Most Cruise Lines "Opt In" to CDC's Voluntary Compliance Program

Most major cruise lines have “opted into” to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) voluntary health/safety compliance program for foreign-flagged ships operating in U.S. waters. Friday was the deadline for cruise lines to notify the CDC that they would participate.

Currently, the CDC Cruise Ship Dashboard is showing 110 ships in total are now covered under the new voluntary compliance program. 

Carnival Corporation Brands

Among brands"opting in were Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises (through March 31), Seabourn and Holland America Line, all brands of Carnival Corporation. 

In confirming its participation, Carnival Cruise Line said that it’s advising guests of the following changes:

  • “Effective with cruises departing March 1, masks on board will be recommended but not required. There may, however, be certain venues and events where masks will be required.
  • “Carnival will continue to meet the standard of vaccinated cruises, but children under five years old will not be included in any vaccinated guest calculation, and thus will not be required to receive an exemption to sail.
  • “Effective with cruises departing March 1, some additional flexibility in pre-cruise testing requirements will become available. Please visit the Carnival Have Fun. Be Safe. webpage for more information.”

Christine Duffy, Carnival’s president and CEO, said the line had had “a very successful restart of guest operations thanks to the support of our guests, the commitment of our shipboard team, and the effective protocols we have put in place.”

She added that “the public health situation has continued to improve, providing confidence about these changes. Our protocols will evolve as we continue to remain dedicated to protecting the public health of our guests, crew and the communities we visit.”

Duffy expressed appreciation for the “ongoing collaboration among multiple government agencies, as well as the support of Alaska officials and other delegations.”

In its press announcement about participation in the CDC program, Holland America Line confirmed that it will continue to operate vaccinated cruises, with two key changes to onboard protocols for guests beginning March 1. Its statement said:

  • “Masks on board will be recommended but not required. There may be certain venues and events in which masks will still be required.
  • “Additional flexibility for pre-cruising testing requirements will become available. Details will be posted to the Travel Well section of our website.”

“Since resuming operations, Holland America Line has created a safe and healthy environment on board for our guests and teams, helping cruising to become among the safest forms of socializing and travel,” said Gus Antorcha, president of Holland America Line. “With improving public health conditions, we are able to make these changes with confidence. We will continue to monitor the situation and are well-prepared to adjust to evolving circumstances while protecting the safety of our guests, team members and the communities we visit.

In a slightly different twist, Princess Cruises, which said it will continue to meet the standard of vaccinated cruises, confirmed its participation but it also put a "through date” of March 31, on its participation—something others did not. 

“Princess has proven cruise vacations are safe and healthy for our guests and teams,” said John Padgett, president, Princess Cruises. “Going forward, Princess is prepared to adjust operating protocols to ensure our guests have amazing vacations while always protecting the safety of our guests, team members and destinations.”

Travel Agent also reached out to Costa Cruises, which had homeported in South Florida in the past, for an update on its status and the program. Here's the response from a spokesman: "Since Costa does not call at U.S. ports, the line is not subject to CDC rules. Costa's COVID protocols were developed in line with European and Italian rules and regulations and in cooperation with health authorities and scientists." 

In addition, he said that Costa's guests 12 years and older are required to show evidence of a complete vaccination cycle or COVID-19 healing certification. 

Cunard Line, which sails from U.S. ports, is not showing up on the CDC dashboard. Travel Agent has asked the line for a statement. 

Royal Caribbean Group

In addition, Royal Caribbean Group’s brands that home port in the U.S. will participate as well; they include Royal Caribbean International Celebrity Cruises and Silversea Cruises.

A Royal Caribbean International spokesperson told Travel Agent that it will operate under the program’s 'Highly Vaccinated' category beginning with sailings departing from the U.S. as of Friday, February 25.

Requirements include sailing with 95 percent of crew members fully vaccinated, which Royal Caribbean said it already exceeds with 100 percent of its crew fully vaccinated and boosted when eligible. Ninety-five percent of guests must be fully vaccinated as well—this excludes children under five years who are not eligible for the vaccine.

Royal Caribbean said the updated protocols will include face masks being optional for all fully vaccinated guests and expected for unvaccinated children. All kids will be required to wear face masks during Adventure Ocean youth program activities.

The Royal Caribbean spokesperson said: “We are thoughtfully working through the details regarding other changes to our health and safety protocols which we will share with our guests and travel advisors before February 25.”

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and More 

Previously, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) had said all its brands would participate in the voluntary CDC compliance program. Travel Agent reached out to NCLH to reconfirm that over the weekend.

An NCLH spokesperson provided this statement: “On February 18, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings reconfirmed with the CDC its January 14, 2022 decision for its three cruise brands—Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises—to opt into the agency’s 'COVID-19 Program for Ships Operating in U.S. Waters.'”

An MSC Cruises' spokesperson told Travel Agent that the line notified the CDC on Friday that it intends to participate in the agency’s COVID-19 program for cruise ships.

The statement said: "Each of MSC Cruises’ ships serving U.S. ports will continue operating under existing protocols until February 25, 2022, at which time the company will have communicated and implemented any changes necessary to align with the CDC’s program."

In addition, MSC Cruises said that "beginning with sailings departing on or after April 23, 2022, all guests ages 5 and above must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. As a result, MSC Cruises’ U.S.-based ships will begin operating as 'Highly Vaccinated' under the program at that time."

Disney Cruise Line said on a DCL Blog that it had opted into the program for all its ships. In addition, the new CDC Dashboard shows that Azamara (owned by Sycamore Partners), Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line (soon to be Margaritaville at Sea), MSC Cruises, Viking and Virgin Voyages are among other cruise lines opting into the CDC voluntary compliance program.  

Going to Gray 

What happens if a line does not participate? As of today (February 22), any lines not choosing to participate in the CDC's voluntary compliance program will have all their cruise ships operating from U.S. ports marked with a “gray” color status when listed on the CDC's web site. In contrast, ships of cruise lines that have chosen to "opt in" will be shown either with a green, yellow, orange or red status—reflecting the levels of any COVID-19 cases aboard.

The CDC site says the following: “Cruise ships with a “Gray” color status are foreign-flagged cruise ships operating in U.S. waters that have chosen not to participate in CDC’s 'COVID-19 Program for Cruise Ships.' These ships may have their own COVID-19 health and safety protocols, which CDC has not reviewed or confirmed.

“CDC cannot confirm the COVID-19 public health measures implemented on “Gray” designated ships. Therefore, CDC does not have information about precautions and interventions, such as mask use, crew testing, or vaccination status of travelers for these ships.”

Some lines have not opted in, however, because they don't at present call at U.S. ports. 

While major cruise lines have opted in to the voluntary program, previously Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) expressed its disappointment with the details of the program. CLIA said the rules were holding cruising to a higher level than other industry segments.

Related Stories

American Queen Voyages Builds Brand With Cruise "Atlas"

P&O Cruises Celebrates Milestone for Arvia

MSC Group First Cruise Company to Join Green Marine Europe Label

Carnival Announces New Fleet Deployment Plans