Confused on cruise? Vax rules change up as restart nears

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Confused on cruise? Vax rules change up as restart nears

Johanna JainchillFor anyone keeping track of the cruise industry's restart, last week's whirlwind of policy changes was enough to give anyone whiplash

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Johanna Jainchill

Johanna Jainchill

For anyone keeping track of the cruise industry’s restart, last week’s whirlwind of policy changes was enough to give anyone whiplash.

Royal Caribbean Group CEO Richard Fain, in a video posted for travel advisors yesterday, expressed what we’re all feeling. “If you’re not confused, you’re not paying attention,” he said, quoting management guru Tom Peters. “I’m paying attention, and I’m confused as hell.”

In a surprise move, the Royal Caribbean International brand on Friday dropped a vaccine mandate for anyone 12 and older on its cruises launching this summer from Florida and Texas, while Carnival Cruise Line said it felt it had no choice but to implement one.

It was unexpected, because Royal had recently said that while it would not reach the 95% threshold necessary to avoid test sailings and additional health protocols onboard, because it would enable children 12 and under to sail unvaccinated, it made clear that anyone eligible for a shot would be required to have it.

“Under any scenario, anyone who is eligible for the vaccine will be vaccinated,” Fain said in a previous video for advisors on the different approaches that Royal Caribbean Group brands would take in their restarts.

Carnival president Christine Duffy, meanwhile, had recently suggested that a vaccine mandate would be difficult for the line to implement because the line carries so many children (In a video for travel advisors in March, she said that Carnival sails with more families and children than any other cruise line.) None of the Covid-19 vaccines approved in the U.S. have been authorized for children under 12.

Carnival’s vaccine policy certainly doesn’t contradict that position. Duffy said the cruise line felt that with its first ships sailing from Texas, the CDC requirements for a ship with an unvaccinated passenger base “will make it very difficult to deliver the experience our guests expect, especially given the large number of families with younger children who sail with us. As a result, our alternative is to operate our ships from the U.S. during the month of July with vaccinated guests.”

Royal’s hands may have been tied, as well. Fain said yesterday that the company must follow “the law of land” concerning Florida legislation that prohibits companies from asking for proof of vaccination. But he also said that he doesn’t think it changes the line’s position that virtually any person eligible for a vaccine should have one.

“Remember, the vast bulk of our guests want vaccinations, and in most cases already have them,” he said. “Those who are unvaccinated will need to undergo additional testing and other restrictions. That necessarily adds to their cost and adds limitations on the cruise for those people who choose to be unvaccinated.”

Fain did not say whether sister brand Celebrity Cruises, which is set to be the first line to launch a ship from the U.S. on June 26, with the Celebrity Edge out of Port Everglades, Fla., would also have to make the vaccine-policy change.

How Norwegian Cruise Line, which has stuck to its policy of full-ship vaccination on cruises on all ships launching through October, and which today said its restart would include the Norwegian Gem from Miami in August, will get around the Florida law is to be determined.

But is it the reason that three of the five ships Norwegian plans to launch this summer and fall will sail from New York, Los Angeles and Seattle, ports in states where there are no bans on vaccine passports? That’s also not clear.

MSC Cruises, on the other hand, has no vaccination mandate on the two ships it said will resume service in August and September from Miami. But like Royal Caribbean, the line expects the majority of its guests will be vaccinated and “encourages” any passengers to do so.

Fain concluded his video by saying, “we should all take a collective breath” — and perhaps that is the only way to handle the ever-changing cruise restart regulations, protocols and plans, because at the end of day, the ultimate outcome is one that travel advisors have been waiting on for more than 15 months to a year.

“After 15 months of no forward motion, suddenly everything is happening at light speed,” Fain said. “We are moving forward, and cruising is restarting.”

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