MIAMI — After more than a year without cruises, it looks like vacations at sea may finally become available for U.S. residents in the Caribbean and elsewhere this summer as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
But unlike before COVID-19, cruisers won’t be able to hop on ships in U.S. ports just yet. Instead, they’ll have to fly to the Caribbean if they want to cruise in June, July or August.
Several cruise lines are selling summer cruises to U.S. residents in the Mediterranean as well, though some still lack approvals from countries. There’s progress though: In late April, the European Commission announced it would allow American tourists who have been vaccinated to visit Europe this summer, though no timeline was given.
Here’s where ships are going plus advice on whether you can cruise safely.
Q. Is it safe to cruise?
A. According to CDC recommendations, the answer is no.
As of early April, vaccinated people can safely travel domestically by air, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the health agency’s Level 4 warning — it’s highest — against cruise travel remains in place, citing the increased risk of getting COVID-19 on a cruise ship. The CDC recommends all people avoid travel on cruise ships worldwide.
Cruising in the Caribbean at this stage in the pandemic is “a bad idea,” according to Dr. Michael Callahan, director of the Clinical Translation, Vaccine and Immunotherapy Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, who worked on the Diamond Princess and Grand Princess COVID-19 evacuations last year. He’s particularly worried about COVID-19 variants emerging in the Caribbean and the potential for cruise travel to spread those variants to countries with low vaccination rates and testing and hospital capacity.
Though testing before travel and requiring vaccinations can reduce risk to cruise passengers and crew, the protocols do not create an immunity bubble, he said, noting that tests and vaccines will not block everyone who has the virus.
“Adding several partially effective steps to prevent infected passengers from boarding a cruise ship is not prevention, it’s risk reduction,” he said.
That said, cruise companies have announced new pandemic cruising protocols that passengers will have to follow. In addition, Caribbean countries have their own evolving COVID-19 testing and quarantine requirements for visitors.
Q. What if I’m vaccinated?
A. If someone decides to take a cruise and is fully vaccinated, the CDC recommends they get a PCR test three to five days before the cruise. (Many countries require this; be sure to check.)
Dr. Mary Jo Trepka, an infectious disease epidemiologist and professor at Florida International University, said the No. 1 way to lower the risk of getting COVID-19 on a cruise ship is to make sure everyone on board, both passengers and crew, is vaccinated. Still, the risk of getting COVID-19 in airport terminals while traveling to the ship and while on board remains. Other factors like the traveler’s underlying health conditions, the company’s mask requirements, and the vaccination and hospitalization rates in the countries the cruise will be visiting are all important to consider, too, she said.
“There’s nothing a pathogen likes more than a place crowded with humans,” she said. “It’s a question of what someone is willing to tolerate.”
Callahan recommends anyone considering taking a cruise this summer get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine within 60 days of boarding the ship and take an antibody test within the month before boarding. If possible, he recommends passengers make reservations for meals and onboard activities that include only the people in their travel group, and avoid mixing and mingling with people outside their group, especially in settings like multi-story promenades. He recommends passengers wear masks at all times outside their cabin and prioritize cruises to nowhere over cruises with port calls.
Q. What if I’m not vaccinated?
A. If you’re not fully vaccinated, the CDC recommends getting a PCR test three to five days before the cruise; afterward, you should stay home for seven days even if you test negative.
If you’re not fully vaccinated and you don’t test prior to your sailing, the CDC recommends you stay home for 10 days after your cruise.
If someone recovered from COVID-19 in the last three months decides to cruise, they do not need to be tested or stay home unless they have COVID-19 symptoms.
Q. Where and when can I cruise?
A. Beginning in June, Royal Caribbean Group plans to launch seven-night cruises on its Adventure of the Seas ship from Nassau, The Bahamas, visiting Cozumel, Mexico, Grand Bahama Island and the company’s private island in the Bahamas and seven-night cruises on Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Millennium ship from Phillipsburg, St. Maarten, visiting Curaçao, Aruba and Barbados.
In July, Royal Caribbean Group plans to launch seven-night cruises from Bermuda on its Vision of the Seas ship visiting its private island in the Bahamas and Carnival Corporation’s Seabourn plans to launch six-night and 13-night cruises from Barbados on its Seabourn Odyssey ship visiting Grenada, St. Lucia, Dominica, Antigua, St. Maarten, Jost Van Dyke and Tortola, British Virgin Islands.
