NCL Easing Mask Rules and Allowing Kids Under 5 to Sail Unvaccinated

Update: Since this article was originally written, Norwegian has adjusted rules again to where children under 12 years old can sail unvaccinated.

With virus cases dropping on land and many countries easing restrictions on travel in light of the decline of the Omicron wave, Norwegian Cruise Line is following along the same path.

NCL sign

In an update to its Sail Safe procedures, the cruise line outlines new changes that allow children under five to sail without the vaccine and a plan to no longer require masks in indoor areas of the ship.

NCL made a mark as among the most stringent cruise lines when it came to vaccine protocols. While other mass-market lines like Royal Caribbean and Carnival have allowed some passengers — most often kids under 12 — to sail without being vaccinated, Norwegian has had a strict 100% vaccination requirement.

In other words, all passengers were required to have the shot to sail. This meant kids not yet eligible for the vaccine weren’t allowed onboard.

Now the cruise lines says that vaccines are mandatory, except for guests under five years old.

“All guests age five and over as well as all crew must be fully vaccinated, at least two weeks prior to departure, in order to board,” the protocols now say.

Even with the change, the vaccine requirement is still more stringent than many rival cruise lines. For example, Royal Caribbean allows guests under 12 years old to cruise without being vaccinated. Carnival also allows some exemptions for those without the shot, but recommends the shot for passengers 5-12 years.

In addition, the cruise line is adjusting mask requirements. Before Omicron, NCL did not require masks on the ship given 100% vaccination. With the spike in cases, however, that was adjusted to require masks inside, except when eating or drinking or in the stateroom.

The cruise line now plans to remove that rule (except in Europe) for cruises beginning March 1. If the cruise embarks before that day, masking is still required indoors, even if vaccinated. Trips departing in March 2022 or later will not require masks when indoors.

A Positive Trend for Cruising

This news comes on the heels of improvement in COVID cases on ships. The recent wave of cases hit cruising hard as the number of “yellow” ships as assigned by the CDC rose sharply. However, in recent days that trend has shifted. The number of “green” ships has started to rise again.

In addition, recent comments from rival Royal Caribbean offer some hope of a return to normal. That company said it has sailed with about 1.3 million guests and seen only around 2,500 passenger cases (crew cases weren’t disclosed). That’s less than 0.2% of passengers.

It also offered some hints that removing some of its protocols could be on the table in the future, with plans to work through changes with the CDC.

For its part, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCL’s parent company) has said its brands are opting into the CDC’s voluntary COVID-19 protocols following the end of the Conditional Sailing Order.

Even with the change to masking and vaccine requirements, the vast majority of passengers will still need to be fully vaccinated to sail, and testing will also be required before being able to get on the ship.

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