- American Cruise Lines surprises customers by rolling out last-minute COVID-19 vaccine requirement
- Cruisers forced to cancel
- Differing timelines
- When will cruises sail again? Here’s where the industry stands one year later
- A return date for sailing from U.S. ports is still not known
- Small ships are the exception
- Vaccinations will be required by at least some cruise lines
- Your favorite ships may be gone forever
- Cruise die-hards are still booking
- Cruises from the U.S. can begin sailing again — but be ready for shorter voyages, multiple COVID tests and no more buffets
- It could be months before cruises start sailing the U.S. again
- Some sailings may be canceled even after a cruise line starts operating again
- Going on a cruise vacation will involve multiple COVID-19 tests
- Many of the perks and amenities of a cruise vacation may be curtailed
- If you cancel, the cruise line might give you a voucher worth more than your original trip
American Cruise Lines surprises customers by rolling out last-minute COVID-19 vaccine requirement
After an intense year of lockdowns, getting out there and seeing the world is in most people’s minds. Many cruise itineraries will be a week or less. Buzz60
As cruisers look for guidance on health and safety policies for upcoming sailings, it's important to note that the rules can be ever changing, even right up to departure, according to Cruise Critic.
Over the weekend, U.S. river cruise operator American Cruise Lines surprised passengers booked on its initial sailings with a COVID-19 vaccination requirement that had not been publicized.
After starting coastal cruises March 13, American Cruise Lines revised its published policy that two negative coronavirus tests would be required – one several days before boarding and one right before embarking.
It now requires guests on its cruises through April 10 to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, a spokesperson told Cruise Critic. That affects the first few sailings of the line's new ship for the Mississippi River, American Jazz.
American Cruise Lines requires passengers to be vaccinated. (Photo: American Cruise Lines)
The temporary vaccination mandate, which is not listed on the company's website or social media channels, caught passengers scheduled to sail on the Mississippi River and other voyages unaware.
” an abundance of caution for the safe operation of our ships and in collaboration with the communities we visit, American Cruise Lines required COVID-19 vaccines for its first cruises of the 2021 season,” a spokesperson for American Cruise Lines told Cruise Critic.
“While we continue to strongly recommend the vaccine for all guests who are able to receive it, it is not currently required for cruises departing after April 10, 2021.
American was the first company to resume cruise operations in the United States and remains committed to the safe operation of its vessels.
“We regret any inconvenience this change has caused. Affected guests have been offered a full refund or the opportunity to cruise later this season.”
Cruisers forced to cancel
Cruise Critic board members became aware of the change over the weekend after calling the cruise line to ask about its coronavirus testing requirements, only to discover they were required to be fully vaccinated.
“We are supposed to sail on the Queen of the Mississippi next week,” cwatts15 wrote. “I called to get some info today about the Covid testing and found out that they just decided that vaccinations were mandatory now.
“Unfortunately, my brother is not vaccinated because he is not eligible in his state. They said sorry he can’t go. No letter, no email, just a oh by the way your brother will not be allowed on the boat.”
“I was told also vaccinations were required by ACL yesterday (3/20/21) when I called ACL and spoke to two of their representatives,” Pmcevoy wrote. “I had never received any email informing me of this mandatory vaccination requirement, nor did my ship partner who lives in another state, but I found out about it by chance when I called (one week before departing).”
“Something doesn’t sound right,” BaumD wrote. “There is nothing on their website or in the news referencing this change. Their website still requires a negative PCR test and they recommend a vaccination but it is not required. Has anyone else been told of this requirement?”
Though many posters welcomed the change and the vaccination requirement, many expressed unhappiness at the lack of communication on the part of American Cruise Lines.
“I am happy that the cruise lines are requiring vaccination,” cwatts15 said. “I strongly feel this was handled very wrong!!! ACL made a decision abruptly last Tuesday, not in line with the other cruise companies.”
