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Royal Caribbean drops vaccine requirement for certain cruise ship sailings

10 Aug 2022
Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean wont require passengers to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 on select sailings beginning in September.

Ship sailing

Up until now, only unvaccinated guests under the age of 12 have been allowed on Royal Caribbean ships.

Starting with September 5th departures guests regardless of their vaccination status, can cruise on the following itineraries, as long as they meet any testing requirements to board: 

  • Cruises from Los Angeles, California 
  • Cruises from Galveston, Texas 
    • Please note, currently, only guests that show a valid vaccination record can get off the ship in Grand Cayman.
  • Cruises from New Orleans, Louisiana
    • Please note, currently, only guests that show a valid vaccination record can get off the ship in Grand Cayman.
  • Cruises from a European homeport 
    • Please note, guests who are not “up to date” on their vaccination per EMA standards will need to take a test onboard in order to get off the ship in Greece and Spain. 

Vaccination requirements remain in place until further notice for any homeport that is not mentioned above. 

Royal Caribbean says it is working to allow unvaccinated on other sailings, but they need to coordinate with other countries first.

"We are working with local governments in the Eastern Caribbean to align on vaccination requirements for more itineraries. We want to ensure a great experience going ashore at these ports, for guests of any vaccination status, while meeting local health regulations."

Missing from this list are cruises that visit destinations in The Bahamas or Eastern Caribbean.

Royal Caribbean believes that even by allowing unvaccinated passengers onboard, their health protocols far exceed that of other forms of leisure travel, "We continue to maintain additional layers of protection that far exceed any other vacation experience. This includes vaccination of all crew and keeping them up to date with boosters when eligible, routine surveillance of all crew, enhanced testing and treatment capabilities in our onboard medical centers, and much more."

Testing requirements

Here are the pre-arrival testing requirements for the sailings that allow unvaccinated passengers onboard.

Los Angeles & Galveston departures:

  • Cruises 5 nights or less: 
    • Unvaccinated guests aged 2 years and older must present a negative COVID-19 test result taken within 3 days of the sail date. 
    • Vaccinated guests, regardless of age, no longer need to test for sailing lengths of 5 nights or less. 
  • Cruises 6 nights or more: All guests aged 2 years and older, regardless of vaccination status, must present a negative COVID-19 test result taken within 3 days of the sail date.
  • Accepted Tests: Any FDA‐approved PCR or antigen test supervised in person or by a telehealth professional meet this requirement.

Europe departures:

  • Testing requirements remain unchanged
Port of New Orleans

New Orleans departures:

  • Testing requirements have not been finalized

Why can cruise lines now allow unvaccinated passengers onboard?

Water slides on Adventure of the Seas

The change in policy is rooted primarily in a change in policy by the U.S. government.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ended its Covid-19 program for U.S. cruise ships July 18, 2022. This allowed the cruise lines to develop their own protocols, instead of it being mandated.

The CDC still makes recommendations to the lines, but ultimately, cruise lines craft protocols as they see fit, similar to other forms of leisure travel.

Celebrity Cruises will allow unvaccinated too

Celebrity cruise ship sailing

Celebrity Cruises will also allow unvaccinated cruisers onboard.

Beginning September 5th, 2022, all travelers, regardless of vaccination status, can now cruise on the following Celebrity Cruises sailings as long as they meet any testing requirements to board:

  • All sailings departing from the UK and Europe (with the exception of Iceland)
  • All sailings departing from Los Angeles to Mexican Riviera 

All other sailings (and sailings departing before September 5, 2022), the old restrictions still apply.

Other cruise lines also allowing unvaccinated onboard.

Norwegian Breakaway

Royal Caribbean's announcement follows other cruise lines that have already relaxed their vaccine restrictions recently.

Norwegian Cruise Line made headlines when it announced it would end its vaccine requirement.

Beginning September 3, cruisers that are 12 or older who are unvaccinated or don't show proof of vaccination will be allowed onboard as long as they can show the results of a negative antigen or PCR test taken in the 72 hours before boarding. 

Children under 12 will have no testing or vaccination requirements.

NCL's policy also applies to sister brands Oceania and Regent Seven Seas.

NCL's rule change is subject to certain local guidelines, so cruises visiting Canada, Bermuda, or Greece will still require adults to be vaccinated.

Royal Princess in Vancouver

Princess Cruises will also begin welcoming a small amount of unvaccinated adults onboard.

Princess said it will allow up to 10% of unvaccinated guests on most sailings without exemptions or vaccine status justification. Unvaccinated cruisers must apply on a first-come, first-served basis.  Guests will need to notify the reservations team at time of booking to ensure that they are counted as part of the 10% threshold.  

Paradigm shift in policy

Royal Caribbean headquarters in Miami

Allowing unvaccinated guests back on at least some ships is a major shift in policy from the last two years.

Cruise lines have restricted their ships to only allow adults that are fully vaccinated onboard since sailings restarted in late 2020.

When Royal Caribbean resumed cruises in summer 2021, vaccine requirements were in place and remained so until now.

Royal Caribbean logo

Royal Caribbean Group CEO Jason Liberty spoke about the change during an earnings call with investors a few weeks ago and said the change is a move to be more like other forms of leisure travel, such as theme parks, casinos, or air travel. 

"We are continuing to adapt our protocols to align more closely with how the rest of society and other travel and leisure businesses are operating."

"This means that we're transitioning to the point where everyone will be able to vacation with us while always working with our destination partners to meet their regulations."

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 expert 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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