The recent announcement from U.S. health authorities that kids aged 5-11 are now eligible for vaccines means millions more children can get the shot. For cruise lines, however, it also raises a big question. Will kids be required to have the shot to sail?
On one hand, cruise lines want to sail with as many people vaccinated as possible. On the other, many parents are hesitant about the shot for their children.
While vaccines are widely required across cruise lines for those 12 years and older, the opening of the shot to younger children hasn’t prompted lines to extend the requirement to younger kids just yet.
During a question and answer session aboard Odyssey of the Seas, Royal Caribbean International CEO Michael Bayley was asked if his cruise line would require vaccinations for younger children and any potential timeline surrounding it.
His response? The cruise line hasn’t made a decision yet, but is watching things.
“We haven’t made a final decision yet on the [vaccinations for kids aged] five to twelve. It was recently announced and it takes time for parents to make their own decision,” Bayley said. “Our initial data shows us — which we think will change — that 35% are thinking of having their children between five and twelve vaccinated. We believe that that number will increase and change. So we’re watching the situation.”
“We are a family brand, so obviously we’re quite focused on looking at the data that’s coming out for this,” he added.
For now, Royal Caribbean’s current policy looks to continue in place. This allows younger kids under 12 years old to sail without the shot.
However, there are some restrictions for those unvaccinated passengers. This includes greater testing requirements and restrictions on where they may visit on the ship (although those restricted spaces tend cater to adults, such as the casino).
Rival Carnival Cruise Line recently updated their policies to encourage parents to consider the shot for kids as a way to ensure they are allowed to sail. It is not required, however.
Carnival currently allows only a small amount of unvaccinated passengers to sail, but they must be granted one of a limited number of exemptions. So having the vaccine for those under 12 years old means families with kids can be guaranteed to sail instead of hoping for an exemption. In addition, the cruise line is requiring the shot for children wishing to enter its kids areas on the ship.
Royal Caribbean has taken a different approach that allows younger kids to sail without needing an exemption. Even so, the vast majority of passengers on its ships have been vaccinated.
“So typically our population onboard the ship at any time, even with the kids 12 and under unvaccinated, is around 95% of our guests and 100% of our crew,” Bayley shared. “So it’s a very safe environment.”
Note: Royal Caribbean’s policy is for passengers 12 and over to be vaccinated, meaning 11 and under can sail unvaccinated.
As with everything surrounding the return of sailing, potential passengers should expect that the protocols on many things — including vaccines for children — can change. At least for now, however, it looks like there are no immediate plans to require the shot.