Numerous cruise lines have issued vaccine requirements for future sailings. Though American Cruise Lines said its mandate is in effect for sailings until April 10, 2021, a spokesperson said that could change.
Competitor American Queen Steamboat also requires vaccinations – but only for voyages departing from July onward. The sailings before that will rely on coronavirus tests before the cruises, as well as health and safety protocols on board.
That line christened its new ship, American Countess, in New Orleans. Cruise Critic is on that sailing and will report back this week.
American Cruise Lines continues to restart operations. Independence reentered service on March 13 and American Jazz on Sunday. The line, which has American-built ships and crew so it can sail in the USA without a foreign port stop requirement, plans to have its entire 13-vessel fleet back in service by summer.
More from Cruise Critic:
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When will cruises sail again? Here’s where the industry stands one year later
An earlier version of this story said Royal Caribbean Group had seen a 30 percent increase in new bookings since the beginning of the year when compared to the last two months of 2021. It was actually 2020.
In the year since the cruise industry and public-health officials shut down sailings, operators have extended their cancellations again and again. And again. And again.
Cruises outside the United States have restarted, paused and started anew. And still the question remains: When will cruising resume in the United States?
“Cruise lines are eagerly awaiting an update from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] to outline next steps for a return to service,” Colleen McDaniel, editor in chief of the cruise news site Cruise Critic, said in an email.
“The latest positive news around vaccine distribution in the United States could be a step in the right direction, though the true return to significant cruising from the United States is dependent on when the CDC deems it appropriate.
Big ships are already sailing outside the United States in Singapore and parts of Europe, and more than 360,000 passengers have sailed since last summer, according to Bari Golin-Blaugrund, spokeswoman for the Cruise Lines International Association.
Royal Caribbean announced cruises from Israel starting in May for local residents; all crew and passengers 16 and older must be fully vaccinated. And luxury line Crystal Cruises plans to sail one of its ships around the Bahamas starting in July with vaccinated passengers.
[Cruise lines face more than a year without U.S. sailings]
But after several high-profile outbreaks on ships, no one is expecting a return to pre-pandemic-style cruising anytime soon. Where they have started again, cruise lines are requiring negative coronavirus tests, masks and social distancing on board, and less-than-full ships.
Andrew Coggins, a professor at Pace University who teaches cruise industry management, said it remains to be seen if those guidelines will be “compatible with a business model that requires 100-plus-percent occupancy.”
Still, cruise companies say customers are booking for later this year and next. Coggins said he believes travelers will eventually get back on board to the numbers the industry reached before the coronavirus pandemic.
“Much will depend on how smoothly the initial recovery goes,” he said in an email. “Some may not come back, but most will.”
[Royal Caribbean is starting ‘fully vaccinated’ cruises from Israel]
A return date for sailing from U.S. ports is still not known
Most U.S.-based cruise lines have canceled their sailings through at least the end of May. Norwegian Cruise Line said on Tuesday that it is extending its suspension through June. But when will they actually sail?
“The timing of a return to sailing remains the million-dollar question,” McDaniel said in an email. Operators must meet a series of requirements and milestones as mandated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One catch: They still don’t know all those requirements.
The CDC says its focus remains on protecting crew and working with lines on initial requirements of testing crew and developing onboard lab capacity.
“Future orders and technical instructions will address additional activities to help cruise lines prepare for and return to passenger operations in a manner that mitigates covid-19 risk,” the agency said. Instructions for agreements with ports and local health authorities, the next phase, are expected to be out soon.
But even after more information is available, cruise lines still have to go through a lengthy process of operating simulated test voyages and getting approval to take passengers on sailings.
When they start sailing again, cruise companies have said they will start slowly.
“We plan to start sailing with only a few ships as part of a staggered approach,” said Roger Frizzell, spokesman for industry giant Carnival Corp. “By the end of the year, we hope to have our global fleet sailing.”
One sure bet: Sailings from Alaska will almost certainly not return until 2022. Canada — where foreign-flagged ships must stop during Alaskan sailings — said large cruise ships are not allowed to visit until February.
