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Royal Caribbean Follows Norwegian in Making Key Covid Move

Royal Caribbean cruise line has slowly returned to its prepandemic normal, and Carnival Cruise is likely to follow on soon.

People cruise at least partly to escape reality. You get on a ship and whatever work or home problems you have melt away. Those issues, of course, didn't actually go anywhere, but a cruise ship sort of fades them into the background.

The covid pandemic burst that bubble a bit. You can't escape into an alternative vacation reality when signs of actual reality are all around you.

The cruise industry was shut down from U.S. ports in March 2020. When it returned to operations, it wasn't quite the escape it once was. Passengers had to wear masks, take precruise tests, social distance, and deal with ever-changing protocols that made it impossible to put the miserable reality of the pandemic behind them.

Those rules were necessary, at least according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which largely dictated to cruise lines including Royal Caribbean (RCL) , Carnival Cruise Lines (CCL) , and Norwegian Cruise Line (NCLH) rather than work with them. 

At least at first, the rules were strict, with all passengers age 12 and older having to be vaccinated and provide a negative covid test taken no more than two days before their sailings.

Now, the CDC has stopped tracking covid on cruise ships, and Norwegian became the first major cruise line to allow passengers over the age of 12 to sail without being vaccinated. 

That cruise line was first, but it's now not the only member of the industry's big three to drop that requirement.

Royal Caribbean Lead JS

Royal Caribbean Welcomes (Some) Unvaccinated Passengers     

Cruise-ship covid rules are tricky because the cruise lines must follow the rules of not only the countries they depart from but whichever ports the ships visit. 

That makes fully communicating rules to passengers a little tricky because they can vary by sailing. 

Royal Caribbean has, however, decided to drop its vaccine requirement for passengers ages 12 and over on certain sailings.

The company outlined its new rules on its website:

"Starting with Sept. 5 departures, all travelers regardless of vaccination status can cruise on the following itineraries, as long as they meet any testing requirements to board.

  • Cruises from Los Angeles

  • Cruises from Galveston, Texas. (Note: Currently, only guests that show a valid vaccination record can get off the ship in Grand Cayman)

  • Cruises from New Orleans, La. (Note: Currently, only guests that show a valid vaccination record can get off the ship in Grand Cayman)

  • Cruises from a European homeport. (Note: Guests that are not “up to date” on their vaccination per EMA standards will need to take a test onboard in order to get off the ship in Greece and Spain)

Most notably, Florida cruises, where the cruise line has the most ships, are not included. Royal Caribbean has not definitively explained that exception, but it's likely due to the Bahamas/Caribbean destinations that are the core of its Florida-based itineraries.

"We are working with local governments in the Eastern Caribbean to align on vaccination requirements for more itineraries," the cruise line said. 

"We want to ensure a great experience going ashore at these ports, for guests of any vaccination status, while meeting local health regulations. We’ll have more info in the coming days," 

Carnival, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean Closer to Normal

With vaccination rules slowly going away and testing requirements being dropped (at least for shorter sailings), the three major cruise lines have inched back toward normal. All three have had executives make statements about how they're still focusing on the safety of their passengers.

In reality, while health and wellness have always been a concern for the cruise lines, they're actually adjusting their protocols to balance safety and the bottom line. 

If everyone, including the unvaccinated, can cruise, that's a bigger population of potential customers.

Yes, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Norwegian take safety seriously, but they also have to consider the bottom line -- and the billions of dollars of debt they took on during the shutdown.