Why kids might be banned from cruise ships when cruising restarts

May 3, 2021

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You may have heard that the odds are growing for a summer restart of big-ship cruising out of U.S. ports. But if that’s got you thinking about booking a summer cruise with your kids or grandkids, you might want to hold off a bit.

It seems increasingly likely that at least some children will not be allowed on the initial sailings that cruise lines operate out of such U.S. ports as PortMiami and Port Canaveral.

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That’s because cruise lines are under pressure to restart operations out of U.S. ports with a mandate that almost all passengers show proof of a COVID-19 vaccine — something that children under the age of 16 can’t get for now (though that cut-off age could drop to 12 soon).

Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sent a letter to cruise lines saying they could fast-track their return to operations out of U.S. ports in the coming weeks only if they committed to sailing with 98% of crew and 95% of passengers vaccinated for COVID-19. The CDC has been blocking cruise ships from sailing out of U.S. ports since March of 2020.

It’s likely that many lines will accept such terms.

On a conference call last week with Wall Street analysts, Royal Caribbean Group executives said they needed to study the CDC’s proposal more closely. But they seemed open to the idea of requiring most passengers on initial sailings out of U.S. ports to be vaccinated for COVID-19. Some of the company’s brands, including Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises, already are requiring adults on some itineraries in Europe and the Caribbean to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Royal Caribbean Group is the parent company of Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Silversea, and it owns a partial interest in German lines TUI Cruises and Hapag-Lloyd Cruises.

Odyssey of the Seas
Royal Caribbean’s Odyssey of the Seas will begin sailings out of Israel in June with a requirement that all adults be vaccinated. (Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean)

Michael Bayley, the president and CEO of the Royal Caribbean brand, noted on the call that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine was close to being approved in the U.S. for children as young as 12. That would just leave kids under the age of 12 without access to a COVID-19 vaccine.

“We think this is the next phase,” Bayley said when asked about the impact of a vaccine requirement on family cruising this year. “Obviously, we carry a lot of kids 11 and under. But, relatively speaking, as a percentage of our total guest count, it’s quite a small number. So we’re not overly concerned with that.”

Already, Norwegian Cruise Line has announced that all passengers — children included — will need a COVID-19 vaccine to sail on all voyages worldwide through at least Oct. 31. So has its two sister lines, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

Other lines that have announced a COVID-19 vaccine for all passengers including children on at least some initial sailings include Azamara, Crystal Cruises, Cunard Line, Princess Cruises, Seabourn, Silversea, UnCruise Adventures and Viking.

“We really thought long and hard about this, and it wasn’t an easy decision. Families and children are a large part of what we do,” Norwegian Cruise Line president and CEO Harry Sommer recently told TPG. “But, for us, it has to be safety first when it comes to these things.”

Speaking about the line’s comeback plans with TPG on a video call, Sommer said he was hopeful that children under the age of 12 would gain access to the COVID-19 vaccine later this year, allowing families with young children to return to cruising with Norwegian.

Several of North America’s biggest cruise brands, including Carnival Cruise Line and Holland America, have been relatively quiet about whether they would impose a COVID-19 vaccine mandate on passengers when they resume cruising.

In an exclusive interview with TPG on Monday, Holland America president Gus Antorcha said the line hadn’t yet decided what it’s COVID-19 vaccine policy would be.

“That’s part of what we’re evaluating at the moment,” Antorcha said during a video call. “When we announce [initial restart itineraries], we’ll have that clear. But that’s part of what we’re working through with the regulators in the geographies that we’re looking at [for restarting], which is what level of vaccination makes sense.”

Antorcha suggested the company’s COVID-19 vaccine policy might not be the same for every destination or itinerary where the line sails.

“The countries [where we sail] are at different places on this topic,” he said. “It’s very hard to just make a blanket statement.”

Antorcha noted there might be different COVID-19 vaccine policies for the very long voyages that Holland America offers than for shorter sailings. Holland America is particularly known among cruise lines for long, multicountry sailings that last up to several months.

“On Holland, you’re on 30-, 45-, 60-day voyages at some point,” he noted. “That’s a little different than if you’re doing three- or four-day cruises. People [on shorter sailings] are on and off so quickly that it’s a different profile of a cruise.”

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Featured image courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line.

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