[Alaska’s canceled 2020 cruise season was devastating. Another one could be catastrophic.]
Small ships are the exception
There’s almost always a loophole. The CDC order applies to ships that can carry 250 or more passengers and crew members. That means some small U.S.-based operators are allowed to sail. Several small-ship lines have said they plan to cruise in Alaska this summer, though their numbers will amount to the tiniest fraction of a normal year.
American Cruise Lines launched its first cruise of the year on Saturday, a coastal trip from Northeast Florida to Charleston, S.C. The ship, Independence, can hold 100 passengers.
Another sailing, this one on a 190-passenger riverboat, is scheduled for Sunday along the lower Mississippi River.
All of the line’s initial cruises are capped at 75 percent capacity, and passengers must test negative to board.
American Queen Steamboat Company will start paid cruises at the end of the month after setting sail with charter cruises on the Mississippi this week, according to Cruise Critic.
[Why testing won’t save the cruise industry from the coronavirus]
Vaccinations will be required by at least some cruise lines
The industry’s biggest operators have not said whether they will require passengers to be vaccinated, though some, including Norwegian and Royal Caribbean, say they expect crew will be inoculated. But a handful of smaller players have already announced vaccine requirements for passengers.
On Tuesday, new cruise line Virgin Voyages became the latest to say it would require vaccinations for passengers and crew. CEO Tom McAlpin made the announcement on “Good Morning America.”
“We think that’s the right thing to do to create that safe environment,” he said.
Small luxury line Crystal Cruises has also said it will require vaccinations, joining Saga Cruises in the United Kingdom. American Queen Steamboat Company and sister line Victory Cruise Lines will require vaccinations starting July 1.
Coggins said he expects more operators to add the requirement, “as another layer of precaution in addition to a negative test.”
Cruise lines have already said they will require testing, onboard distancing and mask-wearing onboard in addition to other safety measures. A CDC spokeswoman told The Washington Post in January that vaccines were not a solution by themselves.
“Vaccination, along with other preventive measures, including testing before and after travel, wearing a mask, social distancing, frequent handwashing, and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, will be another effective strategy available for reducing covid-19 transmission associated with travel, including cruising,” spokeswoman Caitlin Shockey said in an email.
[Will cruises require vaccines? One line just set a standard.]
Your favorite ships may be gone forever
Cruise operators have been looking for ways to reduce expenses and make money while business dried up. In some cases, that means they are getting rid of older, smaller, less-efficient vessels.
Royal Caribbean sold two of its oldest ships, Majesty of the Seas and Empress of the Seas, last year.
And Carnival Corp., which operates cruise lines including Carnival, Princess and Holland America, has said it is getting rid of 19 ships, or 13 percent of its global fleet. The vessels are either being sold to other operators or scrapped.
[Meet the people who can’t wait to get back on a cruise ship]
Cruise die-hards are still booking
Carnival Corp. said in January that advance bookings for 2022 are strong, and are “within the historical range” for the second half of this year.
“The forward booking trends we have consistently experienced throughout this period — in spite of the extended pause in our operations, in spite of our minimal advertising effort and even in spite of the abundance of negative global news — affirm the underlying demand that will facilitate our staggered resumption and support the long-term growth of our company,” CEO Arnold Donald said. “And we have not only seen tremendous support for our brands from our loyal guests, it is also very encouraging to see demand from new guests.”
Royal Caribbean Group’s chief financial officer, Jason Liberty, said in February that the company had seen a 30 percent increase in new bookings since the beginning of the year when compared to the last two months of 2020.
“The volumes that we see on a demand standpoint are, in our perspective, impressive,” he said.
McDaniel said members of Cruise Critic have been enthusiastic about cruising again.
“So many of our members are avid cruisers who cruise multiple times each year,” she said in an email. “It’s a true passion of theirs — and many have had cruises already booked and rebooked several times throughout the past year. Needless to say, they are eager to return to sea when they’re safely able.”
