Have an extra $600 laying around? If you sail unvaccinated, then you might need it.
That’s approximately how much extra we estimate an unvaccinated couple on a 7-day Royal Caribbean cruise from Florida will need in order to meet the cruise line’s new requirements to sail.
Between sharp testing fees and insurance requirements, the incentives to get your shot go beyond the health benefits. They now extend well into your pocketbook.
The good news? As long as you have the vaccine 14 days before you sail, you can avoid these costs, plus the hassles of masks, distancing, and multiple tests in order to cruise.
Testing Fees Add Hundreds to the Cost of Cruising
For most cruises starting out, Royal Caribbean — one of the most popular lines in the industry — is going with the simplest and safest approach. If you are 12 years or older (beginning August 1), then you are required to have the shot to sail. This applies to cruises from Galveston, Seattle, and Nassau.
This requirement is easy to understand and also presents the safest cruise possible for passengers.
However, Florida law doesn’t allow businesses to require proof of a shot. So while the cruise line can encourage everyone to sail vaccinated from places like Miami or Port Canaveral, it can’t force them to do so.
Instead, Royal Caribbean is putting in new policies for unvaccinated passengers on these Florida cruises, in line with CDC requirements.
Perhaps the biggest requirement deals with testing. If you sail unvaccinated (or refuse to show proof), then the cruise line will have you test multiple times.
For cruises of less than six nights, they require a test 1) within three days before sailing, 2) at the terminal, and 3) before disembarkation at the end of the cruise.
For cruises of six nights or longer, there is an additional mid-cruise test. That’s four tests in order to sail for a week. Vaccinated passengers don’t have these requirements.
Of course, all those tests can be expensive. Royal Caribbean says testing is free for kids under 12 who aren’t eligible for the shot. For older passengers who are eligible, there is a $136 per person charge on cruises of less than six nights. Trips of six nights or more see a charge of $178 per person:
In other words, an unvaccinated couple cruising on a 7-day cruise would have to pay $356 for testing during the vacation. Royal Caribbean says they do not keep any of the money received for tests, and it is passed on to the testing company.
(Note: Currently these charges only apply to July & August cruises sailing from Florida. They may change in the future.)
Insurance Requirement Adds More Costs
It’s not just testing that will hit your pocketbook. Royal Caribbean also announced a travel insurance requirement for unvaccinated passengers if sailing from Florida.
For all its cruises leaving the state from August through December 2021, every guest 12 years and older without the shot is required to have a travel insurance policy that covers them. This can be from a third-party or through the insurance sold via the cruise line. Either way, the rule requires at least:
- $25,000 per person in medical expense coverage
- $50,000 per person for quarantine and medical evacuation
The good news? It’s always a smart idea to have some travel insurance. Still, it does add to the cost of your vacation if you hadn’t planned on buying coverage.
In this case, we priced out Royal Caribbean’s “Vacation Protection” for a 7-day cruise from Florida for two passengers. The roughly $2,500 cruise saw an insurance price of $208 total.
To be sure, there are less-expensive plans available through third-party providers. We found comprehensive travel insurance elsewhere that meets the cruise line requirements for about $100 total. There are also medical plans that would meet Royal Caribbean’s requirements (but not provide other benefits like trip cancellation coverage) for even less money.
Total Cost of Sailing Without a Shot
So between the cost of testing and insurance, how much more will your vacation cost if you choose to sail without the shot?
To estimate the cost, we priced out a 7-day September sailing aboard Allure of the Seas from Port Canaveral for two people in a balcony cabin. (Note: Testing charges only apply to July/August cruises from Florida for now, however, no cruises were available on the Royal Caribbean website for these months during our search.)
Assuming the couple had to pay for testing and bought the insurance plan available through the cruise line, the total added cost to sail comes out to $564 dollars more compared to sailing vaccinated.
Keep in mind that this assumes our fictional couple buys the travel insurance sold by the cruise line and wouldn’t otherwise purchase coverage. In addition, there would be a virus test required within three days of boarding that comes at the passenger’s own expense.
Other Rules on the Ship to Also Consider
While the financial hit of sailing without the shot is substantial, it’s not the only thing to consider. Even beyond the health benefits of being vaccinated, Royal Caribbean has laid out extensive protocols.
For instance, on July 2021 cruises from Miami aboard Freedom of the Seas there are a staggering 16 areas off-limits to passengers without the shot. This includes the casino and spa, as well as some bars and restaurants. The adults-only pool is open only to those with the shot, as are certain parties thrown on board.
As Captain John Murray, Port Canaveral’s CEO recently said, “If I’m going to get on a ship [unvaccinated], they’re going to charge me for testing. They’re going to charge me to make sure I don’t go into any areas that are reserved for vaccinated people. And bottom line, the cruise won’t be much fun, and it’s going to be more expensive.
To be sure, the cruise line says it will continue to update the rules as “public health situations evolve.” It could be that in months ahead the rules are relaxed meaning that there are few differences between sailing with the shot and without and the costs come down.
With variants making headlines, however, and cruising just now starting back, it seems likely that the cost of sailing unvaccinated will continue to be high.