CDC gives cruise lines relaxed face mask guidelines and issues new rules for vaccinated passengers

26 May 2021
Matt Hochberg

The CDC has relaxed a few rules for fully vaccinated cruise passengers.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued updates its Operations Manual for Simulated and Restricted Voyages that primarily talk about what cruise lines are required to do as it pertains to guests onboard.

The new update covers a few changes in policies that either relax protocols, or give the cruise lines the choice to be less stringent.

In this round of updates, many of the rules focus on face masks for fully vaccinated passengers.

The first change is a cruise line can allow all passengers and crew they do not have to wear a mask outdoors.

Cruise ship operators, at their discretion, may advise all passengers and crew that they do not have to wear a mask if outdoors. CDC still recommends that people wear a mask if they are not fully vaccinated and in a crowded area.

Second, the CDC has removed the suggestion to wear a mask outdoors in crowded settings.  Previously it said fully vaccinated passengers could gather outdoors or engage in outdoor activities, but would need to wear a mask if there was a "crowded situation".

Cruise ship operators, at their discretion, may advise crew who are fully vaccinated that they do not have to wear a mask or maintain physical distance in areas of the ship that are inaccessible to passengers.

Another new option for cruise lines is there can be areas of the ship reserved for fully vaccinated passengers and crew that have no social distancing requirements.

The CDC even would allow self-serve buffets in an area reserved only for fully vaccinated passengers.

Cruise ship operators, at their discretion, may designate areas as only accessible to fully vaccinated passengers and crew where masks and physical distancing are not required (e.g., casinos; bars; spas; entertainment venues; and dining areas, including self-serve buffets).

For ships with at least 95% of crew and 95% of passengers fully vaccinated, cruise ship operators, at their discretion, may advise passengers and crew that they do not have to wear a mask or maintain physical distance in any areas.

Another big change is if cruise ships can attain at least 95% fully vaccinated passengers and 98% fully vaccinated crew members, a number of rules will become suggestions instead.

This includes many of the onerous rules that added a great deal of friction to the cruise experience, including:

  • 6-foot social distancing at restaurants and bars
  • Limiting seating capacity 
  • Eliminate self-service buffets
  • Install sneeze guards

Royal Caribbean International currently has no plans to meet the 95/98 mandate due to the amount of families on their ships.

Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain said earlier this week because Royal Caribbean is so family oriented and there are often large numbers of children, he does not think reaching 95% is possible.

The CDC also removed  the rule for fully vaccinated passengers on independent shore excursions have to wear a mask while indoors (unless local laws require it).

The changes are posted on the CDC's website.

This is the latest round of rule changes by the CDC over the last few weeks. Each time, the CDC has relaxed, adjusted, or otherwise removed rules. Many of the changes seem to be occurring following tight-knit conversations with the CDC.

Mr. Fain said the discussions between Royal Caribbean and the CDC has been fruitful as of late, "over the past weeks, that level of dialogue has improved one thousand percent and that dialogue has allowed us to understand their concerns. But in addition to that, dialogue has enabled the CDC to understand our concerns."

Matt started Royal Caribbean Blog in 2010 as a place to share his passion for all things Royal Caribbean with readers. He oversees all the writers at Royal Caribbean Blog, and writes a great deal of content on a daily basis.  He has become one of the foremost experts on a Royal Caribbean cruise.

Over the years, he has reached Pinnacle Club status with Royal Caribbean's customer loyalty program.

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