Travel during the pandemic:
Tips: Advice column | Coronavirus testing | Vaccinations | Spring Break | Vaccine passports | Sanitizing your hotel | Updating documents | Summer trips |Travel vouchers | Ask us your travel questions
Flying: Pandemic packing | Airport risks | Staying healthy on planes | Fly or drive? | Layovers
Road trips: Tips | Rental cars | Best snacks | Long-haul trains | Rest stops | Cross-country drive
Destinations: Hawaii | Private islands | Australia | Mexico | Alaska | Puerto Rico
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Cruises from the U.S. can begin sailing again — but be ready for shorter voyages, multiple COVID tests and no more buffets
Photo by PASCAL POCHARD-CASABIANCA/AFP via Getty Images
Public-health officials have given cruise lines the greenlight to begin a phased reopening in the U.S. following months of no-sailorders amid the coronavirus pandemic.
But it could be months before travelers start sailing thehigh seas again American ports.
Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it was not extending the full no-sail order that had shut down the cruise industry for months. The no-sail order, as a result, expired on Oct. 31, and in its place the CDC introduced a conditional sail order laying out the requirements that cruise lines must meet to resume operations.
However, on Tuesday, the Cruise Line International Association, the primary trade group representing the cruise industry, announced that its members had elected to voluntarily suspend operations in the U.S. through the rest of the year. This includes the cruise lines owned by Carnival Corp., CCL, +0.81% Royal Caribbean Group RCL, +1.33% and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings NCLH, +3.00%.
The cruise industry has drawn particular scrutiny —especially compared to other sectors of the travel industry — during thecoronavirus pandemic.
When coronavirus cases began skyrocketing earlier thisyear, cruise-ship outbreaks drew extensive media attention.
In particular, morethan 700 passengers and crew tested positive for COVID-19 on the CarnivalCorp.-owned Diamond Princess back in March.
Meanwhile, cruise lines have slowly begun to resume operations in Europe and Southeast Asia, though small COVID-19 outbreaks have occurred on some of those ships despite extensive precautions.
In October, eight passengers tested positive on Costa Cruises voyage that departed from Genoa, Italy, and they had to disembark the ship midway through the trip.
The sailing ultimately was cut short after France decided to reinstate its state of health emergency.
Here is what travelers planning a cruise vacation for nextyear need to know about the industry’s reopening:
It could be months before cruises start sailing the U.S. again
Cruise operators have to accomplish a lot to receive the OK from the CDC to begin sailing U.S. ports again. For starters, they must develop their own laboratory testing capabilities onboard their ships so that crew and passengers can be tested for the coronavirus.
After that they need to run simulated voyages designed to test their ability to mitigate the virus during a sailing. These simulated voyages may be open to the public, though it’s not clear what they will entail or how long they would last.
The CDC will only allow participants who are adults without any pre-existing conditions that put them at risk of complications were they to contract COVID-19.
Once that’s all done, cruise lines will need to submit reports to the CDC to be certified to sail again.
And that’s just the process the CDC is requiring — it doesn’t take into approach how much legwork it will take for cruise lines to bring their crews back on board their ships and retrain them, said Stewart Chiron, a travel expert who runs The Cruise Guy website.
Cruise line employees live all around the world, and somecruise lines had begun taking steps to fly their workers back to the U.S. toresume operations before the CDC issued its new order. “Essentially myunderstanding is they’re going to make crews quarantine for 14 days ashore andthen 14 days aboard the ship,” Chiron said. “That’s a month.”
In that time, cruise operators can work on other elements oftheir COVID-19-related plans, but travelers in January and February may bedisappointed.
“The bigquestion right now is how long it will take lines to implement the necessaryprotocols to meet the CDC’s requirements,” said Chris Gray Faust, managing editorof travel website Cruise Critic. “Many of those requirements were proposed bythe industry itself, but it’s unknown exactly how long it will take to actuallyexecute.”
