The CDC Just Eased Cruise Ship Protocols—Is Now the Time to Book?

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After some of the cruise ship stories that came out in the early months of the pandemic—the virus spreading through passengers and staff, barring ships from port—it’s understandable why you might be hesitant to book your next cruise. But as of February 15, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has eased its COVID guidance around cruise ships, citing the declining number of outbreaks onboard.

On its four-level travel health scale, the CDC moved cruise ships from a level four to a level three. This means there is still a risk of catching COVID on a cruise ship, but with Omicron numbers in the States waning, the risk is not as high as it once was.

Since summer 2021, cruise ships with international itineraries have had to follow the CDC’s conditional sailing order to be allowed to operate. The order required ships to test all passengers before boarding, create an on-board laboratory for COVID testing, and show that the ship had protocols in place to limit the spread of the virus if a passenger or staff member tested positive.

On January 15, the CDC made its conditional sailing order voluntary, meaning the guidelines were no longer a requirement to operate. However, most major U.S. cruise lines, including Disney, Carnival, and Royal Caribbean, have confirmed that they are continuing to follow the guidelines.

“I think the conditional sail order and the fact that the industry has stepped up and is now interested in doing and exceeding, as you know, the compliance with the sail order without the order even necessarily needing to be in place is a real testimony to how well that has worked,” said CDC director Rochelle Walensky, during a Senate committee hearing on January 11.

If you are feeling ready to get back on your sea legs and book a cruise, the CDC advises that you be fully vaccinated, including boosters; take a COVID test within three days of boarding to ensure you’re negative; wear a well-fitting mask any time you’re indoors or in a crowded outdoor setting; and take a second test three to five days after your cruise.

If you’re concerned about the COVID risk of your upcoming cruise, you can check your ship’s status here.

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