Cruise Ships Continue to Visit Destinations Despite CDC Level 4 Travel Notices

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Over the last weeks and months, we’ve seen numerous reports from the CDC stating that several destinations are not safe for travel.

In the past, we’ve always looked to the Department of State for travel advice and whether or not traveling abroad to certain countries would be safe or not, although the CDC has always had its travel advice as well.

With the CDC now more in the picture and its travel notices gathering more attention, the question is if they matter.

What Do the Different Health Notices Mean?

We’ve seen cruise ships sailing to popular cruise hotspots including Jamaica, Aruba, Belize, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Bahamas without interruption. At the same time, the CDC says that travel should be avoided to these destinations as they are all currently on the level 4 list. There are currently more than 24 nations on the CDC’s level 4 list, its highest level.

CDC Destination Map
CDC Website

To understand why cruise ships are still traveling to the ever-growing list of countries to avoid we should understand what the different levels mean.

For each destination on the CDC’s list of countries to avoid, it assesses how many new COVID-19 (or other infectious diseases) cases each country has and if those cases show an up-or downward trajectory.

CDC Headquarters
Photo Credit: Rob Hainer /

The Travel Health Notice level can be raised if there has been a significant increase of cases or the case count exceeds a threshold over 14 days. These levels are as follows:

  • Level 4: Very high level of COVID-19: Avoid travel to this destination.
  • Level 3: High level of COVID-19: Make sure you are fully vaccinated before travel. Unvaccinated travelers should avoid nonessential travel to this destination.
  • Level 2: Moderate level of COVID-19: Make sure you are fully vaccinated before travel. Unvaccinated travelers at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 should avoid nonessential travel to this destination. If you must travel and have concerns, talk to your doctor.
  • Level 1: Low level of COVID-19: Make sure you are fully vaccinated before traveling to this destination.

Why Are Cruise Lines Ignoring the CDC’s Travel Advice?

If the cruise industry would follow the CDC’s Level 4, a cruise to 90% of the popular Caribbean destinations would be a thing of the past. And with the US on Level 4 as well, travel would be impossible.

Cruise Ships in Miami, Florida
Photo Credit: VIAVAL TOURS /

It’s the main reason why cruise lines and destinations have been working together since early 2020 to find a balance between the CDC’s requirements and those of the cruise ports. A Royal Caribbean spokesperson said this:

“Caribbean destinations and cruise lines started working together in summer 2020 to develop a universal set of guidelines for resumption of cruise travel across the Caribbean, Mexico and the Americas,”

With the US and the destinations on the same set of protocols, the cruise companies can be reasonably safe in the assumption that cruising can be done safely, and the CDC seems to agree as well. Cruise lines and destinations have been implementing stricter measures than was required from the CDC until only recently.

CDC Sign
Photo Credit: Katherine Welles /

The agency implemented measures recently for cruise ships that had been in place on board (such as a pre-cruise testing requirement) for weeks. In contrast, measures in place in destinations, such as the 100% vaccination in the Bahamas, are not mandated by the CDC in certain circumstances. 

With these measures, the cruise lines can and will ignore the CDC’s Travel Health levels. By implementing strict measures onboard and in different destinations, the cruise lines go beyond what the CDC expects, making the travel health notices not obsolete but certainly more guidance than a rule.

Also Read: Another Caribbean Cruise Nation Back on CDC Level 4 Travel List

The travel notices are there for an excellent reason; they are in place to protect you and your family when traveling. The good thing is that the cruise industry is taking measures further than the CDC would expect, making sure you and those you love are safe onboard wherever you travel.

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