The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lowered the COVID-19 warning for cruise travel today, February 15, 2022, dropping from the Level 4 “Very High” to Level 3 “High” indicating gaining confidence in the cruise industry’s health and safety protocols.
This is spectacular news for the industry and recognizes the extraordinary measures cruise lines have taken to keep passengers, crew members, and port communities safe.
COVID-19 Warning Lowered
By dropping the cruise travel warning from Level 4 down to Level 3, the CDC is acknowledging a slight lessening of risk aboard cruise ships, which is in line with the dropping caseloads of COVID-19 worldwide.
Under the previous warning, Level 4, travelers were advised to avoid cruise ship travel entirely.
Now, under Level 3, passengers are advised to be up-to-date on COVID-19 vaccinations before cruising, which means both the original full vaccination series as well as a booster shot if eligible.
Travelers who are not up-to-date with a booster shot or those who may be at greater risk for severe complications because of other health conditions are still advised to avoid cruising.
The most recent adjustment to the CDC cruise travel advisory level was in late December, when the level was raised from Level 3 to Level 4 in response to the emergence of the Omicron variant. At that time, case numbers were rising and cruise ships were facing increased denials at ports of call due to cases reported on board.
In response to today’s lowering of the warning level, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has said, “The decision by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to lower the Travel Health Notice threat level for cruise ships is a step in the right direction and recognizes the leadership and effectiveness of the cruise sector’s health and safety protocols that are unmatched by virtually any other commercial setting.”
CLIA’s response is reassuring to travelers, as CLIA and the CDC have recently been at odds with confusion over the CDC’s new voluntary COVID-19 Program for Cruise Ships. When the program and its multiple tiers was announced last week, CLIA responded that the new program “appears out of step with the actual public health conditions on cruise ships and unnecessary in light of societal trends away from more restrictive measures.“
Health and Safety Protocols Continue
This easing of the travel warning comes as many cruise lines are beginning to carefully relax onboard mandates, such as permitting vaccinated guests to go without masks indoors and allowing smoking to resume in ships’ casinos.
Norwegian Cruise Line was the first to relax the mask requirement, announcing on February 8 that passengers will no longer be required to wear masks onboard for sailings starting March 1. Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises quickly followed and relaxed their own mask mandates beginning February 15 and February 12, respectively.
Carnival Cruise Line, while keeping the mask requirement for the time being, announced that smoking is once again be permitted in ships’ casinos, as of February 14.
Cruise lines continue to remain vigilant with frequent cleaning and sanitation protocols, contactless check-in and retail transactions, lowered capacity to facilitate physical distancing, and pre-cruise testing requirements for all passengers. Furthermore, onboard response plans for cases on cruise ships have helped prevent large-scale outbreaks.
“Cruise ships have medical, isolation, and quarantine facilities on site, implement extensive response plans using private shoreside resources, and have created an environment where almost every single person is fully vaccinated,” CLIA said. “As a result, cases of COVID-19 are very low with the vast majority mild or asymptomatic—making cruise unequaled in its multi-layered approach to effectively mitigating COVID-19.”
Port Travel Warnings Remain
While the travel warning may have lowered for cruise travel overall, many popular ports of call remain listed as Level 4 warnings, with travelers advised to avoid destinations with very high levels of COVID-19 reported. This includes Mexico, Jamaica, The Bahamas, Aruba, the Cayman Islands, Belize, and many other cruise destinations.
Cruise lines are in constant communication with ports of call about local restrictions and guidelines, and protocols can be immediately updated if necessary to protect passengers, crew members, and port communities.
Cruise lines also continue to adapt itineraries as needed to provide travelers with great port experiences while complying with all local regulations and health and safety protocols.