Norwegian Cruise Line to relax some COVID-19 protocols in March

Feb 8, 2022

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In an unexpected move, Norwegian Cruise Line, which has taken the most conservative approach to passenger COVID-19 safety of any cruise line, is rolling back its onboard mask policy and part of its vaccination policy.

Beginning March 1, Norwegian will allow unvaccinated children younger than 5 to sail on its ships. Previously, the line required 100% vaccination — the only major line to do so — preventing anyone who wasn’t fully inoculated from boarding. Because vaccines still aren’t available to the youngest cruisers, they were effectively banned from cruising with NCL.

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Under the amended rule, the only unvaccinated passengers allowed will be children younger than 5 years old. Per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s now-optional rules for cruise ships, the number of cruisers in that group will be limited.

“In order to provide the safest cruise experience possible, all guests age[s] [5] and over … will be required to be fully vaccinated for all sailings,” the line says on the Sail Safe page of its website. “In addition, as part of the … CDC’s Voluntary Conditional Sailing Order … we will limit the number of unvaccinated children aboard to not surpass 5% of all guests.”

What makes this such a huge decision for Norwegian is that the line’s parent company went so far as to sue in July 2021 after Governor Ron DeSantis issued a mandate that prevented Florida-based businesses from requiring customers to be vaccinated. The court ruled in favor of the cruise lines, which allowed NCL to proceed with its plans to maintain a 100%-immunized onboard environment.

With this change, Norwegian will no longer offer embarkation-day COVID-19 testing at the port. Cruisers will be responsible for procuring their own tests — antigen or PCR for vaccinated passengers and PCR for those who are unvaccinated — no more than 48 hours prior to boarding.

Additionally, Norwegian will scrap its mandatory mask policy on March 1. Although its website strongly encourages wearing masks in crowded indoor areas, it will no longer be a requirement.

“Face coverings are not required while onboard,” the NCL website says. “However, we recognize the added protections provided when wearing a mask covering and recommend that all guests do so onboard when indoors, except when actively eating or drinking, or seated at a table in a dining setting, or when in their stateroom. … The decision to wear a mask covering when onboard is at the discretion of each guest.”

However, masks will still be required indoors and in crowded outdoor areas on Europe sailings due to local laws.

Following Norwegian’s monthlong pause due to the spread of the COVID-19 omicron variant, the line returned to service Feb. 7 with the Norwegian Pearl, which is currently sailing a five-day Caribbean voyage.

Featured image by Danny Lehman/Norwegian Cruise Line.

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