Do I Need a Vaccine to Cruise? Policies for Major Cruise Lines

Do I need a vaccine to cruise? That’s been one of the biggest questions in a return to sailing.

Vaccine vial

As the United States has opened up as the vaccine rolled out rapidly, many people have returned to a normal way of life. That includes things like visiting restaurants or movie theaters, going to a sporting event, and of course, travel.

The good news is that given past waves, the vaccines and prior cases seem to be keeping case counts and serious illness lower. As a result, people are able to get back to the things they love and cruises have had a successful restart.

However, we all know that cruising hasn’t just got back to exactly what it was before the pandemic. For the most part the passenger experience is the same, but there is also testing, better air filtration, contract tracing, and more.

Perhaps the biggest change is vaccines. They’ve been called “game changers” by cruise executives and are key to being able to sail again. 

But not everyone is willing to take the shot. Others won’t take it for health reasons, and then there are children, who may eligible to receive the dose. 

For most passengers over 12 years old, however, vaccines are required to set sail.

Still, each cruise line has made their own policies, which can make it more difficult for passengers to understand what’s required. And then there are questions surrounding booster doses.

To help you out, we’ve highlighted all the latest announced policies below. By far the best thing you can do is simply get the shot — and booster dose — if possible. That way if your cruise line does require vaccination/boosting, you’ll already be covered and ready to set sail.

Note: Vaccine policies can change quickly. We’ve highlighted the latest policies as of the publication date, but your cruise line will be the final source on what’s required for your specific sailing.

Carnival

Carnival Cruise Line requires most passengers to have the vaccine to sail.

Passengers 12 years and older should have the vaccine to cruise, although there are some caveats for those with medical conditions (more on this in a moment). Children 5-11 aren't required to have the shot, but may not be able to sail without it. Children under five years old do not require a vaccine to sail.

Carnival does allow a small number of exemptions to sail unvaccinated. Booked passengers over 12 years old can apply for an exemption if they can't get the vaccine for a medical reason. Children 5-11 can apply for an exemption as well, but if vaccinated then they can sail freely. If denied an exemption, then the child won't be able to sail.

According to Carnival's website:

"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 who can provide written confirmation from their medical provider that they cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons."

Booster doses are required only on certain long-distance trips. Most cruises do not require an extra shot to sail.

You can follow the latest vaccine requirements on Carnival's COVID-19 Protocols page.

Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean ship in Port Canaveral

While vaccine requirements vary depending on the specific cruise and its departure port, the vast majority of Royal Caribbean trips require that passengers 12 years and older to be fully vaccinated in order to sail. (See more details here.)

Children aged 5-11 do not require the vaccine, however, it can make life easier with simpler testing requirements before boarding compared to those sailing without the vaccine. All kids under 12 are free to sail with or without the shot. Keep in mind, however, that Royal Caribbean says:

"While we do not require kids younger than 12 to be vaccinated, many are and it is highly likely destinations will begin to require guests age 5 and older to be vaccinated. We will notify booked guests as this guidance evolves." 

If sailing a transatlantic cruise, then the cruise line does require vaccines for those five years and older. 

Booster shots are not required but the line says they "strongly recommend" you be up to date with the vaccine.

Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Cruise Line had one of the strictest vaccine requirements of any cruise line. Previously, any passenger -- no matter the age -- had to be vaccinated to sail.

Now that rule has been relaxed somewhat, to apply to passengers 12 and older. Kids under 12 can sail without the shot. According to the cruise line's "Sail Safe" program:

"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."

While booster shots aren't required, but the cruise line does say that "many countries" are requiring them to visit.

Princess

Princess cruise ship in Cozumel

Princess, as part of Carnival Corporation, offers a similar policy as Carnival Cruise Line where the vast majority of passengers must be vaccinated to cruise: 

"Princess Cruises continues to operate fully-vaccinated cruises that meet the U.S. CDC requirement for sailing with at least 95% of guests fully vaccinated – excluding children under five years of age (who are not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccines). These cruises are available for guests who have received their final dose of an authorized/approved COVID-19 vaccine at least 14 days prior to the beginning of the cruise and have proof of vaccination, in accordance with CDC guidelines.

"In addition, where local regulations allow, we are managing an exemption process that supports religious, medical and other guest considerations, but children under five may be booked without an exemption."

