Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean Will No Longer Require Face Masks
Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean are each relaxing onboard mask protocols that were implemented in response to the omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Starting March 1, Norwegian will drop all mask requirements, and instead simply recommend passengers wear them indoors and in crowded outdoor spaces, according to the cruise line. Norwegian originally had this protocol in place before the outbreak of the omicron variant.
Norwegian has also amended its vaccination policy to allow unvaccinated children under 5 years old to sail. Everyone 5 years old or older must be fully vaccinated at least two weeks before embarking on a trip.
The cruise line also requires all guests to take a COVID-19 antigen test before boarding, but starting March 1, the company will require all guests to show proof of a negative PCR or antigen test taken within two days of their check-in at a United States port and taken within three days of their check-in at an international port.
For its part, Royal Caribbean will drop its mask requirement in vaccinated-only areas of its ships on Feb. 14, according to the cruise line. The company started requiring face coverings in those areas in December, but will now revert to their previous policy of allowing people to go maskless.
Masks will still be required to be worn in other indoor areas of the ship and while visiting public ports where local regulations require them.
Despite the amended protocols, 62% of people surveyed said they would cruise if masking was a requirement on board a ship, according to a recent study from Cruise Critic shared with Travel + Leisure.
"Just as we're seeing on land across the globe, including here in the United States, we're beginning to see cruise lines reevaluate their onboard masking policies – particularly given the high vaccination status of guests onboard and mandatory pre-cruise testing," Colleen McDaniel, the editor-in-chief of Cruise Critic, told T+L. "What we've heard from our readers is that while they're overwhelmingly open to vaccine requirements, there is more hesitation around mask requirements – and that tends to be more of a barrier to book than requiring vaccines. That hesitation could grow as we see more leniency on land, and masks become less part of our day-to-day routine."
The policy changes come as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has established a new classification system for cruise lines that opt to participate in the agency's COVID-19 program. The agency will now classify ships under three categories: Not Highly Vaccinated (ships with less than 95% of passengers and 95% of crew who are fully vaccinated), Highly Vaccinated (ships with at least 95% of passengers and 95% of crew who are fully vaccinated, but with less than that who are up to date with their vaccines), and Vaccination Standard of Excellence (ships with at least 95% of passengers and 95% of crew who are up to date with their vaccines, including a booster shot).
The CDC continues to warn against traveling on a cruise ship, but made its guidance optional for cruise lines last month, allowing its Conditional Sail Order to expire.
Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. When she's not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.