The CDC has made several changes to its travel advisories over the last few days, including those regarding the two popular cruise destinations of the Bahamas and St. Maarten. Both now have a rating from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of Level 4: Very High Level of COVID-19.
Both the Bahamas and St. Maarten have played a considerable role in the restart of cruises in the region; the advisory from the CDC comes when multiple ships travel to the islands on a regular, almost daily basis.
CDC Updates the Bahamas and St. Maarten
With an increasing number of cruise ships sailing to the Bahamas and St. Maarten each day it is surprising that the CDC has now increased the travel advisory from level 3 to level 4. The CDC is now saying that travelers should avoid travel to the Bahamas and St. Maarten if possible, and if travel is necessary to take several precautions.
These precautions include being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 if at all possible. Travelers should follow government recommendations or requirements in the Bahamas and St. Maarten, including wearing a mask and staying 6 feet apart from others, avoiding crowds, and washing and sanitizing hands as often as possible.
At this time, the CDC or the Department of State have not placed any restrictions on travel itself to the Bahamas or St. Maarten, and neither are there restrictions on travel back from the Bahamas after disembarking in the islands.
One area that could affect cruise ship travel is whether insurance companies will still cover a trip to St. Maarten or the Bahamas to join a cruise ship. The U.S. Department of State and the CDC recently aligned their travel advisories, also taking into account the political and environmental situation in the country, meaning the CDC’s travel notice does carry weight now and the insurance companies have often aligned themselves with the Department of State.
How Could This Impact Cruises?
If 500 new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 inhabitants have been registered in a country over the past 28 days, the CDC will designate that country a level four travel advice.
While the U.S. has been quick to vaccinate a majority of its citizens, the same cannot be said about the Bahamas and St. Maarten, and naturally, more cases are being found in those countries. The new guidelines from the CDC serve both to protect U.S. citizens as well as locals.
The Bahamas have already put new guidelines in place that ensure all cruise ship travelers are fully vaccinated before they are allowed into the country. Both Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line have already adjusted their health requirements to reflect these changes, allowing only fully vaccinated passengers onboard, the only exceptions being children under the age of 12, and those with medical conditions preventing them from being vaccinated.
St. Maarten has not gone as far yet, although passengers embarking on a cruise in St. Maarten have to buy Covid-19 insurance from the St. Maarten government. This costs $15 for ages 15 and older and is free for children age 14 and under.
When returning from a cruise in a level-4 country, U.S.-based passengers who have not been vaccinated are advised to self-quarantine and get tested with a viral test 3-5 days after travel.
As the cruise industry ramps up more and more ships, the situation is not becoming any clearer. Countries are surely but steadily moving towards vaccine mandates, as was shown by the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, and Malta, and the surge in cases is forcing agencies like the CDC to discourage travel to countries that are seeing surges in cases.
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Cruise ship travel is still alive and well, as is embarking on cruise ships in the Bahamas and St Maarten. But, cruise ship guests embarking in level 4 countries will need to make sure their insurance policies are up to date, and as always, keep informed about the current guidelines both for their embarkation port as well as destinations on their scheduled itinerary, as well as any additional information available from the cruise lines.