12+ Questions and Answers on Requirements to Take a Cruise (Vaccines, Testing, Masks, and More)

To say that cruising has some new rules since the health crisis would be an understatement. In fact, perhaps no other segment of the travel industry has undergone as big a change than cruising.

Restricted area sign on cruise ship
Sailing protocols are different than before the pandemic. Masks, vaccines, testing, and other protocols are now in place.

While the fun and sun are definitely still there, it’s also accompanied by new requirements surrounding testing, vaccinations, and face masks. For those that haven’t taken a cruise since trips returned, the new rules can be a little confusing. Even if you have sailed, protocols continue to change as the virus evolves.

To help you out, below we cover some of the most common questions that cruise passengers have about the protocols when sailing. Keep in mind that each cruise line may have slightly different rules, but what’s below covers most. It’s best to consult your specific line for the latest updates regarding what’s required.

Do I Have to Be Vaccinated to Cruise?

For the vast majority of people, you will have to be vaccinated to sail on a cruise ship. This means having the last dose of the shot at least 14 days before your ship departs.

So if you have taken the first shot of a two-dose regimen, you aren’t considered vaccinated. If you took the second dose three days before the cruise, then you aren’t considered vaccinated. Should you opt for the one-dose vaccine, it also must be taken at least 14 days before your cruise.

That said, not every person on every cruise line has to be vaccinated. Some lines such as Norwegian Cruise Line require everyone to have the dose to sail, no exceptions. Others do allow smaller kids to sail without the shot, as well as those with medical exemptions.

In general, however, if you are 12 years or older, then expect the vaccine to be required at this time to take a cruise.

Which Vaccines Are Accepted?

Vaccines approved by the FDA or World Health Organization are suitable for sailing on a cruise.

The major cruise lines accept vaccines approved by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) or the World Health Organization (WHO).

For those in the U.S., that means Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are all accepted. Outside of the United States, vaccines like AstraZeneca or Sinovac are also widely accepted by cruise lines.

One thing to note is that mixing of vaccines is also ok, as long as the individual vaccines are accepted and spaced apart the appropriate amount of time. So if you have one shot of Pfizer and one shot of Moderna, then you are good to go.

Do I Need a Booster Shot to Sail?

At this time, cruise lines are not requiring boosters. That said, the lines say they are strongly recommended for passengers. (Some lines, such as Royal Caribbean, specifically mention that crew member vaccinations are boosted.)

It would not be a surprise if in the near future a booster shot is required in order to cruise, especially if the CDC definition of “fully vaccinated” were to change to include another shot.

Are Kids Required to Be Vaccinated?

Requirements regarding shots for kids in order to cruise vary widely from line to line. We’ve included policies for major lines below, but you’ll want to consult your specific line before sailing to make sure nothing has changed.

In general, the rules fall into two categories. First are lines that require vaccinations for everyone on the ship. In this case, every person — no matter their age — must be vaccinated to sail. Kids ineligible for the vaccine are out of luck.

The second group are lines that require the shot if over 12 years old but make exceptions for younger kids. In this case, a child can sail unvaccinated, but there may be more restrictions placed on them during the cruise about where they can visit, testing, etc.

Here are the policies of several major lines at the time of writing:

Carnival: A small number of unvaccinated exemptions are allowed for kids under 12 years old. If your child is 5-11, then a vaccine allows them to sail freely without applying for an exemption.

Royal Caribbean: Children under 12 are not required to be vaccinated, but will undergo additional testing requirements.

Norwegian Cruise Line: All passengers, including children, must be vaccinated.

Disney: Passengers over the age of five must be vaccinated to sail.

What Proof of Vaccination Do I Have to Show?

Before you board, you’ll be required to show proof of vaccination at the terminal. The most widely accepted option is the vaccination card you received when you got the shot. All cruise lines accept this physical card as proof.

If you live somewhere that issued an electronic record certifying your vaccination, then that is also accepted.

Cruise lines differ on whether or not they accept a photo or copy of a vaccination record as proof. For instance, Carnival Cruise Line and Princess do not accept these alternates. Norwegian Cruise Line does accept a photo of your vaccine card.

The best bet, however, is to simply bring the physical card issued after your vaccination to the port with you.

Do I Have to Take a COVID Test to Cruise?

Yes, you will need to take a test before you sail. When you have to take the test depends on the cruise line, but most require you to take a test on your own within two days of the start of your cruise. So if you sail on a Saturday, then you need to be tested either Thursday or Friday. Some limited tests are available at the pier (for a charge), but it’s not a good idea to rely on these as they are typically in limited supply.

