After roughly six weeks with the CDC’s travel warning for cruises at Level 4 — its highest status — the health agency has lowered the risk to Level 3, marking an improvement in the COVID situation.
Previously, the Level 4 warning, which had been in place since December 30, 2021, advised travelers to “avoid cruise travel, regardless of vaccination status.” The new Level 3 advisory now says travelers should be “up to date” with their COVID-19 vaccine before sailing.
If a passenger is not current on their vaccination, then the CDC still says to avoid cruise travel.
The agency’s definition of “up to date” is a two-dose vaccination, with a booster if the second dose was more than five months ago. If the original vaccination was a one-dose shot like Johnson & Johnson, then the CDC says you should have a booster at least two months after that shot.
At this time most cruise lines do not require a booster dose in order to sail, although it is encouraged. They do, however, require the vast majority of passengers be fully vaccinated.
The move to reduce the travel warning does not come as a surprise. While Omicron caused a spike in cases aboard ships (including about 5,000 cases in the second half of December), the wave has subsided quickly.
Meanwhile, the color status of cruise ships tracked by the CDC has improved over the past several weeks, and lines are reporting fewer cases. Royal Caribbean Group even mentioned in a recent investor update that cases have returned to “exceptionally low pre-Omicron levels,” prompting CEO Jason Liberty to say “it appears the worst is behind us.”
During that same update just days ago, Royal Caribbean International President Michael Bayley shared his thoughts that the CDC could change its warning level “in the not too distant future.”
Cruise Industry Cheers the Change
As you would expect, the cruise industry welcomed the updated CDC guidance.
“The decision by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to lower the Travel Health Notice threat level for cruise ships is a step in the right direction and recognizes the leadership and effectiveness of the cruise sector’s health and safety protocols that are unmatched by virtually any other commercial setting,” Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), an industry trade group, said in a released statement.
“Cruise ships have medical, isolation and quarantine facilities on site, implement extensive response plans using private shoreside resources, and have created an environment where almost every single person is fully vaccinated. As a result, cases of COVID-19 are very low with the vast majority mild or asymptomatic—making cruise unequaled in its multi-layered approach to effectively mitigating COVID-19.”
Passengers are unlikely to see many changes, if any, due to the change by the CDC. With cases falling sharply both on land an at sea, cruise lines were already began taking steps to relax protocols even before the change in status.
For instance, both Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean have announced changes to mask protocols onboard, with NCL allowing guests to go maskless starting in March. Carnival Cruise Line has returned to allowing smoking in casinos after ending that policy temporarily during the Omicron spike.
No matter if passenger see a difference or not, the CDC’s move is a great sign in the improvement of the health crisis as it relates to cruising. However, the agency does warn that “for travelers booking cruise travel now, be aware that the level may change as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves and may be different by the time of your cruise.”