First Cruise Line in the U.S. Drops Testing Requirement to Sail

Since cruises returned more than a year ago, one of the cornerstones of taking a trip has been Covid testing before boarding the ship. Practically all passengers, save for a few rare exceptions (such as children under 2), have been required to show a negative test at the terminal on cruise day.

Virgin Voyages ship docked in Miami
Virgin Voyages announced that following the CDC’s end of its Covid-19 program for cruise ships, the cruise line will drop the testing requirement to board.

Testing, while a valuable tool in keeping cases off the ship in the first place, is no doubt a headache for passengers. It typically requires passengers to schedule, manage, and pay for their own tests several days before taking the cruise. And even with testing, the requirement has not been foolproof in keeping cases off ships.

In fact, as recently as last week all cruise ships tracked under the CDC’s voluntary Covid-19 Program for Cruise Ships were “orange” status — indicating cases onboard.

Even so, on July 18 the CDC announced that it was retiring its Covid program for cruise ships. Instead, the agency says, “cruise ships have access to guidance and tools to manage their own COVID-19 mitigation programs.”

When we reported the news a few days ago, we also mentioned that it seemed likely cruise lines would continue to relax requirements to sail as we’ve seen in other parts of society. In fact, outside of the United States some lines like Norwegian Cruise Line have already dropped testing to board.

Now, we’re seeing the first U.S. cruises plan to sail without requiring a Covid test.

Virgin Voyages says that they are dropping the testing requirement for trips aboard Valiant Lady and Scarlet Lady starting with their July 24 and July 27, respective sailings (Valiant Lady currently sails from Barcelona, while Scarlet Lady sails from Miami):

The new protocol laid out on says testing to board the ship is no longer needed.

“We’re heartened that the science seems to show this current variant is less severe, and that vaccines (and the added benefit of boosters) offer strong protection against becoming unwell,” the Virgin Voyages website explains. “If and when we have a positive case on board, we immediately follow proven steps — including quarantine, contact tracing, and further testing, so we can reduce any further transmission.”

In addition to dropping the test requirement the cruise line is also dropping the vaccination requirement to 90% of passengers. Previously, all passengers were required to be vaccinated to sail. Crew will still be fully vaccinated.

While Virgin Voyages is the first cruise line that we’ve seen drop the testing requirement in the U.S., we feel it’s likely not the last.

As mentioned, before the CDC’s change, Norwegian Cruise Line had already dropped testing for many cruises departing outside the United States.

And following the CDC’s announcement, Carnival posted on its page about health protocols that there were no immediate changes, but the cruise line planned to review the new guidelines:

“Carnival welcomes the CDC’s decision to replace its current public health protocols with a new set of guidelines for health operations on cruise ships. We will review these once they’re available, but there are no immediate changes to Carnival’s COVID-19 protocols.”

Celebrity Cruises offered a similar statement to its passengers:

“The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recently announced that the COVID-19 Program for Cruise Ships is no longer in effect, and published recommendations to guide cruise lines as they determine protocols. Upon review, we will adjust our protocols and provide guidance to our guests.”

In other words, these statements from cruise lines leave the door open to dropping testing, potentially sometime soon.

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