The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lowered its travel warning for cruise ships Wednesday, recommending only unvaccinated passengers avoid cruise travel.
The COVID-19 risk for unvaccinated passengers on cruise ships is now set at Level 3, the second highest, down from Level 4. Previously, the CDC recommended all passengers avoid cruise travel.
The changes come as the cruise industry prepares to restart from U.S. ports in the coming weeks. The first test cruise is scheduled for Sunday — Royal Caribbean International’s Freedom of the Seas ship from PortMiami — and the first revenue cruise for June 26 — Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Edge ship from Port Canaveral.
“Since the virus spreads more easily between people in close quarters aboard ships, the chance of getting COVID-19 on cruise ships is high,” the CDC said.
The agency recommends that all cruise travelers get tested for COVID-19 one to three days before their trip and three to five days after their trip. Unvaccinated passengers should self-quarantine for seven days after a cruise, even if they test negative. If they do not get tested, they should self-quarantine for 10 days after a cruise, the agency said.
The COVID-19 vaccine is a key component of getting the cruise industry restarted. No cruise ships have left from U.S. ports since March 2020 after outbreaks and deaths on several ships forced the industry to shut down.
Now cruises have resumed from Caribbean ports where companies are requiring all passengers be vaccinated. For upcoming cruises from U.S. ports, most companies are requiring vaccination, except from Florida, where a recently passed state law bars them from requiring passengers show proof of vaccination in order to board.
Celebrity Cruises, the first company scheduled to resume U.S. cruises, has created a Florida caveat to its rule that all passengers 16 years old or older must be vaccinated. For cruises from Florida, its website says, “If you decline or are unable to show proof of vaccination at boarding you will be treated as unvaccinated and you will be subject to additional costs, restrictions, and protocols that we will advise you of as soon as they have been determined.”
Already, the vaccine has prevented deadly outbreaks on cruise ships. Last week two passengers tested positive five days into an eight-day cruise on the Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Millennium ship in the Caribbean. All adult passengers on board showed proof of vaccination before boarding, along with the crew. This week, eight crew members tested positive on Royal Caribbean International’s Odyssey of the Seas ship off Florida’s coast, pushing back its tentative restart date by nearly a month. It had not yet been two weeks since the crew on board were vaccinated.