There’s COVID-19 on nearly every cruise ship right now
The number of passengers and crew testing positive on ships has been rising sharply in recent weeks
At the end of December, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 5,013 COVID-19 cases had been reported on cruise vessels operating in U.S. waters during the last two weeks of the month, up from just 162 cases during the first two weeks of the month.
Some reports suggest the number of cases on ships is up even more in the first 10 days of the new year.
All 92 cruise vessels currently operating in U.S. waters have recorded at least a handful of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, according to CDC data.
It’s important to note that most of these “cases” of COVID-19 are asymptomatic or mild, only discovered during routine testing. While some ships only are testing passengers who report feeling ill for COVID-19 (and close contacts of those who subsequently test positive), other ships are testing every single passenger at least once per voyage, sometimes more.
Cruise lines also are testing all crew members regularly. The result is the detection of many asymptomatic cases that otherwise would have gone undetected. This is a level of visibility that is much greater than what is the norm for other travel options such as land-based resorts or theme parks, and it can give the false impression that the positivity rate for COVID-19 on ships is unusually high as compared to other places.
It’s also important to note that the detection of COVID-19-positive passengers or crew onboard your ship won’t necessarily impact your cruise (unless you are among those testing positive).
The current protocol on most ships is to isolate COVID-19-positive passengers and crew but otherwise continue on with voyages as planned.
Your itinerary could change
While health authorities no longer are quarantining whole ships when a few passengers or crew test positive for COVID-19, the presence of the illness on board a ship still could result in disruptions to your itinerary.
Cruise lines in recent weeks have faced a growing number of ports that are not allowing ships with COVID-19-positive passengers or crew to dock.
Several ships recently had to skip port calls in Mexico, for instance, after passengers and crew onboard the vessels tested positive for COVID-19. The ports have since reopened after Mexico’s Health Department overruled the decisions of local port officials.
Cruise ships also have had to cancel stops recently at Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, and San Juan due to local worries about COVID-19-positive passengers and crew on board and/or tighter COVID-19-related entry requirements.
Cruise lines also are dealing with a small but growing number of destinations that are at least temporarily closing to cruising completely, even for ships where no one has tested positive for COVID-19.
Your cruise could be canceled on short notice
A growing number of cruise lines are canceling sailings on short notice, listing COVID-19 disruptions as the reason. The world’s largest cruise line Royal Caribbean on Friday canceled sailings on four of its ships, including the world’s largest ship, Symphony of the Seas.
Norwegian Cruise Line just announced more cancellations as I mentioned earlier
Other cruise lines announced cancellations recently:
Atlas Ocean Voyages
Regent Seven Seas
The cruise lines are struggling to maintain adequate staffing levels on some ships due to crew members testing positive. When crew test positive, they and their close contacts must stop working and isolate, even if asymptomatic, leaving shipboard venues short-staffed.
You probably won’t be quarantined or stranded
The CDC is no longer are quarantining an entire ship when a few passengers and crew test positive for COVID-19.
The current protocol on most ships is to quickly isolate COVID-19-positive passengers and their close contacts.
Many cruises are going ahead as planned, with little disruption, even when some passengers and crew on the trips test positive for COVID-19.
These protocols come as a recommendation from the CDC and they’ve worked well for the past year.
If you do test positive for COVID-19 on a ship, you will, unfortunately, face what could be several days of isolation in a cabin on a ship or on land. If you are an American cruising overseas, you also won’t be able to return to the U.S. until you have tested negative for COVID-19.
This is one of the biggest risks of taking a cruise right now, and one reason you may consider canceling a cruise scheduled in the short term
Most COVID-19 cases on ships aren’t serious
Cruise lines are reporting that the vast majority of passengers testing positive for COVID-19 in recent weeks are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms.
All major cruise lines currently are requiring all or nearly all passengers to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19, with some also starting to require booster shots, to boot. This creates an onboard population that is far less likely to experience serious symptoms of COVID-19 than a cross-section of people on land, according to CDC data.
For all adults ages 18 years and older, the cumulative COVID-19-associated hospitalization rate is about eight times higher in unvaccinated persons than in vaccinated persons, according to the latest CDC data.
New health protocols
If you haven’t cruised since before the pandemic, you should expect a lot of new health and safety protocols implemented during the pandemic.
There are vaccine mandates and no other segment of the travel industry has been as uniform in requiring almost every customer to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Cruise lines are requiring passengers to undergo COVID-19 tests before boarding ships, either through testing before arriving at the terminal or in some cases, at the terminal as part of the embarkation process.
When COVID-19 is detected on a ship, cruise lines sometimes then test passengers multiple times to ensure it isn’t spreading.
Most cruise lines now are requiring passengers to wear masks at all times while inside the cruise ship, and have stepped up cleaning procedures, improved air filtration systems, and made other onboard changes.
You can cancel if you’re worried (in most cases)
If you’re booked on a cruise in the coming weeks, and you’re having second thoughts, there’s a good chance you can get out of your cruise. Many cruise lines continue to be more flexible than normal about cancellations during the pandemic, especially with the Omicron variant. Examples:
Carnival Cruise Line’s flexible cancellation policy allows passengers to cancel as long as a public health emergency remains in effect and receive 100% of the cruise fare paid in the form of a future cruise credit. Passengers are also able to cancel if they test positive for COVID-19. (Proof of a positive test result is required.)
Norwegian Cruise Line extended its pandemic-era Peace of Mind policy to allow passengers to cancel any sailing taking place between now and May 31. For now, the cancellation needs to be done by Jan. 31, and the refund would come in the form of a future cruise credit to be used on any sailing that embarks through Dec. 31.