However, cruises that stop in Canada are required to have 100% vaccination, except for kids under 12.

Celebrity

Celebrity's vaccination policy is among the simplest. The cruise line requires all passengers five years and older to be vaccinated to get on the ship:

"All crew and guests who are eligible to be vaccinated must be fully vaccinated with all initial doses administered at least 14 days prior to sailing. Effective April 15, 2022, this will include all guests 5 years of age and older on sailings departing the US."

The only persons who can sail without the shot are kids under five years old who aren't yet eligible for vaccines.  

Celebrity does state that booster doses of the vaccine are not required to sail.

MSC Cruises

MSC Seaside in port

MSC is a popular choice for passengers looking for relatively affordable fares. The cruise line has a limited -- but growing -- presence in the U.S., with cruises from Florida and New York.

If sailing on MSC, the line recently updated its vaccine guidance. Now, all passengers five years and older on cruises departing from the United States must be fully vaccinated before boarding. Kids under five are still welcome to sail without the shot since they aren't eligible.

The cruise line's website makes no mention of any sort of exceptions to the vaccine rule, even for kids under 12 years old without the shot. There is also no mention of a booster requirement.

Disney Cruise Line

Disney is well-known as being a family-friendly cruise line, meaning lots of kids sail. You might think that would mean relaxed restrictions regarding vaccines for kids. Instead, it's the opposite.

Disney requires all passengers eligible for the shot to be vaccinated. That means all passengers five years and older will need to be vaccinated against COVID. Those under five can still sail without.

There is no mention of boosters required, nor are there any exemptions mentioned for those who are eligible for the vaccine but haven't had the dose. 

Virgin Voyages

Virgin Voyages has already made it clear that it will do things a little differently than most cruise lines. This includes having all food be free on the ship (along with non-alcoholic drinks), gratuities and wi-fi included, and being adults-only.

Virgin Voyages also requires that all passengers and crew before they can sail. This means it must be at least two weeks between your last shot and when you board. Since the cruise line is adults only, there are no issues regarding kids and vaccine eligibility.

Which Vaccines Are Accepted to Cruise?

There are a number of vaccines available around the world. While each cruise line might accept different ones, the major vaccines -- Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca -- all seem to have wide acceptance. If you have received one of these shots, then you should be good to go. However, your cruise line will have more details about which specific shots they accept.

How Do I Prove That I'm Vaccinated?

The easiest way to show you've been vaccinated is to hang on to the white CDC vaccination card you should have received when you got the shot. We suggest keeping the original in a safe place and also making a copy (both digital and physical) so that you can always have a version should something happen to the original.

Some cruise lines will accept a digital record of your dose or an image of your shot card. To be sure, however, all cruise lines will accept the paper card, making it the easiest way to prove you've had the vaccine.

Can I Get the Shot the Day Before I Sail? Or Just One Dose?

No. Cruise lines make it clear that passengers must be fully vaccinated. That means having both doses of a two-dose shot 14 days before embarking on the ship. A single shot of the Johnson & Johnson dose is ok, but still requires receiving it well in advance of sailing.

In other words, this is not something you want to put off until the last minute.

If Cruises Sail With Vaccinated Passengers, Is Everything Else "Normal"?

The vast majority of cruise ships sail under the CDC definition of "highly vaccinated" -- meaning 95% of passengers and crew have the shot. In this case, you can largely expect the onboard experience to be very similar to what it was before the health crisis. 

Want to have a drink at the bar and chat up your fellow passengers? You can do that. Enjoy dinner, shows, the casino, ports of call, and more. While much has changed behind the scenes, once vaccinated and have your negative test, then the experience on the ship is largely identical to what it was before.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. I would have been great if you addressed the elephant in the room. When cruises resume in Florida, Gov Desantis has said there will be no vaccine checking allowed in the ports. I believe it is important to let people see the whole picture. He will likely have the law passed in a week or two, and already has an executive order. This law if passed will have a HUGE impact on cruising and many outcomes are possible. No cruising in the US. No Cruising in FL. No Vaccine checks in FL. No vaccine checks in the USA to be consistent. Also what about about FL suing the CDC and the federal gov’t to resume cruising.

    • Thanks for the comment. I’ve added a bit about the executive order as it is important. At this point, it’s a fuzzy situation to be sure. The best that can be done is to explain where the cruise lines stand now.

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