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Norwegian Makes a Covid Change Royal Caribbean, Carnival Haven’t

Norwegian Cruise Line has announced a major change to its pandemic-era policies.

Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stopped tracking covid on cruise ships, the major cruise lines have been making changes to their onboard pandemic-related policies. 

Now, since the government hasn't set industry standards, each cruise line is responsible for setting its own rules.

That may or may not be a problem, but it does mean that at least at the moment, Royal Caribbean International (RCL) , Carnival Cruise Lines (CCL) , and Norwegian Cruise Line (NCLH) all have different policies. 

During the height of the pandemic, that was not the case. The CDC set rules under its mandatory conditional sail order, and later under a voluntary program that every major cruise line opted into.

Those rules may have been overly restrictive compared with how other travel and entertainment businesses were treated. But they did create a baseline for the industry.

Now, it's a free for all. Royal Caribbean and Carnival both have new polices that take effect in early August. 

And Norwegian has made what might be the most controversial change, effective Sept. 3.

Royal Caribbean Lead JS

Norwegian Makes Big Covid Changes

Once the CDC dropped its oversight of the pandemic's impact on cruise ships, Carnival and Royal Caribbean made similar changes. Both have dropped testing for vaccinated passengers on cruises less than six nights,

Both RCL and CCL allow a certain amount of passengers ages 11 and younger to sail without being vaccinated. But in all cases they require those passengers to provide negative covid tests taken no more than three days before their sailings. (That's a change since for many months the rule had been two days.)

The rules do vary based on destinations, but the two biggest cruise lines largely have the same ones in place.

Norwegian has adopted roughly the same policies as its rivals -- with one notable difference, which the company outlined on its website.

"Guests age 12 and over will be allowed to board unvaccinated. Unvaccinated guests age 12 and over will be required to show proof of a medically supervised negative PCR or antigen test taken no more than 72 hours prior to embarkation," the company said. "For guests age 11 years or younger, no additional protocols or testing requirements apply."

No More Vaccine Requirement on Norwegian

It's sort of buried in a lot of words, but Norwegian has dropped its vaccine requirement for all passengers. 

Unvaccinated passengers ages 12 and over will still need to provide a negative test taken no more than 72 hours before their cruises, while unvaccinated guests 11 and under don't even have to test.

“Our long-awaited revisions to our testing and vaccination requirements bring us closer in line with the rest of society, which has learned to adapt and live with covid-19, and makes it simpler and easier for our loyal guests to cruise on our three best-in-class brands," Norwegian Chief Executive Frank Del Rio said in a news release.

The CEO stressed that "health and safety is our top priority," a statement that might not perfectly match up with the rule change.

Royal Caribbean has decided to enable a limited number of unvaccinated passengers 12 and over, a change President Michael Bayley discussed  on social media.

"Unvaccinated guests will be required to take one test within three days of departure. We will also continue to operate highly vaccinated cruises with a vaccinated population greater than society and which continues to exempt kids 12 and [under. And] we will welcome unvaccinated guests over 12 and guests with a certificate of recovery within 90 days to travel, keeping in mind our ships will typically sail with 80%-plus vaccinated guests onboard," he said.

Norwegian did not say whether it has any limits on how many unvaccinated passengers can sail on each ship.