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Carnival, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines Change Key Covid Rules

The pandemic has been a moving target, but cruise lines Carnival and Royal Caribbean have continued to make progress.

The covid pandemic quickly went from a minor inconvenience to an event that shook the entire world. In March 2020, as the virus first became known, businesses shut down, people began isolating, and we all started hearing about wearing masks.

It all seemed temporary because the idea that the world would close down -- at least partly -- for more than a year seemed unthinkable. But people began to work from home. And among so many other changes, restaurants closed their dining rooms and moved to a delivery-and-takeout model.

As for Royal Caribbean International (RCL) - Get Royal Caribbean Group Report, Carnival Cruise Line (CCL) - Get Carnival Corporation Report, and Norwegian Cruise Line (NCLH) - Get Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. Report, the major U.S. cruise-line players shut down their operations in March 2020. Again, it seemed like a temporary closure, something that would resolve itself, perhaps not in weeks but certainly in months.

In reality, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Norwegian ended up stopping their North American operations until July 2021. And when they returned, it was under strict protocols.

Those rules have been slowly loosening. Now, Carnival has made a major change to its onboard policies for kids younger than 12, following Royal Caribbean making a change for kids in the same age group.

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Carnival, Royal Caribbean Change Kids' Policies

Both Royal Caribbean and Carnival require any passenger 12 or older to be vaccinated. That meant that some kids 11 and under were unvaccinated. Both cruise lines had different testing rules for those unvaccinated passengers as well as mask requirements that did not always match what was required for vaccinated adults.

Carnival allowed a certain number of passenger under 12 not to be vaccinated, but its policy had specifically not allowed them into its Camp Ocean kid's club, Cruzely reported. 

A newly posted policy appears to have dropped that requirement.

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"Now, however, the rules appear to be loosening. Carnival is constantly tweaking its onboard protocols, and a recent update shows no mention of vaccines to play in Camp Ocean or the Circle C and Club 02 areas designed for older kids," the cruise news website reported. 

The "new notice doesn’t specifically say kids no longer need the vaccine to enter Camp Ocean or other youth areas. However, previous language that directly mentioned these spots were open only to 'fully vaccinated children' has been now removed."

Kids under five are still not allowed in Camp Ocean, which previously accepted children as young as two.

Royal Caribbean also recently changed its kids-club policy to drop mask requirements, a move first reported by Matt Hochberg of Royal Caribbean Blog, which has no affiliation with the cruise line. 

One of his readers tipped him off to the change after she saw it on her cruise on Oasis of the Seas. The cruise line had issued the following guidelines:

"Mask wearing is optional for children participating in Adventure Ocean. However, masks are recommended for unvaccinated children 2 and up. Children under 2 do not need to wear a mask at any time."

What's It Like to Cruise Right Now?

While remnants of the pandemic remain -- crew members wear masks, passengers must be vaccinated and provide negative covid tests taken no more than two days before their sailings -- most onboard operations feel normal. Cruise passengers no longer have to wear masks onboard or during the boarding process.

Carnival and Royal Caribbean have both largely returned to full passenger loads on their ships. Buffets have moved back to being self-serve rather than being served by crew members, and social distancing has more or less disappeared.

For adults, vaccination and precruise testing remain the key areas affected by the pandemic, while kids under 12 still face some pandemic restrictions depending upon vaccination status. That's likely to further evolve as long as covid remains a concern.