CDC Releases New COVID-19 Testing Guidelines for Cruise Ships

New month, new rules

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Another month, another round of changes to COVID-19 protocols concerning cruises. And it's good news if you're vaccinated.

Carnival, Royal Caribbean, MSC, Disney, and Holland America have announced newly-updated pre-cruise testing protocols set to begin on all sailings from the U.S. from Sept. 13, 2021. Princess Cruises will begin implementing its new pre-cruise testing requirements beginning Sept. 19, 2021.

As this stems from updated CDC cruise guidelines, more cruises are expected to announce changes in the coming days.

Starting on the dates above, vaccinated passengers will need to produce a negative COVID-19 result from a PCR or antigen test taken within two days of the sailing date, including on the day of embarkation. Previously, the window was between one to three days before sailing.

So, if you’re fully vaccinated, and your cruise leaves on a Monday, you would need to show a negative test result from a test taken on Saturday, Sunday, or Monday. The outlier? Norwegian Cruise Line. Instead of requiring passengers to show pre-cruise test results, this cruise line has already opted to administer on-site COVID-19  tests at the cruise terminal for all guests before boarding on the day of departure.

Under the new protocol, testing requirements for unvaccinated cruisers, including children under age 12 who are not yet eligible for the vaccine, are largely unchanged. All unvaccinated passengers must show proof of a negative PCR test taken between one to three days before the sail date. Tests taken on the day of embarkation are not permitted. Unvaccinated passengers must also take an on-site COVID-19 antigen test before boarding on the day of departure and another test within 24 hours of disembarkation.

For example, if your cruise starts on a Monday and you’re unvaccinated, you’d have to take your pre-cruise PCR test on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, and then another test at the cruise terminal before getting on the ship and another on the ship after you leave port. 

Currently, cruises are listed under the CDC’s Level 3 Travel Health Notice, and the agency recommends that only fully-vaccinated people consider going on a cruise, including river cruises. The CDC also recommends that anyone in a high-risk category for severe illness from COVID-19 avoid cruising, regardless of vaccination status.

While several cruise lines allow unvaccinated minors under 12 years old and those with medically-documented exemptions onboard, both Princess Cruises, Holland America, and Norwegian Cruise Line are only operating 100 percent vaccinated cruises, meaning every single person on board is required to be fully vaccinated. As with all cruise lines, this means receiving the last required dose of an approved vaccine at least 14 days before stepping foot on the ship.

Additionally, the CDC recommends that anyone who is not fully vaccinated (e.g., anyone who has not received the final dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine at least two weeks before their cruise) should quarantine for at least seven days after their cruise, even if they test negative within that time period. Any cruisers that opt not to get tested after leaving the ship are requested to quarantine for 10 days after the cruise, regardless of symptoms.

If you haven’t noticed, cruise protocols and requirements continue to change and evolve. Anyone planning to cruise should make sure to check all current requirements regarding vaccine, testing, and mask mandates before booking—and continue to monitor changes up until the day of sailing.

Article Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "COVID-19 and Cruise Ship Travel." Aug. 20, 2021

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