Cruise Planning Tips: Has it Changed in 2021?

Cruise planning tips in 2021 are more important than ever. How much has it changed to be fully prepared for a vacation at sea?

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As different cruise lines continue to evolve their return-to-sailing protocols and health and safety measures continue to be revised throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, how should that impact cruise planning in 2021? It is possible to cautiously plan a cruise this year, if travelers are flexible with their plans and stay informed about changing travel protocols.

Why Cruises Could Still Be Canceled or Rescheduled

It is encouraging that many cruise lines are gradually returning to operations, but at the same time, additional voyages may be canceled, rescheduled, or revised in different areas. This is due to the continually evolving pandemic, including new virus variants, infection rates, hospitalization capabilities, and vaccination rates in different regions.

As the situation evolves, cruise lines must remain flexible with their operations and may change which voyages go forward, which vessels are in operation, and which ports are open as necessary.

Who May Not Want to Cruise in 2021

While many cruise travelers are eager to set sail again, it is important to carefully consider one’s personal situation before booking a cruise in such evolving times. Individuals with health vulnerabilities, for example, may prefer to remain patient and not set sail quite yet.

Similarly, travelers who may have less flexible budgets or who may need more complicated travel arrangements to reach a cruise port must consider their overall situation before committing to a cruise that might change at a moment’s notice.

Furthermore, anyone who is uncomfortable with different cruise lines’ protocols for health and safety, such as vaccination requirements, the possibility of mask wearing, onboard testing, health questionnaires, or more limited activities may want to reconsider a cruise at this time and instead wait until more normalcy is achieved before setting sail.

Who Can Most Easily Cruise This Year

As cruises resume and more ships are slated to begin operations in the coming weeks, what types of passengers are best prepared to set sail on the first cruise vacations since early 2020? Anyone who feels confident in cruises can happily embark, but they should still be cautious with their own health, budget, and travel plans.

Individuals who have cruise credit from previous cancellations may want to take advantage of great deals as cruise lines restart, which will ensure the credit is used to its full extent and does not expire.

Cruise Ship Passengers
Photo Credit: Robert Young /

Travelers close to the port will also have an advantage for early cruises, because travel plans to reach the port will not be as complex and will not rely on airline policies, hotel accommodations, or other extra arrangements.

For the smoothest cruise experience, passengers ought to be fully vaccinated. Some cruise lines are requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for all or most passengers, and anyone without that protection may not be permitted to sail.

Once on board a ship, fully vaccinated passengers are also able to more fully participate in cruise activities closer to the normalcy travelers enjoyed before the industry shutdown.

Tips for Planning a 2021 Cruise Vacation

Regardless of a traveler’s individual considerations for planning a cruise this year, there are ways to make taking a 2021 cruise easier and more enjoyable.

Know the Health Protocols

Different cruise lines are instituting a variety of health and safety protocols to keep both passengers and crew safe when sailings resume. These protocols are updated regularly as official guidance and recommendations change, and passengers planning to take a cruise should stay alert to possible changes before they set sail.

Worth Reading: How to Social Distance Effectively on a Cruise?

This includes vaccination requirements, health questionnaires, testing requirements before embarkation, and other details that can impact a passenger’s eligibility to cruise with a particular line.

Cruise Ship Illness with Mask
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

It is also possible that the same cruise line may have different requirements on different ships, based on each ship’s size and sailing itinerary. Different ports of call may have different requirements for incoming travelers, and it is best to stay informed of all the current health requirements well before embarkation day.

Consider Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is always a wise idea if travel plans may be uncertain or unforeseen circumstances may arise. As the cruise industry restarts, some cruise lines are requiring unvaccinated passengers to carry travel insurance that would cover the costs of a COVID-19 diagnosis, including medical care or a medical evacuation if necessary.

When choosing travel insurance for a 2021 cruise, read the terms and conditions carefully to ensure the coverage will be adequate. Also consider whether the insurance would cover missed work or alternative travel arrangements if a quarantine or isolation period may be necessary.

Get Vaccinated If Possible

Different cruise lines have different requirements as to whether or not passengers must be vaccinated for COVID-19 before embarkation, and the requirements can even be different depending on which ports of call the ship will be visiting. Some ports, for example, may not permit unvaccinated passengers to disembark for tours or sightseeing.

COVID-19 Vaccine

On board the cruise ship, vaccinated and unvaccinated passengers may have different protocols to follow, and vaccinated passengers may enjoy more liberty and opportunities during their cruise vacation. At the very least, vaccinated passengers are less likely to be delayed by additional testing or contact tracing if an outbreak may be documented.

If possible, passengers are advised to be fully vaccinated a minimum of 14 days before embarkation, and each passenger should bring documentation of vaccination status as part of their cruise paperwork.

Choose a Nearby Home Port

To make travel arrangements easier for a 2021 cruise, passengers should consider cruises departing from their nearest home port. This can help minimize convoluted travel arrangements, including multiple flights, layovers, hotel stays, ride shares, and other steps that could all cause new difficulties if schedules are shifted or health protocols are changed.

Port Everglades, Fort Lauderdale
Port Everglades, Fort Lauderdale (Photo Credit: Claude Huot /

If passengers can simply drive to the embarkation port, it will be smoother and easier to begin the cruise as well as to leave the port after the voyage ends.

Document Payments

Because cruises may still be canceled or delayed as the pandemic changes, be sure to document the payment history for the trip, including dates, amounts, and method of payment. Save receipts and emails, and keep account numbers handy in case changes need to be made.

If cruise line credit is used from a previously canceled voyage, keep the reference numbers available in case additional changes are necessary.

Pack Light

As the cruise approaches, don’t overpack! Extra luggage may need to undergo additional screenings and if the ship is understaffed, it may take longer than usual to deliver luggage to guest cabins. Passengers should take great care to pack as little as possible and plan to carry their own bags during embarkation and disembarkation if possible.

Packing Less on a Cruise Vacation
Photo By: Melissa Mayntz

To minimize luggage, be realistic about how many outfit changes might be necessary during the trip and choose attire that could be worn with different accessories for a new look. Avoid any items that aren’t permitted on board, such as heating elements, dangerous toys, pool inflatables, and other items that are likely to be confiscated.

Also Read: Top 30 Cruise Accessories You’ll Want to Have Packed

Stay Informed

Above all, passengers should stay in contact with the cruise line in multiple ways to receive updates about any cancellations, itinerary changes, health protocol adjustments, or other alterations if they’ve booked a 2021 cruise vacation.

Following the cruise line on social media can be helpful, and check emails regularly for any updates from the cruise line. Provide the cruise line with updated contact information (phone and email), and stay in touch to stay informed.

Be Flexible and Patient

As the cruise industry restarts and vessels begin to set sail again, it can be exciting to plan a 2021 cruise. It is most important, however, to remain flexible and patient as the industry adapts to new and continually changing requirements.

Passengers, cruise lines, and crew members are all eager to get sailing again, and with thorough preparation and understanding, cruises will be able to navigate these uncharted waters and bring back the outstanding vacations passengers are eager to enjoy.

Melissa Mayntz
Melissa Mayntz
Avid, enthusiastic cruiser (35+ cruises and counting!), having sailed on multiple cruise lines, 25+ different ships in a variety of classes, and visited ports of call in more than 6 countries, including Caribbean, Mexican, Alaskan, and Hawaiian ports. Widely traveled on multiple continents and homeported from Port Canaveral, as well as a professional freelance writer and editor with more than 20 years' experience and thousands of articles published. Find out more about us here.


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