Will I need a vaccine to cruise? It’s one of the biggest questions regarding the return of sailing.
With the vaccine rollout there is lots of optimism that the dose can get us over the health crisis and back to some semblance of normal. At the same time, some people have worries about the vaccine, aren’t eligible to receive it, or simply can’t get a shot due to lack of availability.
In other words, even if cruise lines do require passengers to get the vaccine, there could still be headaches in actually enforcing that requirement.
So far cruise executives for major lines have been tight-lipped about any possible requirements. Many have simply punted on the issue, not giving definitive answers one way or another.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. (parent of Norwegian Cruise Line), told NBC News recently, “We will continue to partner with global and domestic authorities and the Healthy Sail Panel, our team of leading expert advisors, to explore all options necessary to protect guests, crew and the communities visited. We will share additional updates as they are available.”
Carnival CEO Arnold Donald told investors in mid-January, “Well, you know, as you are very well aware, the whole vaccine thing is at the very beginning here. So we’re monitoring, we’re in dialogue, with not only CDC but lots of other equivalent organizations around the world for other destinations. And so we’ll let it evolve over time and we’ll make the most prudent decision when the time comes.”
That said, we expect in the weeks ahead to hear more about vaccine requirements from cruise lines.
In fact, it is our opinion that the lines will end up requiring vaccines in order to sail (for most passengers). It is far from a sure thing, but in our eyes there are a number of signs that point toward requiring a dose for passengers before they get on the ship…
Anticipated Return Dates Coincide With Vaccine Rollout
If you’ve followed the return cruising, you know that it’s been a broken record of cancelling cruises over and over again. In fact, the CDC put in place a “No Sail Order” that was extended multiple times in 2020.
In late October that order was replaced with a new framework to return to sailing. The CDC laid out steps for cruise lines to take to keep passengers healthy. This includes undertaking simulated voyages to test new procedures and receiving a certificate to resume sailing from the health agency.
It’s now been more than three months since that framework was announced, but cruises don’t seem to be departing anytime soon. To date there have been no simulated test cruises announced.
Just weeks ago Carnival Corporation CEO Arnold Donald was asked about the timing of test cruises, responding his company would “need additional guidance from the CDC.”
Cruise lines also continue to push back return dates. As of now, all the major cruise lines have paused U.S. sailings through at least April.
At the same time, the vaccine began distribution in December and is steadily ramping up, despite hurdles in the rollout. But by May, it’s possible that a large portion of the United States will have been vaccinated and shots are available for anyone that wants one.
Given the slow return of cruises, we think it is no coincidence that the anticipated return date is also when the vaccine will have had time to be distributed.
While simply having much of the population vaccinated will help reduce risk, we can envision cruise lines making the call to require vaccines (possibly under pressure from health authorities) given that they should be readily available in the coming months.
Some Cruise Lines Have Already Announced Vaccine Requirements
Being the first to make the call on requiring vaccines will no doubt be newsworthy and possibly make some potential passengers happy while upsetting others. But for the major cruise lines, they wouldn’t be the first to make the decision. Multiple smaller lines have already said they will require vaccines for both passengers and crew.
Most recently, American Queen Steamboat Company and Victory Cruise Lines — two smaller lines that sail with predominantly older cruisers — announced they are requiring passengers and crew to all be vaccinated starting July 1.
In other words, there is already a precedent for some cruise lines to require a vaccine.
While it’s certainly much less of an issue to require the jab for smaller ships with just a couple of hundred passengers compared to mega-ships with thousands onboard, large cruise lines would not be the first to require it.
Major Negative Consequences if an Outbreak Occurs
At the start of the pandemic, cruise lines seemed to be at the forefront of the news cycle. Ships with cases were quarantined and made headlines around the world.
Meanwhile, the CDC has warned the public against travel on cruise ships and even highlights a study in its order that the reproduction rate aboard the Diamond Princess was nearly 15 before quarantine was enacted — much higher than what was seen in the epicenter of Wuhan, China.
The CDC has also laid out that if a “threshold” of cases are found, then the cruise will be ended and future sailings paused until given the green light to resume by the agency.
That’s not to mention the large amount of negative press that would no doubt come with any cases being found on a cruise.
The simple truth is that there are major ramifications if there is an outbreak on a cruise. Even with universal testing, there’s still no guarantee that a case can’t be missed before getting on the ship. In fact, we’ve already seen this happen with a cruise in Europe.
For that reason, requiring a vaccine is the strongest step a cruise line could make to return safely. And given the consequences of an outbreak, to us it seems worth it.
Other Countries Might Require Visitors Be Vaccinated
There has been talk of things like “vaccine passports” — essentially a document that confirms you’ve had a COVID vaccine. There is also the possibility of some countries requiring visitors to show proof of vaccination before entering.
For instance, countries like Australia and New Zealand have largely avoided outbreaks due to requiring visitors undergo a strict 14-day quarantine upon arrival. These measures have been effective, but could they be replaced with proof of vaccination instead? That should allow countries to open up to foreign tourists without the need for the quarantine.
If there are enough countries that require vaccines for visitors, then cruise lines might have no choice but to require passengers to vaccinate in order to comply.
Vaccines: Easier Said Than Done
So will major cruise lines require vaccines? As we said at the beginning of this article, no one knows for sure, but in following the crisis in cruising, we consider the chances good. Of course, that also leads to a number of hurdles and questions that must be answered.
For instance, what about kids? Vaccines aren’t approved yet for children. Meanwhile, other people may have a health reason they can’t receive the vaccine or simply have concerns about taking a new vaccine.
While it may seem easy to simply require everyone to have received a vaccine and get back to cruising, the truth is that like so many other things in this crisis, it’s easier said than done.
But there’s little doubt that requiring the shot to sail would be the biggest step in improving the safety onboard and in port. That’s a big reason our opinion is that vaccines will end up being required to set sail.