One of the biggest questions surrounding the return of cruising is how will cruise lines handle sailing with children. While vaccines have been available for adults for months, kids under 12 have been unable to receive the dose until just days ago.
That has put cruise lines in a difficult situation, whereby they want to encourage as many passengers as possible to sail with the shot, but also consider families with kids who weren’t eligible for the vaccine.
Some like Norwegian Cruise Lines have taken a stance that everyone has to be vaccinated to board its ships. Obviously, this excludes families with smaller kids from sailing.
Other lines have allowed exceptions for unvaccinated children to sail. For example, Carnival — which counts families as a major portion of its passengers — requires those over 12 to have the shot. It then allows a small number of passengers without the shot if they are granted an exemption. Parents of children under 12 can request an exemption, allowing some younger kids to cruise.
The question became what would happen when the vaccine was approved for kids under 12 years old. Now we have an answer, at least in the short term.
A recent change to Carnival’s website says that the cruise line will continue to allow exemptions, but does encourage families to consider vaccination if they want to be sure they can sail:
Exemptions for children and adults are not guaranteed and are capacity-controlled based on the total number of vaccinated guests projected to be on board. The number of exemptions we are able to grant is far fewer than the requests we receive. While the decision to vaccinate children is obviously a personal one, if you are a family with children ages 5-11 and want to guarantee your ability to sail together, we encourage you to consider your vaccination options.
- Carnival.com (emphasis added)
To meet vaccinated cruise standards, the CDC says a ship needs to sail with at least 95% of passengers having the shot. Carnival has followed this guideline, but has still allowed a small portion of passenger exemptions if they are ineligible due to age or a medical condition that prohibits a person from taking the jab.
The exemption process makes family cruising more difficult. Families have to first book their cruise and then hope to receive one of the exemptions to sail. If accommodations can’t be made, then it means they either have to cancel and receive a refund or move their sailing to a different date. Exemptions are issued within 14 days of sailing.
In addition, those without the shot face different rules once on the ship. This includes a test a couple of days before the cruise, another at the terminal, and another before departing the ship on cruises of longer than four days. The required tests also see a $150 per person charge. Unvaccinated passengers also can’t go ashore on their own unless visiting one of Carnival’s private islands. Only select bubble tours are allowed.
One more reason to think about getting the shot? Carnival now says if the child wants to visit the kid’s area on the ship — Camp Ocean — then they must be vaccinated:
Maintaining High Levels of Vaccinated Passengers, With Flexibility for Parents
With this new announcement, Carnival seems to be doing its best to thread the needle between keeping vaccine rates high on the ship and also allowing some flexibility for parents.
Polls indicate only about 27% of parents will vaccinate their kids aged 5-11 “right away.” A full third say they will “wait and see,” and about 30% says they will not have their kids get the shot.
This decision by Carnival still means ships will sail with the vast majority of passengers vaccinated. In addition, with the testing requirement and kid’s area protocols, there is a strong incentive for younger passengers to have the shot as well.
Even so, if a family wants to sail and isn’t ready to have their younger kids get the jab, there is still a path that lets them take the cruise.