The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) COVID-19 cruise program provides instructions for cruise lines operating foreign-flagged cruise ships in U.S. waters and is designed to ensure health and safety protections for travelers (crew and passengers) in a way that mitigates the risk of spreading COVID-19.
The CDC recently issued the next phase of guidelines. The new COVID-19 cruise program consists of three categories each built to protect the health of passengers and crew. Each category includes specific guidelines based on vaccination and booster status. Cruise ship vaccination status classifications are defined as:
- Not Highly Vaccinated: ships with less than 95% passengers and 95% crew who are fully vaccinated.
- Highly Vaccinated: ships with at least 95% passengers and 95% crew who are fully vaccinated, but with less than 95% of passengers and 95% of crew who are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines.
- Vaccination Standard of Excellence: ships with at least 95% passengers and 95% crew who are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines.
The new program continues to be a color status system for COVID-19 cases on ships. The color status of ships is based on data submitted by the cruise lines. When a cruise ship notifies the CDC of suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 on board, the CDC determines whether an investigation is needed. Following the investigation the ship will receive a ‘green’, ‘yellow’, ‘orange’ or ‘red’ status. When a ship receives a red status additional public health precautions, such as returning to port immediately or delaying the next voyage, may be implemented.
Cruise lines that choose to opt out of the CDC’s voluntary program will have their ships designated as ‘gray’. This designation means that the CDC has neither reviewed nor confirmed the cruise ship operator’s health and safety protocols.
As part of the new COVID-19 cruise program cruise lines must have detailed COVID-19 response plans, and port agreements, plus continued onboard testing for passengers and crew, and must continue to have other policies and procedures in place.
The program is recommended, and cruise lines choosing to opt in on a voluntary basis are required to follow all recommendations and guidance as a condition of their participation in the program. Cruise lines are not able to pick and choose which recommendations they follow.
While the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) initially voiced its displeasure with the CDC’s new COVID-19 cruise program, 18 major cruise brands have enrolled in the updated program. The cruise brands represent a total of 110 ships and include all major ships operating in U.S. waters. This number could grow over time as more ships resume operations in the U.S.
Companies and brands who have signed up for the program include:
- Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line (Bahamas Paradise)
- Carnival Corporation (Carnival, Holland America Line, Princess, Seabourn)
- Disney Cruise Line (Disney)
- Genting Hong Kong (Crystal)
- MSC (MSC Cruises)
- Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (Norwegian, Oceania, Regent)
- Royal Caribbean Cruises (Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Silversea)
- SeaDream (SeaDream)
- Sycamore Partners (Azamara)
- Viking Cruises (Viking)
- Virgin Voyages (Virgin)
While under the new guidelines masks onboard will be recommended but not required, there may be certain venues and events in which masks will still be required.
Royal Caribbean for example has said it expects unvaccinated children to continue wearing masks indoors and in crowded settings. Masks are also required for all children while at the Adventure Ocean youth program.
Masks will also be optional at the company’s private destinations, Perfect Day at CocoCay and Labadee, while guests are advised to follow local regulations at other ports. The company also said masks should also be worn at the cruise terminal during the boarding and screening process, as well as during disembarkation. Guests under 2 do not have to wear a mask at any time.
For sailings in Europe Royal Caribbean has yet to determine its health and safety protocols.