In a first, a cruise line just announced a COVID-19 vaccination requirement

Jan 25, 2021

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It’s official: On at least a few ships, and maybe many more, you won’t be cruising this year unless you can show proof that you’ve been vaccinated for COVID-19.

Folkstone, England-based Saga Cruises on Tuesday became the first major cruise brand in the world to announce that passengers will need to show proof of being vaccinated for COVID‑19 before stepping on a ship when cruising resumes later this year.

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The two-ship line, which caters to British travelers over the age of 50, hasn’t operated departures since March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic but plans to resume trips in May.

Many other lines are looking at such a vaccine requirement, too.

Just last month, the top executive of the parent company of Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises said its lawyers were examining the legality of such a requirement for passengers.

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Lawyers for Norwegian Cruise Line’s parent company are looking into whether the company can require passengers to have COVID-19 vaccines on ships such as Norwegian Sky. (Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line)

“It will certainly be a requirement for the crew,” Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio said in a Zoom chat with the president of Travel Leaders Group, a major cruise seller. “But it’s too early to tell whether we have the legal standing to mandate that you take a vaccine to come onboard — lawyers are looking at it as we speak.”

Still, whatever the lawyers decide, Del Rio noted there was “talk beginning to emerge from different corners of the travel industry, the airlines as well, of requiring some kind of immunity passport demonstrating that you’ve had the virus or been vaccinated so that you are good to go. We have to build confidence in our customers and among ourselves that it’s safe to cruise.”

In a research report issued Friday, Truist analyst C. Patrick Scholes suggested a vaccination requirement could become the norm at upscale and luxury lines such as Oceania, Regent and Silversea, based on what he’s hearing from people in the industry.

Vaccination requirements at mass-market brands were less likely, he said.

“The deciding factor for the companies may be if a cruise brand will gain more customers by requiring a vaccine than they will lose by not requiring it,” Scholes said. “In that case, it becomes a marketing issue.”

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Another variable in the equation is whether airlines require travelers to be vaccinated, Scholes said. If so, cruisers who must fly to reach a ship may have to be vaccinated whether or not their line requires it.

Scholes said crew on ships likely will be required to be vaccinated.

Executives at a number of lines in recent weeks have said their companies have yet to make a decision on whether they will or won’t require passengers to be vaccinated.

That’s the case at Royal Caribbean Group, the parent company of the world’s largest cruise line by passenger capacity, Royal Caribbean, as well as Celebrity Cruises and Silversea.

In an interview with Porthole Magazine earlier this month, Royal Caribbean Group chairman and CEO Richard Fain suggested the company’s decision on the issue would be guided by the recommendation of a panel of health experts that it has assembled over the past year.

“The purpose of the panel is to advise us on things like that,” Fain said. “Exactly how are we going to require it? Are we going to just use it as an adjunct? I think all of that is going to come out reasonably soon.”

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Some cruisers who are reluctant to get a COVID-19 vaccine already are grumbling about the possibility of a mandatory vaccine requirement at online cruise fan sites and at Facebook groups devoted to cruising. But the number who say they won’t cruise if such a requirement goes into effect appears relatively small.

In a survey of nearly 3,000 readers this week, the world’s biggest online cruise site, Cruise Critic, found that 81% of its audience would continue to cruise if vaccines were required to sail. Just 5% of those surveyed said they wouldn’t sail under such conditions. The rest were unsure.

“Of those who would cruise, we see a mix between people who are fine with the concept of a mandate, and others who would actually feel more safe if that were the case – knowing that others onboard, and they themselves, have been vaccinated,” Colleen McDaniel, editor-in-chief of Cruise Critic, told The Points Guy.

McDaniel said a number of the site’s readers had shared that they expected many cruise destinations to impose a requirement for visitors to be vaccinated for COVID-19 — whatever the cruise lines decide. If that’s the case, the issue of whether cruise lines require it becomes moot.

While cruisers are mostly on board with such a requirement, they still have some worries about it, McDaniel said.

“Even among those who are open to the concept, we are seeing some logistical concerns – mainly worries around how quickly they’ll be able to receive the vaccine and, in turn, how quickly they’ll be able to return to sea,” she said.

In making its announcement this week, Saga Cruises said passengers would need to have gotten both doses of two-dose COVID-19 vaccines a full 14 days before sailing to be allowed on ships. That means that passengers on the line’s first scheduled sailing this year, on May 4, would need to have their final doses administered by April 20.

Given the slow rollout of the available vaccines so far in many countries around the world, such a timeline could present a problem for some cruisers.

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Featured image of courtesy of Saga Cruises


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