The cruise industry was hit by a perfect storm when the covid pandemic hit.
For an industry vulnerable to storms in general, it was a terrible combination of events that shuttered the industry, while hotels, theme parks, arenas and other venues all remained closed for much less time. .
This is because the United States government has only limited control over the operation of private industry.
A local municipality can close industries like the way New York closed Broadway or California closed its theme parks — but the federal government only has limited power over certain things.
When it comes to cruise lines, however, the federal government has incredible power.
This is because all major cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean (RLC) – Get the Royal Caribbean group reportCarnival Cruise Lines (CCA) – Get Carnival Corporation reportand Norwegian Cruise Line (NCLH) – Get the report from Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. flag their vessels outside the United States
This allows the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to regulate the operation of cruise lines.
During the pandemic, the CDC made an example of the cruise industry, it stopped cruising from North America between March 2020 and July 2021, ignoring extensive industry efforts to show it could work safely.
Eventually, the CDC relented, allowing limited-capacity crossings with extensive rules starting in early July 2021.
Now most of those protocols have disappeared as the CDC has lost its influence, with the rest of the country returning to pre-pandemic operating standards.
Cruise lines, however, still have certain rules in place and two main ones aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
What are the Covid cruise protocols like now?
Royal Caribbean recently told its booked passengers that it plans to keep its current covid protocols in place until the end of September.
Currently, Carnival, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean all have similar Covid-19 rules.
Scroll to continue
- All passengers 12 years and older must be fully vaccinated at least two weeks prior to departure.
- A vaccination card – not a digital copy – must be presented before boarding.
- All passengers must present a negative Covid test (which must be a supervised test) taken no later than two days before their cruise.
All three cruise lines have made masks optional on board.
Additionally, Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian all operate with fully vaccinated crew and have procedures designed to handle when passengers or crew members exhibit Covid symptoms while sailing.
When will cruise lines drop vaccine and testing requirements?
Many passengers and future passengers want to know how long these protocols will be in place.
Some people who aren’t vaccinated want to cruise again, while others who are vaccinated just don’t want to have to prove it.
Cruise lines, of course, have to balance people wanting a return to normalcy with other passengers who enjoy sailing with fully vaccinated passengers who have also recently tested negative.
Currently, Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian all participate in a CDC-led voluntary safe boating program that sets testing and vaccination standards.
It’s possible the CDC will change those requirements, but probably not anytime soon, according to former Food and Drug Administration chief Scott Gottlieb, a physician who is chairman of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings’ SailSafe Council.
“I think that will probably be a requirement that will be in place this fall and winter,” Gottlieb said.
“I talk more about the CDC and the political environment. I think public health officials, the CDC, will want to see what the epidemiology of this disease is when it gets to a quote-unquote ‘normal’ state.”
Gottlieb said he doesn’t expect the CDC to make any changes until he sees a period of time where no new variants break out.
He said he thinks the federal agency will wait until 2023 and not even the first thing next year.
“The short answer to the question is, I think it’s kind of spring from a CDC policy perspective,” he said.
“They’re going to want to make a decision on that after we’ve been through another fall and another winter with Covid and see if we’re really in an endemic phase with that.”