CDC Ditches Mask and Social Distancing Rules for Vaccinated Cruises

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The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has made a further update on its framework on the Conditional Sailing Order. This is the latest in a series of updates over the last few weeks and months as the CDC works with cruise lines on restarting operations mid-summer.

The update comes after positive news with Royal Caribbean moving forward with the first confirmed simulated sailing, lots of new changes from Carnival Cruise Line on health protocols, and more deployments from the US by Norwegian Cruise Line.

The situation is moving very fast as the cruise industry prepares to make a comeback and follow the CDC’s guidance and requirements.

Updated Cruise Guidance from CDC

On May 26 the CDC made some updates to its operations manual, part of the framework of the Conditional Sailing Order. The focus of the updates is providing more discretion to the cruise ships with at least 95% of crew and 95% of passengers fully vaccinated.

CDC Sign
Photo Credit: bear_productions /

The CDC now says that “cruise ship operators, at their discretion, may designate areas as only accessible to fully vaccinated passengers and crew where masks and physical distancing are not required (e.g., casinos; bars; spas; entertainment venues; and dining areas, including self-serve buffets).”

For the fully vaccinated crew, the rules in crew only areas can be relaxed at the decision of the cruise line, “cruise ship operators, at their discretion, may advise crew who are fully vaccinated that they do not have to wear a mask or maintain physical distance in areas of the ship that are inaccessible to passengers.”

This will make a much easier working environment for crew members, and as we already know, cruise lines are currently vaccinating the crew at various US ports. It’s something that can have a good impact on crew life.

And the cream of the crop which relaxes health measures onboard for cruise lines is, “for ships with at least 95% of crew and 95% of passengers fully vaccinated, cruise ship operators, at their discretion, may advise passengers and crew that they do not have to wear a mask or maintain physical distance in any areas.”

The CDC still recommends social distancing with at least 6 feet, but it’s no longer a requirement for those sailings with the fully vaccinated crew and guests. It relaxes the unworkable rules that were previously in place, and with cruise lines already testing measures in other parts of the world, there is no doubt they know what to do.

The CDC last made an update to the guidance on May 18 with a clarification on disembarkation testing. There was also an earlier update on May 14 when several new sections were added with instructions on the crew and passenger testing at the port and onboard.

What Are Cruise Lines Planning?

The situation remains very fluid, with the CDC and cruise lines making adjustments almost weekly. At the moment, it’s pretty split, with major cruise lines keeping their options open. Carnival Cruise Line is set to announce details on vaccinated cruises by the end of May but has already issued a vaccine mandate for Alaska cruises later in the summer.

Royal Caribbean has not yet announced its health protocols for US operations but has become the first cruise line to be approved for test sailings with Freedom of the Seas at the end of July. Carnival is also planning on test sailing for July.

Only Norwegian Cruise Line has chosen the more direct root by already detailing fully vaccinated cruises from the US. The cruise line recently sent a letter to the CDC director about its restart plan during a time when there were issues between the cruise industry and the CDC.

All three cruise lines are very family orientated, so any fully vaccinated sailings could be limited for those with kids. In the coming weeks, we should no more as dialogue continues and details evolve.

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