About a month ago, Cruzely outlined a number of reasons that we think cruises — whenever they return to the United States — will require passengers be vaccinated before sailing. This includes the negative consequences for the industry if an outbreak occurs on a ship after cruises return.
During the weeks since that article was published, dramatic progress has been made in vaccinating Americans. At that time, roughly 11.5 million Americans had been fully vaccinated. Today that number is roughly 41 million. On top of that, nearly 30% of American adults have received at least one dose.
Also since we first published there have been a number of updates regarding the vaccine, travel, and cruising.
To us, these new revelations point to more signs that passengers will need a vaccine before they are able to set sail. To be sure, major cruise lines haven’t announced a decision one way or another just yet, but a vaccine requirement certainly seems possible in our opinion.
Biden Administration Comments on Gatherings & Vaccines
First, the CDC has been a powerful force during the cruise pause, originally issuing a “No Sail Order” that has now been replaced with a framework to return to sailing. In short, the CDC — and by extension the Biden Administration — has the power to decide when trips return to sailing from the U.S. based on public health.
On that front, a recent speech by President Biden emphasized the importance of vaccines in getting back to normal, but also pointed out that we may not return with large groups for quite some time.
“I need every American to do their part. And that’s not hyperbole. I need you. I need you to get vaccinated when it’s your turn and when you can find an opportunity,” Biden said during an address to the nation. “And to help your family, your friends, your neighbors get vaccinated as well. Because here’s the point.”
“If we do all this, if we do our part, if we do this together, by July the fourth, there’s a good chance you, your families and friends, will be able to get together in your backyard or in your neighborhood and have a cookout or a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day. That doesn’t mean large events with lots of people together, but it does mean small groups will be able to get together.”
Given these comments about large events, it’s hard to imagine cruising — where potentially thousands of passengers interact — can return under a Biden Administration unless the risk of spreading the virus has been minimized as much as possible. And to us, that means vaccines.
Countries Are Opening Up to Vaccinated Travelers Only
Another reason to consider is the difficult position that countries are put in regarding foreign tourists.
On one hand, after a year with the pandemic, many economies — especially those that rely on tourism — are desperate for visitors to return. On the other hand, leaders must consider the impact of COVID spread if they are to open back up.
A compromise seems to be allowing tourists only if they have been vaccinated. This would minimize the risk of the virus.
In fact, that’s what Iceland recently announced it would do. It will now allow all visitors who have been vaccinated to visit without mandatory testing or quarantine.
It’s easy to envision other countries having a similar rule put in place to allow them to open safely to visitors while protecting residents from the virus. And if enough countries with cruise ports require vaccinations, then cruise lines may have no choice but to comply.
More Cruise Lines Announce Vaccine Requirements
Major cruise lines have yet to make definitive announcements regarding required vaccinations, but have sounded open to them.
For instance, a spokesperson for Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. told Cruzely that, “We are exploring all options regarding vaccinations for guests and crew and it is our intention that all crew members be vaccinated before boarding our vessels to begin their duties, subject to availability of the vaccine.”
Royal Caribbean Group CEO Richard Fain has even gone so far as to say that the vaccine is “the ultimate weapon.”
Slowly but surely, more lines are making announcements regarding vaccines. Last month we told you about two small lines — American Queen Steamboat Company and Victory Cruise Lines — requiring the shot.
Since then, there have been more decisions made. First, Royal Caribbean announced that its newest ship, Odyssey of the Seas, will sail from Israel on “fully vaccinated” cruises. Israel is a leader in the percentage of its population vaccinated, and on these trips all passengers over 16 years old will have the shot.
In addition, Virgin Voyages — which caters to adults only — made the decision to require vaccines for everyone traveling on their ships as well.
It seems that lines are embracing vaccinations as a way to sail healthy. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see them require the jab across the industry to set sail.
Big Question: If Everyone Is Vaccinated Onboard, Will Sailing Look ‘Normal’?
Obviously, requiring a vaccine to sail isn’t a simple decision. Surveys show that roughly 30% of Americans say they would not get the vaccine. For some, there are health reasons for refusing the dose. Others have concerns over its development, or simply don’t think it’s needed because they are in a low-risk group.
For cruise lines, those who don’t want the shot is something they will have to weigh against the benefits of having everyone vaccinated. Requiring everyone on the ship to be vaccinated would give a cruise the lowest risk, but it also could turn away many potential passengers.
That said, throughout this entire crisis cruise lines have repeatedly made it clear that public health and passenger safety are the highest priorities. Combined with the negative consequences of sailing without taking every precaution possible to combat the virus, it is looking more likely to us that vaccines requirements are on the table.
If that is the case, the big question is what happens to the onboard experience if cruises do sail with everyone vaccinated?
With the recommendations of the Healthy Sail Panel, the cruise experience is set to change dramatically in many ways. This includes capacity restrictions, facemask requirements, increased sanitation, spacing in restaurants, casinos, and pools, and even the limiting of shore excursions.
The feel of a cruise will be very different with these protocols in place. But would the new rules still be required with full vaccination of both passengers and crew?
The vaccines have shown to be highly effective (though less-so against some variants). It’s also presumed that in addition to the vaccine, passengers and crew would still be tested before boarding, further increasing the guards against spread.
At this point, with cruise lines still on the fence requiring the shot, it’s too early to tell if the onboard experience would be more ‘normal’. However, the promise of a more traditional experience could be enough to convince some potential passengers hesitant about the vaccine to get their shot.