The presidential election could also play a role in the industry’s ability to reopen. Some reports have suggested that the Trump administration overruled the CDC in extending the no-sail order past Oct.
31 — and House Democrats are reportedly investigating the matter.
A Biden administration, if the former vice president is elected, might seek to slow the industry’s reopening, depending on its approach to the pandemic, Chiron said.
Carnival Corp. said that each of its individual cruise lines will communicate their reopening plans on their websites. Among Carnival’s brands are Carnival Cruise Line, Costa Cruises, Holland American and Princess Cruises.
“Whenever we restart our cruise operations in the U.S.
, we certainly look forward to welcoming our guests on board,” Carnival’s CEO Arnold Doland said in a statement while announcing plans to suspend operations until at least 2021.
(Royal Caribbean and Norwegian did not reply to requests for comment.)
Some sailings may be canceled even after a cruise line starts operating again
One restriction the CDC is keeping in place is that cruises,once allowed, can be no longer than seven days. And the public-health agencyreserved the right to shorten (or expand) that time frame going forward.
That short time frame may not preclude popular itineraries,such as cruises to the Bahamas or Western Caribbean. But it could mean thatcertain sailings will not be able to happen. For instance, Panama Canal voyageswould not be feasible. Similarly, trips from California to Hawaii and Alaskawould ly be off the table that timeframe, Chiron said.
Going on a cruise vacation will involve multiple COVID-19 tests
The CDC itself requires that passengers and crew be screenedon the day of embarkation and the day of return. Passengers will also berequired to have been tested and received results prior to getting on the ship.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, where testing is concerned. If cruises do make ports of call, passengers would be required by those countries to be tested before disembarking the ship. “On a seven-day sailing with a three port stops passengers are going to have to get tested up to six times,” Chiron said.
Plus, if someone onboard is suspected of having COVID, anyclose contacts would need to get tested. All told, Chiron suggested that sometravelers could find the extensive testing to be too much of an inconvenience.
Many of the perks and amenities of a cruise vacation may be curtailed
The cruising experience may not be as carefree as it oncewas so long as the pandemic continues, experts said. “We can expect to see much of what we also see on land,”Gray Faust said.
This would ly include capacity limits and mask-wearing inother areas.
Self-service buffets will ly go by the wayside — thoughall-you-can-eat dining might stick around, but with gloved employees servingthe food instead.
Thebiggest change, however, could occur in terms of the activities that take placeoff the ship. “Lines have been leaning into the ability to create their own ‘bubble’of sorts with pre-cruise COVID testing, as well as ship-sponsored shoreexcursions that require guests to take protected offerings set up by the cruise line,” Gray Faust said, describing whatoperators have done in Europe.
So, ratherthan being able to plan out your own activities when visiting a port, travelerswill be required to book a pre-designed excursion from the cruise linedirectly.
In fact, cruise lines will ly be so strict about what passengers can and can’t do when at a port of call that rule-breakers could be denied re-entry to the ship, the Cruise Line International Association has said.
The otherfactor here is whether Caribbean nations will allow cruise ships to return. Atleast one cruise line has resumed sailings Barbados, but the regionotherwise has not seen activity since the pandemic began. While the cruiseindustry is critical to many of these countries’ economies, the public healthrisk could lead to some states opting not to allow visitors in.
If you cancel, the cruise line might give you a voucher worth more than your original trip
Each cruise line handles refunds, credits and rebookingsdifferently, Gray Faust said. “There is no industry policy for what is offered to guests whochoose to cancel on their own terms,” she said.
Most cruise lines have relaxed their policies since the pandemic began in a bid to retain customers.
If thecruise line cancels your sailing, however, you are ly entitled to a refund.However, in most cases, the operator will automatically provide you with afuture cruise credit instead, and you will need to proactively seek the refund.
But there could be benefits to waiting. Travel experts saidthat some cruise lines have offered future cruise credits that were worth morethan what a passenger already paid, which could be beneficial for those lookingto plan a trip in the more-distant future.