: a major exemption from most mask- wearing.

2. PCR Testing to Board the Ship; Vaccinated Travelers are Exempt:

Testing of Embarking and Disembarking Passengers for Restricted Voyages

EventNot Fully Vaccinated PassengersFully Vaccinated Passengers
Embarkation Day TestingViral (NAAT or antigen)Not Applicable*
Disembarkation Day TestingViral (NAAT or antigen)Not Applicable
Back-to-Back Sailing¥TestingViral (NAAT or antigen)Not Applicable

* While embarkation testing is not required, international travelers arriving in the U.S. are recommended to be tested 3-5 days after arrival, including those who are fully vaccinated. Cruise operators may follow this recommendation at their discretion.

¥ Back-to-back sailing refers to passengers who stay on board for two or more voyages.

  • Cruise ship operators must collect specimens for SARS-CoV-2 viral testing3 as follows, unless passengers are fully vaccinated or have documentation of recovery in the past 90 days:
    • All4 newly embarking passengers on the day of embarkation.
    • All4 disembarking passengers on the day of disembarkation.
    • All4 passengers on back-to-back sailings prior to the ship sailing on the next voyage.

So that is another major benefit for being fully vaccinated if you want to cruise from the USA; you can skip the PCR tests.

3. Finally the above chart tells us something about the length of cruises.

The first good news affects everyone: it appears that longer length cruises and back to back cruises are probably no longer prohibited. Prior to this, the maximum length was 7 nights and there was no guidance with respect to back to back cruising.

The fully vaccinated traveler can skip the test between back to back cruises, yet another benefit.

Now, as you may notice, the cruise lines have the option to test everyone, but they are not required to test those that can prove they are fully vaccinated. As I mentioned, that “proof” may be elusive.

All of these guidelines are hopefully no longer needed in the coming months as the CDC continue to make adjustments to their guidelines. Also, in lieu of excluding non-vaccinated travelers the cruise lines could possibly have wristbands like we did at the 2001 NightClub or a hand stamp at Spanish Galleon back in the day, which identified if you were allowed alcohol or not. These wristbands can identify if you can take your mask off or skip the test.

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