Also in June, Windstar plans to launch seven-night cruises on its Star Breeze ship from St. Maarten visiting Anguilla; Jost van Dyke, Soper’s Hole, Tortola, Norman Island and Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands; and Saint Barthélemy.
In July, Crystal Cruises plans to launch seven-night cruises on its Crystal Serenity ship from Nassau and Bimini, The Bahamas, visiting Bahamian islands of Harbour Island, Great Exuma, San Salvador Island and Long Island.
In August, Norwegian Cruise Line plans to launch six-night cruises on its Norwegian Joy ship from Montego Bay, Jamaica, visiting its private beach in Belize, Roatán, Honduras, Cozumel, Mexico and Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and six-night cruises on its Norwegian Gem ship from Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, visiting Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Maarten and Antigua.
In addition, several U.S. cruise lines are booking Americans on cruises in the Mediterranean. To date, only a handful of Western European countries have said they will allow Americans to cruise — though restrictions may soon be loosened for those who are vaccinated.
Q. Which lines require vaccinations?
A. Royal Caribbean Group, including Celebrity Cruises, will require all crew and passengers over 18 to have completed their COVID-19 vaccination at least 14 days before embarkation with vaccines authorized for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the World Health Organization (WHO).
Windstar will require all passengers to have completed their COVID-19 vaccination at least 14 days before embarkation using any vaccine approved by the passenger’s home country. It will not require crew to be vaccinated.
Crystal Cruises will require all passengers to have completed their COVID-19 vaccination at least 14 days before embarkation using vaccines approved by the country passengers are entering to get on the cruise. It will not require crew to be vaccinated.
Norwegian Cruise Line will require all crew and passengers to have completed their COVID-19 vaccination at least 14 days before embarkation using vaccines authorized for use by the FDA, WHO, or the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
Carnival Corporation’s Seabourn will require all crew and passengers to have completed their COVID-19 vaccination at least 14 days before embarkation
Q. Are COVID-19 tests required?
A. Many of the countries where cruises are launching this summer require COVID tests. Be sure to check requirements.
As for the cruise lines:
Royal Caribbean Group, including Celebrity Cruises, will require passengers under the age of 18 to provide proof of a negative RT-PCR test result. The company did not set a time frame for the test.
Windstar will administer a free COVID-19 antigen test for all passengers at the pier prior to boarding. A negative test result is required to board.
Crystal Cruises will require passengers to provide proof of a negative PCR test taken no more than five days prior to arriving in the Bahamas, as required by the country.
Norwegian Cruise Line will require all passengers to take a COVID-19 antigen test prior to boarding and receive a negative result.
Seabourn has not yet announced its testing requirements.
Q. Will ships sail full?
A. Royal Caribbean Group, including Celebrity Cruises, has not yet announced at what capacity its ships will be operating.
Windstar cruises will be operating at less than 80% this summer.
Crystal Cruises will operate its Crystal Serenity ship with around 900 passengers, down from its regular occupancy of 980.
Norwegian Cruise Line will operate its ships at reduced capacity. The company did not specify how full the ships will be.
Seabourn will operate its ship at lower capacity, but did not specify what capacity.
Q. Will masks be required on board?
A. Royal Caribbean Group, including Celebrity Cruises, has not yet decided whether passenger will be required to wear masks.
Windstar will require passengers to wear masks indoors in public spaces except when eating and drinking.
Crystal Cruises will require passengers to wear masks in restaurants before being seated, show lounges, casino, fitness center, elevators, ship tenders, shoreside terminals and tour dispatch areas.
Norwegian Cruise Line will require passengers to wear masks while indoors except for in their rooms and while eating and drinking in restaurants, bars and lounges, and outdoors when social distancing is not possible.
Seabourn will require passengers to wear masks “whenever physical distancing cannot be maintained both on board and during excursions.”
Q. What happens if there is an outbreak?
A. Royal Caribbean Group, including Celebrity Cruises, will end a cruise immediately if “a certain threshold level of COVID-19 is detected onboard the ship.” The company did not specify what that threshold is and how it will evacuate passengers and crew.
Windstar said the company is setting aside rooms for isolation and quarantine on board and will comply with all government requirements at the time and place of the outbreak.
Crystal Cruises said the company is currently developing evacuation and repatriation plans with guidance from each destination’s health departments.
Norwegian Cruise Line said it has a “thorough mobilization and response plan” in case of an outbreak to treat sick passengers and crew and get people home safely. The company did not provide more detail.
Seabourn did not provide plans for what it will do in the case of an outbreak.