Can you cruise without having a vaccine?
While it is far easier — and safer — to simply get the shot to sail, if you’re one of the holdouts, then there is some good news. Yes, there are ways you can take a cruise, even if you are unvaccinated.
The catch? It’s more difficult to sail without the shot and space for unvaccinated passengers is limited. So if you want to sail a particular cruise line or a specific trip, it’s possible that you might not be able to do so. When you are vaccinated, you can cruise any line at any time.
Even so, if you’re wanting to take a cruise but don’t want to be vaccinated, there are ways to get on the ship. We’ve covered how you can sail for all the cruise lines below…
In This Article...
What to Know in General About Vaccine Rules and Cruising
Before we get into how to sail, there are some general things you should know regarding vaccinations and cruises.
First, in general cruise lines do require most passengers to have the shot. So no matter which line you sail, your fellow passengers will almost all be vaccinated. And before you think this is just the cruise line rules in action, realize that many countries have rules regarding who can visit their country based on vaccine status. That impacts the policies cruise lines put in place.
However, there are some exceptions regarding who has to have the shot.
For one, cruise lines have more relaxed rules for children under 12 years old. It’s common across cruise lines to allow passengers under 12 to sail freely without needing vaccination. So if you are sailing with a smaller child that you don’t want to be vaccinated, then that’s normally not an issue.
In addition, some lines offer exemptions for passengers that are older than 12 that have medical or religious beliefs that prevent being vaccinated. So if you qualify on one of these grounds, it’s more likely you’ll be able to sail. (A couple of lines currently allow a limited number of exemptions for any reason.)
Finally, at this time cruise lines sailing vaccinated cruises typically put the level at 90% of passengers. So while 90% of eligible passengers need the shot, they do allow 10% to sail without. This 10% includes all passengers aged five years old and up (passengers under five aren’t included in the calculation).
Applying for Vaccine Exemptions
If you’re part of a group that is typically required to sail with the vaccine (generally those 12+ years and older) then you’ll likely have to apply for an exemption. After all, if cruise lines want to stay above a certain threshold of vaccinated passengers, then they need to know who is sailing without the shot.
Applying for an exemption isn’t hard. For some it’s an online form that you fill out. Others require you to call the cruise line. But just because you apply for an exemption doesn’t automatically mean you qualify. It is possible (especially if you book your trip closer to the sail date) that you could be denied.
Since some cruise lines operate on a “first-come, first-served” basis, it’s a good idea to book and contact the line early if you plan to apply for an exemption.
How Requirements Could Change in the Future
One final thing to know is that requirements could change in the future.
Up until July 2022, cruise lines followed the CDC’s voluntary program for Covid protocols on cruise ships. However, the health agency ended that program, giving cruise lines more leeway on how to implement rules around things like testing and vaccines.
As the world has learned to live alongside the virus and it appears less severe, restrictions have eased around the world and on cruise ships. It is possible that vaccine mandates put in place could ease as well. For example, Virgin Voyages recently went from requiring all passengers to have the vaccine to 90%.
You should look to your specific cruise line for the latest details on their policy. We expect that over time cruise lines will move toward being more relaxed on vaccine requirements. At this time, however, the vast majority of passengers must have the shot.
Below we’ve listed policies for major cruise lines. While all cruise lines offer the ability for younger kids to sail without the vaccine, those with an asterisk indicate cruise lines with exemptions for adults.
Sailing Carnival Without the Vaccine*
According the Carnival, all passengers over five years old are required to be vaccinated, however, they do offer an exemption program for children 5-11 and those adults with medical conditions:
“Vaccine exemptions for cruises to the Caribbean will be limited to a very small number of children ages 5-11, and teens and adults with a medical condition preventing their vaccination. Our sailings from Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Maryland, South Carolina, Alabama, New York and Virginia will operate under these criteria with the assumption that current restrictions imposed by destinations will remain in place.”
There are some other tweaks to the policy, depending on the specific cruise. So be prepared for that possibility. One thing to know is that if you sail unvaccinated, you may be restricted from leaving the ship in some ports and have other requirements to sail.
Sailing Royal Caribbean Without the Vaccine*
Update: As of September 5, 2022, Royal Caribbean will no longer require passengers to be vaccinated to sail if departing from ports in California, Louisiana, and Texas. As well, no vaccine will be required if sailing from Europe. No special request or exemption is need to sail unvaccinated.
