a cruise ship in the water

Royal Caribbean recently announced that it would be reducing testing requirements for guests that board on cruises starting August 8 or later. This move follows those of competitor Carnival and comes on the heels of the CDC ending its program in mid-July.

Cruise lines have been desperate for positive news. The industry shuttered operations almost immediately after becoming the poster child for the fast-spreading contagion. And since the cruise companies pay very little in US taxes (Most are headquartered outside of the United States.), they weren’t in line for bailouts that other travel companies, such as the airlines, received. Most survived by borrowing money during an era in which they had no revenue.

Vaccines Saved the Cruise Industry

The rollout of vaccines in 2020 saved the industry, allowing it to plan for the resumption of cruising. Still, it was the middle of 2021 before ships began accepting passengers again and, for the rest of the year, they sailed with reduced occupancy. Rules for testing and vaccinations remained complicated and cruise lines had little choice but to let passengers cancel their trips at the last minute, as the Omicron wave weighed on sailings during the profitable December holidays.

As passengers began to gain confidence and more travelers became vaccinated, the CDC slowly, reduced restrictions, converting the program to a “voluntary” one at the beginning of 2022. Cruise lines felt that they had to opt in and continued to follow the CDC guidelines.

Royal Caribbean Follows Carnival by Easing Requirement

Santorini, Greece. Oia city with white and blue houses in Aegean Sea. Thira, Cyclades Islands.

In July, the CDC announced the end of its program, allowing companies to develop their own policies. Don’t worry, the policies end up being almost identical across cruise lines, so you won’t be choosing based on which line is the most accommodating. These policies are good on ships leaving United States homeports starting on August 8 or later. Sorry, if your cruise visits Bermuda or Canada, you’re still under the previous terms, and if you’re starting from outside the United States, be sure to check the local restrictions.

You’ll Have an Extra Day to do Your Test

  • Fully vaccinated guests must now show a negative PCR or antigen test within three days of boarding for cruises of six nights or longer. Testing is not required for shorter cruises.

The new rule replaces one that required a test taken no more than two days before boarding for all itineraries. That extra day is a big deal. For people who want to go to a drugstore or similar location to test run the risk that their results might not be ready within two days, potentially putting your trip at risk.

Protocols are Changing for Unvaccinated Guests Aged 2-11

  • Younger guests who are unvaccinated must bring a negative PCR or antigen test within three days of boarding for cruises of any length.

Under the previous policy, unvaccinated guests aged 2-11 not only had to take a test no more than three days before boarding but would also have to test when checking in at the terminal. For cruises that are five nights or longer, the children would also take an antigen test onboard prior to departure. The new policy eliminates those extra tests.

What’s Not Changing Under the New Rules

  • Guests under the age of two do not need to test.
  • Guest 12 and older must be vaccinated. A negative test won’t be enough without your proof of vaccination.
  • You’ll need supervision for your test. Per Royal Caribbean’s website, “Required testing for all guests, regardless of vaccination status, must be completed using a PCR or antigen test that is supervised by a healthcare professional or a home test kit that is conducted under live video supervision.”

My recommendation is to test before you get on the plane to wherever your ship departs from. The last thing that you want is to end up away from home and find out that you are positive.

Cruise Operators Know What’s on the Line

Cruise lines are just beginning to regain the public’s trust. The last thing they want is an outbreak on a ship, regardless of the vaccination status of their guests.

Royal Caribbean will refund 100% of the cruise fare for you and your traveling party if you test positive within the 10 days prior to your cruise, but that’s no reason not to carry travel insurance. It’s inexpensive for cruises and will cover a lot of situations that your cruise line won’t.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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