A few cruise lines do test everyone at the pier before boarding the ship. In this case, the test is free if the cruise line is conducting it at the terminal for all passengers ahead of boarding.

If sailing unvaccinated, then the testing requirements are stiffer. This usually means a test days before the cruise and another test at the terminal before you can board. There may be another test required on the ship, depending on your specific cruise.

Do I Have to Take a Test on the Ship?

In general, most passengers don’t have to take a test on most cruises. So if you’re taking a traditional 7-night trip and are vaccinated, then you won’t need to take a test on the ship. However, there are some exceptions.

First, should you feel symptoms, then you may be asked to test. In addition, if there are positive cases on the ship, contact tracing will be performed. If you are found to be in close contact with a case, then you will likely be tested.

There are a few other situations where you might have to test. A test may be needed before returning home if you return to a country other than where the ship debarks. This will depend on the requirements of the destination country. As well, unvaccinated passengers on trips longer than four days may be asked to test before disembarking.

Are Masks Required on the Ship?

Mask on a cruise ship door

For most cruises, masks are required in indoor areas of the ship. First, in the United States federal rules require masks in cruise terminals. So from the time you arrive at the terminal until on your ship, you must be masked.

From there, the ship’s rules are in place. As of the time of this writing, most ships require passengers to wear masks in indoor areas of the ship, unless in the cabin or when eating/drinking.

You don’t have to wear masks when in outside areas of the ship.

You’ll also be required to wear a mask during debarkation from the ship until you exit the terminal on your way home.

Do I Have to Take a Test to Go Into Port?

While rules can change from time to time, as of now you shouldn’t expect to have to test in order to go ashore. If you’re fully vaccinated, then going ashore is just like it was before the pandemic. You simply walk freely off the ship. 

If unvaccinated, many ports don’t allow passengers to go ashore on their own. They may allow unvaccinated guests to go ashore if part of a “bubble” tour that is separate from the broader public and has special restrictions in place.

Do I Have to Wear a Mask in Port?

While each port and their rules will vary based on local ordinances, in general you should expect to need to mask up — at least temporarily — when going ashore.

Mask rules are often relaxed when outdoors and spaced apart. So if you are visiting a beach, you won’t be expected to mask up. But if you head into a restaurant in port, you may be asked to wear one until eating or drinking. Bottom line is that if you are headed ashore, be sure to bring a mask with you as it may be required.

Private ports of call like Royal Caribbean’s CocoCay allow you to go maskless, similar to outdoor areas of the ship.

Do I Have to Distance From Others on the Ship?

Distancing is recommended on ships and capacity limits are in place. In addition, you’re likely to see reminders about distancing on the ship. And if sailing on a ship that has unvaccinated passengers, expect to see tables in restaurants or seats in the theater blocked to allow for more space.

That said, don’t expect there to be crew members standing guard with measuring tapes to ensure that two people don’t get too close. You’re still free to socialize with others on the ship, but you will see reminders to keep distance between other traveling parties.

Can These Requirements Change?

Absolutely. Just because a protocol is in place today doesn’t mean that it will be tomorrow. Cruise lines regularly adjust rules in response to what’s happening with cases on land. For instance, when ships first returned to sailing, masks weren’t required indoors. As cases spiked, however, mask rules were put in place.

That said, we would expect rules surrounding vaccines and testing to stick around for the foreseeable future. There could definitely be changes and tweaks, especially surrounding booster shots and the sort of tests required before boarding.

Where Can I Find Each Cruise Line’s Requirements?

While we’ve covered the general rules for cruising, each cruise line has their own specific rules. They are largely the same as one another, but there are some small tweaks that you’ll want to know about.

Each cruise line maintains a page that highlights health protocols for sailing. If you’re set to sail on a specific line, be sure to follow their page for the latest updates about what is required on the ship.

Do the Rules Make Cruising Feel Different?

Masking at terminal

With the new protocols, is the fun of cruising diminished? Does it feel changed from before the pandemic?

In our opinion, the new protocols take some time to get used to, however, the appeal of cruising is still there. Vaccination and testing requirements really only impact you when checking in at the terminal. Once on the ship, it doesn’t affect you at all.

What does have some impact are rules around masking and distancing in areas around the ship. These can take a day or two to adjust to until you get the hang of what’s now required.

In other words, there are some differences, but if you enjoy cruising, then you don’t have to worry. That same fun is still there.

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