Can You Go on a Cruise Without Being Vaccinated for COVID-19?

What to know before you book your vacation on the high seas.

A cruise can be a fun way to visit certain areas of the world at a slower pace. Amazing buffets, cool amenities, and plenty of travel—what's not to love? 

But ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began, it's understandable to wonder whether you can go on a cruise if you're not vaccinated. It turns out that you can usually board a cruise ship without being vaccinated for COVID-19. But specific policies vary, and sometimes unvaccinated people have extra requirements. 

Here's what you need to know about going on a cruise if you're not vaccinated for COVID-19.

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What the CDC Says About Cruising

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends updating people on their COVID-19 vaccines before going on a cruise. That means receiving a final primary dose and an updated booster shot, which became available for people older than 12 on September 2, 2022. 

Also called a "bivalent" booster, the updated booster became available for people aged 5–11 on October 12, 2022. As of December 2022, if it has been at least 2 months since their last dose, children as young as 6 months who completed the Moderna primary series can receive one updated bivalent booster dose.

In addition to staying up-to-date on COVID-19 vaccines, the CDC recommends that people who plan to cruise do the following:

  • Check with the cruise line for protocols on pre-board testing and vaccination.
  • Get tested for COVID-19 one to three days before your trip and three to five days after your trip, regardless of your vaccination status.
  • Monitor yourself for symptoms after the trip, and isolate yourself if you have a positive test or develop symptoms
  • If you have a weakened immune system, talk to a healthcare provider about the risks of traveling.
  • Check your airline's protocols around testing, mask-wearing, vaccination, or quarantining if you're flying before or after the cruise.

Do You Need To Be Vaccinated To Go on a Cruise?

Most major cruise lines do not require guests to be vaccinated unless they're traveling from or to a destination that requires it. 

Still, there are exceptions. Some cruise lines encourage vaccination even though they don't require it. Some may also require pre-board testing for unvaccinated people.

Here's a quick breakdown of vaccination and testing policies as of December 2022 at several major cruise lines:

  • Carnival Cruise Line: For cruises that are 15 days or less, the cruise line does not require vaccination and pre-board testing. Still, the cruise line encourages guests 5 and up to do both. People 18 and older cruising for 16 days or more must be vaccinated and boosted if they're more than six months past the last dose of their initial vaccine series. Unvaccinated people have to apply for a vaccine exemption. Guests ages 5 and up have to present a negative test to go on a cruise that's 16 days or more.
  • Celebrity Cruises: Being vaccinated isn't a requirement except if you'd be sailing to certain locations that require vaccination. The website lists some of those locations. Pre-board testing isn't required.
  • Disney Cruises: For sailings leaving from the U.S. and Puerto Rico, Disney doesn't require guests to be vaccinated unless they enter a country that requires it. However, the cruise line highly recommends that guests become fully vaccinated before sailing. Guests aren't required to take a pre-board test, but Disney encourages them.
  • Norwegian Cruise Line: Guests do not have to test or be vaccinated against COVID-19 except if they're entering a country that requires it.
  • Princess Cruises: Guests do not have to test or be vaccinated unless they sail on a few "enhanced guidelines voyages." The company lists those trips on its website.
  • Royal Caribbean: Being vaccinated isn't a requirement unless you're traveling to or from places that require it. The company lists those destinations. It required unvaccinated guests ages 18 and up to present a negative antigen test within three days of boarding or a negative PCR test within two days of boarding.

The Role of Cruise Ships in Viral Spread

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, cruise ships experienced major outbreaks of the SARS-CoV-2 virus as it spread across the globe. 

But even before the COVID-19 pandemic, cruise ships didn't have the best reputation for being disease-free. It wasn't uncommon to see reports of outbreaks of norovirus, a very contagious virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea.

There are a few reasons why viruses and diseases can spread quickly on cruise ships. According to the CDC, "cruise ship travel presents a unique combination of health concerns."

A couple of the factors in that unique combination are crowded spaces and tight quarters. When people are in a small space, keeping distance from one another is more difficult. That enables a virus to spread more easily from person to person. People can also pick up pathogens from port visits and bring them back onto the ship, infecting others.

Cruise ships often have food buffets, which can be easily contaminated and lead to the rapid spread of illnesses like norovirus. Also, crew members may work multiple voyages, passing on germs transmitted from previous passengers.

Benefits of Pre-Cruise Vaccination

Not only will being fully vaccinated help protect you from getting seriously ill with COVID-19, but it can also help protect those around you, Thomas Russo, MD, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo, told Health. Vaccines heavily reduce the chances that you'll become infected in the first place.

Additionally, some cruise lines require unvaccinated people to present a negative test taken within a few days of boarding. And the CDC also recommends testing before boarding a cruise ship. If you're vaccinated, that decreases your chances of having a positive test and having to skip your trip at the last minute.

Overall, it's just better to get vaccinated against COVID-19 before going on a cruise, said Dr. Russo. 

"You really should get vaccinated," added Dr. Russo.

A Quick Review

So, if you're planning your next vacation to include traveling by cruise ship, consider staying up-to-date on your COVID-19 vaccines. And if you're not vaccinated, it's important to check the guidelines for your cruise line. Before boarding, you may need to present a vaccine waiver, wear a mask, or provide a negative test. 

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cruise ship travel during COVID-19.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines, including boosters.

  3. American Medical Association. FDA, CDC expand Pfizer & Moderna bivalent vaccines to kids 6 months and up with Sandra Fryhofer, MD.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Outbreak updates for international cruise ships.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Norovirus.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cruise ship travel.

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