Cruises from Florida and other ports of departure will still require the shot for those 12 and older in order to sail.
As well, even if not required, Royal Caribbean asks that you still bring proof of vaccination to your cruise.
For cruises departing the United States, Royal Caribbean says that all guests 12 and older must have the shot. “All Royal Caribbean guests age 12 and older must present proof of full COVID-19 vaccination with the final dose of their vaccine administered at least 14 days before sailing. Kids age 11 or younger who have been vaccinated may present proof of full vaccination and follow the protocols for vaccinated guests. While we do not require kids 11 or younger than to be vaccinated, many are and it is highly likely destinations will begin to require guests age 5 and older to be vaccinated.” There is no mention of adults being able to sail with an exemption to having the shot.
Sailing Norwegian Cruise Line Without the Vaccine*
Update: As of September 3, 2022, Norwegian Cruise Line will no longer require passengers to be vaccinated to sail.
After that date, all passengers under 12 years and younger will be free to sail without needing a vaccine or requiring a test before boarding. In other words, it will be just as it was before the pandemic.
Passengers over 12 years old will no longer require a Covid test to cruise if they are vaccinated. If unvaccinated, passengers are now able to still cruise but must have a negative test taking within 72 hours of embarkation.
At this time, Norwegian Cruise Line does not allow passengers 12 years and older to sail on its ships without being vaccinated. However, children 11 and under do not need to have the vaccine to cruise. “All guests age twelve and over, as well as all crew, must be fully vaccinated at least 2 weeks prior to departure in order to board. While we welcome unvaccinated children under the age of 12 onboard, it is the responsibility of the guest to be aware of any local protocols and/or travel restrictions in place at the visiting destinations at the time of sailing.”
Sailing Princess Without the Vaccine*
Princess is among the most lenient when it comes to sailing unvaccinated. They offer the ability to apply for an exemption for any reason (versus having a medical reason not to get the shot). However, it is currently limited to 10% of passengers and on a first-come, first-served basis:
“We manage an exemption process for guests who are not vaccinated regardless of the reason, subject to the regulations of the ports we visit. Exemptions are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Children under 5 years old (who are not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccines) are not required to apply for an exemption but must still follow all other requirements for unvaccinated guests. Exemptions can be obtained by calling 1-800-PRINCESS.”
Sailing Celebrity Without the Vaccine
Celebrity currently says that it operates cruises with “crew and guest vaccination rates approaching 100%.”
For cruises from the U.S., the cruise line currently requires that “All guests who are eligible to be vaccinated must be fully vaccinated with all initial doses administered at least 14 days prior to sailing. As of May 5, 2022, this will include all guests 12 years of age and older on all Celebrity Cruises sailings.”
So kids under 12 do not need to be vaccinated, however, adults do need to have the shot.
Sailing MSC Without the Vaccine
MSC’s policy toward vaccination is that while kids under 12 years old are allowed to sail unvaccinated, those older than that must have it. There is no mention of an exemption for medical reasons:
“VACCINE REQUIREMENTS: All guests 12 years and older must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 at the time of embarkation.”
Sailing Disney Without the Vaccine
While most cruise lines allow kids under 12 to sail unvaccinated, Disney — known for being a family focused line — requires kids aged 5 and older to be vaccinated in order to sail.
“Currently, Disney Cruise Line continues to require all vaccine-eligible Guests (based on US eligibility requirements) to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, as defined by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at the time of sailing. This is a requirement for all Guests (US and international) ages 5 and older.”
There is no exemption policy mentioned for children or adults.
Sailing Virgin Voyages Without the Vaccine*
Until recently, Virgin Voyages had a simple policy. As an adults-only cruise line, Virgin required everyone on the ship to be vaccinated. Now that policy has changed to 90% of passengers, allowing 10% of those onboard to sail unvaccinated with an exemption.
Passengers can call the cruise line at 954-488-2955 to ask about sailing without having the shot. There is no mention of needing a reason (e.g. medical or religious) to be eligible for an exemption.
One Final Note About Cruising Unvaccinated
As a reminder, with the CDC lifting its voluntary program, it’s possible that rules around vaccine requirements could ease in the coming weeks and months. That means if you don’t have the shot, then you might have more options to sail in the future.
That said, by far the easiest and healthiest way to take a cruise right now is to simply be vaccinated. It offers you the ability to sail any line at any time, without having to go through an exemption process.