Times Union: NEW YORK – US travelers soon will be able to vacation again on cruise ships, but with two catches: they will need to show they’ve fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and must travel out of the country before boarding.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention barred cruise ships from picking up passengers in US ports more than a year ago because of the pandemic. The CDC hasn’t yet reversed that decision, despite the large number of Americans who have been vaccinated.

That hasn’t stopped the cruise ship industry, which has racked up billions of dollars of losses. Operators are moving their vessels to the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Bermuda, Greece and other Mediterranean ports for the summer season.

The ships aren’t subject to the CDC’s rules as long as they don’t depart or stop at a US port.

Cruise operators have adopted a strict “no vaccination, no trip” policy. Some say they will continue the vaccination rules even when they are allowed to resume regular US operations.

“Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings shares the CDC’s view that vaccinations are the primary vehicle for Americans to get back to their everyday lives,” Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of the company, said in statement. “We believe that through a combination of 100 percent mandatory vaccinations for guests and crew and science-based public health measures we can create a safe, bubble-like environment for guests and crew.”

Norwegian has asked the CDC to allow it to resume service from the United States in July. Silversea Cruises also has told the CDC it wants to return to American ports with a vaccine requirement.

Following home rules

FILE - In this May 4, 2020 file photo, Norwegian cruise ships are docked at Portsmouth Marine Terminal in Portsmouth, Va. Norwegian Cruise Line is announcing plans to resume sailing after being shut down for more than a year by the pandemic. Norwegian said Tuesday, May 4, 2020, that it plans trips in late July in the Greek islands and in August in the Caribbean. (Stephen M. Katz/The Virginian-Pilot via AP, File)

FILE – In this May 4, 2020 file photo, Norwegian cruise ships are docked at Portsmouth Marine Terminal in Portsmouth, Va. Norwegian Cruise Line is announcing plans to resume sailing after being shut down for more than a year by the pandemic. Norwegian said Tuesday, May 4, 2020, that it plans trips in late July in the Greek islands and in August in the Caribbean – Stephen M Katz/The Virginian-Pilot via AP, File

Americans who go to the new foreign ports to board would still have to meet the local country’s health guidelines, which means being vaccinated in some cases.

The 27 countries of the European Union are expected to allow American tourists again this summer, but only if they are fully vaccinated. To get on board a cruise ship in Greece would require proof of vaccination.

Caribbean destinations, Bermuda and the Bahamas don’t require travelers to be vaccinated — but they’ll have to be to board their cruise ships.

“Safe travel is our priority and placing vaccinations and other key public health travel protocols at the core of our cruise industry restart will not only restore traveler confidence, but also offer comfort to visitors and Barbadians alike,” Lisa Cummins, the Barbados minister of tourism and international transport, said in a statement.

Carnival Corp’s Seabourn Odyssey will depart from Barbados starting in July, eliminating Miami, one of its ports.

Seabourn launch operations from Barbados in November, but stopped after a passenger on the first cruise tested positive for COVID-19.

Luxury line Crystal Cruises will require a negative COVID-19 test in addition to proof of vaccination when it starts weekly cruises from Nassau, Bahamas, on July 4 and from Bimini in the Bahamas on July 3.

Interim CEO and President Jack Anderson said in a statement that a recent survey showed that 80 percent of people who have been on cruises would return if a vaccine were required.

But in an interview, Vanessa Rodriguez, Crystal Cruises’ public relations manager, wouldn’t say whether the company would still require passengers to be vaccinated when its cruise ships can start docking again in the US. She said the plan going forward “is fluid”.

Royal Caribbean Cruises and Celebrity Cruises also are requiring vaccinations and redeploying ships outside the United States.

Royal Caribbean will redeploy its Galveston-based cruise ship, Adventure of the Seas, to Nassau for weekly cruises beginning June 12. Its Vision of the Seas vessel is moving from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Bermuda for weekly trips starting July 10.

It is unclear when U.S. cruise lines will be able to once again depart from domestic ports. The CDC hasn’t finalized regulations for a resumption.

Not all cruise lines say they will require passengers to be vaccinated when they resume U.S. departures — unless the CDC orders it.

Royal Caribbean CEO Michael Bayley said in a recent interview with Miami radio station WLRN that the company didn’t intend to require vaccinations when its ships restart U.S. departures. About 80 percent of Royal Caribbean potential passengers are vaccinated or plan to be vaccinated, he said.

But allowing cruise lines to depart from the U.S. without vaccinations mandates would be a mistake, said Tara Kirk Sell, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

“There are a lot of opportunities on cruises for super-spreading outbreaks, and not just for COVID,” she said.

Kirk Sell said cruise ships often have seen disease outbreaks, such as norovirus, which causes vomiting and diarhea, and gastrointestinal infections.

Against ‘vaccine passports’

Flu coronavirus pandemic virus infection, travel and health concept – 3d illustration

Florida Gov Ron DeSantis issued an executive order in April prohibiting businesses, including cruise ships, from requiring proof of vaccination.

DeSantis is anxious to get the cruise industry restarted. He announced on April 8 that Florida is suing the Biden administration in federal court to reopen the cruise industry “immediately.”

We must allow our cruise liners and their employees to get back to work and safely set sail again,” he said at a Port of Miami press conference. “To be clear, no federal law authorizes the CDC to indefinitely impose a nationwide shutdown of an entire industry.”

Florida is home to the three largest cruise ports in the world: Miami, Port Canaveral and Port Everglades, which is in Fort Lauderdale.

“It’s an issue because the governor’s order runs contrary to the vaccinations the cruise lines are currently requiring of passengers,” said Stewart Chiron, a cruise industry analyst who runs the website, The Cruise Guy.

Texas has one cruise port, Galveston, which is the fourth-busiest in North America as measured by departing passengers, just behind the Florida ports.

Gov. Greg Abbott has signed an order banning government-sponsored “vaccine passports,” but it does not apply to private industry, including cruise ships.

The CDC did not respond to requests for comment.

The cruise industry got a black eye in the early days of the pandemic. Daily news reports focused on the plight of two ships, many of their passengers infected with the coronavirus.

The Diamond Princess saw the largest COVID-19 outbreak outside China in mid-February 2020.

Following a cruise, 13 passengers died and 20 percent of the people onboard got sick with the coronavirus during its anchorage off Yokohama, Japan.

Passengers on a second ship, the Grand Princess, were quarantined off the coast of California for three weeks. Eight passengers died from the COVID-19 outbreak and more than 100 passengers were infected.

The CDC still gives cruise ship travel its highest warning — Level 4. It recommends not boarding a cruise ship because the risk of catching COVID-19 is too high.

Loyal passengers remain, however, anxious to cruise again, said Peter Herff, owner of Herff Travel in San Antonio.

Herff said many cruisers are vaccinated and ready to board again in large numbers once the ships return to the US. He said he has seen several dozen bookings for the overseas cruises.

Herff said he is not anti-vaccine, but that it’s unfair to require cruise passengers to be vaccinated if they want to get onboard again. After all, he said, passengers won’t be subject to the same requirement before they board planes.

“I will guarantee you that if I’m talking to one of my clients and if they have a fear of traveling due to the virus, they don’t fear it on a cruise line — they fear it on the airplane,” he said.


  • Top Feature Photo: (FILES) In this file photo taken on March 18, 2020, a cruise ship sails away from Miami Beach in Miami. – After more than a year of frustration, diehard fans of cruise vacations at last sense an end to their Covid-imposed stranding, and many are booking trips as soon as they can. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP) (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images) CHANDAN KHANNA, Contributor / AFP via Getty Image