No vaccine, no voyage: exploring mandatory cruise vaccination

As the cruise industry begins taking to the sea again many cruise companies are making Covid-19 vaccines mandatory for passengers. Frankie Youd speaks with cruise companies to discuss their new vaccination policies and the steps they have put in place for the crew to sail safely once more.

Canadian federal institution Transport Canada in February 2021 banned the cruise industry for a year, effectively cancelling the wider cruise ship season, impacting Canadian and US cruise liners. Ilaria Grasso Macola reveals how the industry reacted and how the US responded.

The global cruise industry has cautiously resumed its voyages with new Covid-19 rules, regulations, and guidelines to ensure the safety of passengers and crew. 

In the early days of the pandemic, all eyes were on 16-year-old luxury vessel the Diamond Princess. Stuck in quarantine in Japan with more than 3,700 passengers – hundreds of which had Covid-19 and were confined to their cabins – the World Health Organisation announced that more than half the known cases of the Covid-19 virus in the world outside of China were on the ship. 

The situation was described as ‘chaotic’ and ‘nightmarish’ and the cruise industry has been striving to ensure the Diamond Princess episode is not repeated. One key solution to this is vaccination, which has seen many cruise companies open their own vaccination routine for crew and making vaccinations a prerequisite for passengers.

Setting sail with Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean has made it mandatory for crew members and passengers to have the Covid-19 vaccine. Guests are required to present proof of vaccination alongside their travel documents upon arrival at the cruise ships.

Acceptable proof of vaccination for a Royal Caribbean cruise is the passenger’s original vaccination record document which is issued by their home country’s health authority that administered the vaccination. The vaccination record must show that the passenger is fully vaccinated with the full cycle of required doses. 

Thanks in large part to the successful rollout of vaccines, the world of adventure is beginning to open up, and we are all excited to start delivering great vacations to our guests.

President and CEO of Royal Caribbean International, Michael Bayley, says: “Vacationers can finally plan to take their precious time off this summer and truly get away after what has been a challenging time for everyone. I would like to sincerely thank our guests and travel partners for their incredible patience and understanding during this very difficult period.”

“Thanks in large part to the successful rollout of vaccines, the world of adventure is beginning to open up, and we are all excited to start delivering great vacations to our guests, who have increasingly told us they are getting vaccinated. As of today, 90% of all vacationers booking with Royal Caribbean are either vaccinated or planning to get vaccinated in time for their cruise.”

It is also compulsory for crew members to be vaccinated. The company has set up its own crew vaccination programmes to ensure all crew members are safe while onboard vessels. 

Staying safe with Norwegian Cruise Lines

Another cruise company introducing mandatory vaccine voyage regulation is Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL), which says it values safety as its number one priority. The company has developed its own multi-layered ‘sail safe’ health and safety protocols for passengers that span the entirety of the cruise. These protocols focus on three main areas: safety for guests and crew, safety on board the ship and safety ashore. 

To ensure safety onboard the ship, NCL has reduced passenger capacity, increased the number of available hand sanitisation areas, upgraded onboard air filters to medical-grade models, and enhanced onboard medical teams, among other measures.

The health and safety of our guests and crew are of the utmost importance to us.

This section of the multi-layered protocol requires vaccinations for passengers and crew at least two weeks prior to the cruise departure date. As with Royal Caribbean, documentation must be provided to prove the passenger has received the full number of vaccines. 

Before boarding, passengers will also be required to take a Covid-19 antigen test – paid for by the cruise line – which will need to show a negative result for the passenger to attend the booked cruise.

Eamonn Ferrin, vice president and managing director UK, Ireland, Middle East & Africa, Norwegian Cruise Line, says: “The health and safety of our guests and crew are of the utmost importance to us. We believe vaccines combined with multi-layered and robust preventative health and safety measures, including universal testing prior to embarkation, will help us provide a uniquely safe and healthy holiday environment that exceeds other holiday choices.”

“All guests sailing aboard cruises with embarkation dates through 31 October 2021 will be required to be fully vaccinated and tested prior to boarding our ships. Given the ever-evolving nature of the pandemic, the accelerating rollout of the vaccine, and the speed of scientific learnings, it is premature to make decisions about our health and safety protocols for cruises with embarkation dates beginning 1 November 2021.” 

NCL crew members are also required to be vaccinated at least two weeks before the departure date to board the fleet.

What does the future hold?

With uncertainty surrounding the development of the pandemic when it comes to its dynamic nature and vaccine rollout speed, planning the future for the cruise industry leaves companies in uncertain waters. 

One prominent factor which is currently being discussed within the industry as well as by medical professionals is the vaccination of children. At present, several trials are being carried out, but these are expected to take longer than the adult trials due to the standards of medication for children being different.

This demonstrates how resilient the cruise industry is; we’re coming back bigger and better than before.

Currently, there are no immediate plans in the UK for vaccine trials on children. However, once trials have been carried out and a successful vaccination programme has been created for children, the cruise industry is looking forward to welcoming young seafarers back once more. 

Although children are currently unable to cruise with certain companies, many holidaymakers are keen to get back to the seas again with cruise bookings seeing a surge in popularity. Ferrin comments: “We are seeing strong demand for future cruises, sales for our 2022 and 2023 sailings are showing significant gains compared to prior years. After more than a year of staying home, the nation can’t wait to explore the world again.” 

“Following the pandemic, British holidaymakers are saying yes to more once-in-a-lifetime holidays and spontaneous trips. This demonstrates how resilient the cruise industry is; we’re coming back bigger and better than before.”

Main image credit: Norwegian Cruise Lines