Since the CDC dropped its voluntary program for cruise ships, the trend has been for cruise lines to relax requirements surrounding testing policies in order to cruise. Already we’ve seen major lines like Royal Caribbean and Carnival announce that testing on many cruises is being dropped for some cruises.
Now, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings — parent of NCL, Regent Seven Seas, and Oceania — has made its own change that is by far the biggest change we’ve seen in the industry.
Beginning September 2, the cruise line will no longer require passengers to be vaccinated in order to sail. In addition, most passengers will also not need a test to cruise.
After that date, all passengers under 12 years will be free to sail without needing a vaccine or requiring a test before boarding. In other words, it will be just as it was before the pandemic.
Passengers over 12 years old will no longer require a Covid test to cruise if they are vaccinated. If unvaccinated, passengers are now able to cruise but must have a negative test taking within 72 hours of embarkation.
When cruises first returned, Norwegian had one of the strictest vaccination policies in sailing. It required all passengers — no matter their age — to be vaccinated to sail. This meant kids (who were not yet eligible for the shot) weren’t allowed to cruise. It later eased that policy to allow kids under 12 to sail unvaccinated with a negative test.
Now, vaccination is suggested, but not required.
“We will no longer have a mandatory vaccination requirement on any of our ships and have relaxed testing protocols regardless of sailing length,” said Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio. “To put it simply, vaccinated individuals… will no longer have any pre-cruise related protocols. And those who are unvaccinated — or choose not to provide proof of vaccination — will be required to test negative within 72 hours prior to embarkation.
A Huge Change for the Cruise Industry
It’s hard to emphasize just how big a change this is for not just Norwegian, but the entire industry.
During the pandemic, cruising has faced more restrictions than arguably any other area of travel. Since sailing has returned, there have at times been requirements for everything from masking to testing to vaccinations. And these protocols have all been an important part of cruises returning while limiting cases as much as possible.
However, those same restrictions — which create confidence for many people — also serve as a hurdle to many others. At the same time, public attitudes toward Covid have drastically changed since the beginning of the outbreak, as evidenced by looser rules in all areas of society compared to just months ago.
Now, a major cruise line is completely dropping a vaccine requirement for the first time. While other lines already allow exemptions for those without the shot, there is usually an application process and spots are limited.
In our view, this change from Norwegian is the most significant since cruises returned. As with other protocols that have been loosened, it seems likely that it could be followed relatively quickly by other major cruise lines.
Bottom line: In the not-too-distant future, it could be that all lines allow anyone to sail without the vaccine.