9 December 2021
There is one thing that all of the cruise lines agree upon. It is the fact that it is their guests’ safety and health that is their number one priority. In fact, they have proved in the past that they are willing to share information in order to achieve the goal of making their trips safe and healthy. Following the hit of the corona virus epidemic, leaders from Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line came together to form the healthy sail panel. The healthy advisory panel—11 expert doctors, scientists, and health specialists—guided our way to safely cruising the new world. The Healthy Sail Panel provided a 60+page report with over 70 detailed best practices to be used to inform future public health guidance and preventative measures relating to travel on cruise ships. Basically, they shared information to supply to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) that the cruise industry was willing to do whatever it takes to create procedures that will ensure the health of their passengers. It was a time when the Center of Disease Control had placed a ban on cruising. Since then, much of what they recommended is now in place.
Is what the cruise lines have come up with done out of the genuine concern of their passengers? Or rather, they realize if there is an outbreak of the virus in the hundreds to thousands and the publicity generated by such an event will bring down not just their own cruise line but could have rippling effects across the entire industry? Frankly, I trust greed and I don’t care. Both are motivations that mean it is in their financial best interest to do everything in their power to avoid having any kind of health risk to their passengers whether it be the Omicron variant of COVID-19, the more traditional flu, or the Norovirus.
What is the one thing that is here to stay? A digital version of the muster drill. Gone are the days when you would stand on deck all hot and sweaty crammed together with a hundred other passengers elbow to elbow as you strained to hear the crew member giving you instructions in the event of an emergency. That is the past. These days you watch a video on your phone, tablet, or stateroom tv that gives all the information you need to know including the sound of the emergency signal and how to put on your life jacket. Next, you find the location of where you are to go in the event of an emergency. The cruise line checks you off that you have found the muster location for your stateroom and sometimes demonstrates putting on a life vest. And that’s the whole muster drill. It might take all of five minutes to complete. All passengers are required to show up at their station. This is the new now. Everyone agrees the new muster drill is vastly better and is here to stay.
Other health requirements change with each cruise line and each sailing. They vary from week to week. Destination to destination. Cruise line to cruise line. This is where you come in. YOU will have to do the work to keep on top of what will be required for your cruise. Each cruise line has their own safety information that will change over the course of time. It is vital that you review these requirements directly from the cruise line on their web site home page. As of the time of this writing, Norwegian Cruise Line requires 100% of its passengers to be vaccinated. Everyone from ages 5 to adult would need to be fully vaccinated for at least 14 days. It is the CDC that states that children 5 year old to 11 may receive a vaccine from Pfizer. For Norwegian, children under 5 are not able to sail because they do not qualify for a vaccine, according to the CDC. Other cruise lines allow for unvaccinated guests to sail but AFTER you have paid for your vacation, they will inform you whether your application for sailing without a vaccine has been approved. These passengers that are not vaccinated are required to undergo several tests for the presence of the vaccine whether they present with symptoms or not. On lines that require the passengers to be vaccinated, like Royal Caribbean, you will be asked to show proof of a COVID test 2-3 days prior to your sailing. It depends on the cruise line whether the test is an antigen test or a PCR test. The timing of how many days ahead has varied over time. It could change again. Keep on top of it.
For those needing a test prior to sailing, most cruise lines will accept a proctored home test. I highly encourage you to take this option. The reason you want this option is because you receive your results to your email inbox within a half hour of taking the test. Going to Walgreens or CVS or your local care facility may put you in a bind. The test gets canceled. They don’t email you the results in time. You must go for another emergency rapid test costing you hundreds of dollars. I just foresee a myriad of nightmare situations. At home tests are quick and easy and most lines that require tests accept a proctored at-home version. Since it is mobile, you could even take it to the port city and take it there. You could use them to do a side to side cruise should your cruise line not provide a test for your next cruise.
What about excursions? You may or may not be required to do an excursion through the cruise line. These, “bubble tours” are designed to restrict your movements so you don’t come in contact with very many locals of a destination. For example, this is currently required when visiting Italy. Other destinations have changed their requirements depending on the week, the month, the year. Check with your cruise line to discover what will be required for you.
Is the booster required now? Not at this time. But that could change. It all depends on what the CDC dictates. There may be a day when the CDC requires a fourth dose of vaccine in order to sail. That day is not at the time of this writing. Passengers have reported that with all of the new procedures they no longer experience the crud of the after-cruise experience. Keep abreast of your current requirements. Ignorance will be no excuse and you could be denied sailing for not complying with health requirements. The cruise line wants your money. They will do their best to keep you informed of what is required through emails to you. Additionally, I will do my best to keep you in the loop. However, the buck stops with you. You must be on top of what are the health requirements for your particular sailing. All I can say for sure is that the requirements change frequently, and it is likely they will not be the same when you book compared to when you sail. We all hope for the day, when the corona virus will be of the same concern as the common cold. Until then, I will do what I must in order to sail.