The cruise industry has faced a public perceptions problem ever since the pandemic began.
Like Walt Disney’s (DIS) – Get The Walt Disney Company Report theme parks and many other travel destinations, the cruise industry ceased operations almost as soon as the covid pandemic was declared in March 2020.
Once vaccinations became widely available, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) very cautiously allowed ships to begin sailing again last summer, although it is still labeled cruising as a Level 4 high-risk activity at first.
While the major cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean International (RCL) – Get Royal Caribbean Group ReportCarnival Cruise Lines (CCL) – Get Carnival Corporation Report and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) – Get Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. report always opt for high safety standards, the CDC still took a very cautious approach, gradually lowering the risk level for sailing until doing away with it this spring.
The major lines all have rigid protocols in place, and all spent millions during the pandemic to upgrade their ships to make them safe for guests.
But even then, the industry has a built-in public perception problem, as The Street’s Daniel Kline recently explained that “cruises last from three days to seven days or even longer and that means that some people will get covid onboard and that will be blamed on the cruise industry.”
So that means the industry is well aware that even as we all collectively want to get back to normal and put the pandemic behind us, reality just isn’t cooperating, as the highly infectious BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants have been surging lately .
The big three cruise lines have been reluctant to be the first to make any big changes. But now that the relatively small Holland America cruise line (which is owned by Carnival Corp.) has dropped pre-cruise covid testing on a handful of cruises, one of the big players has decided to follow in its footsteps with its current main brand.
Which Cruise Line Has Dropped its Testing Requirement?
Norwegian Cruise Line has now followed Holland America’s lead, and announced that, as of Aug. 1, all of its lines (which include Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, and Regent Seven Seas Cruise) will drop pre-cruise covid test requirement, unless the country the ship sails from requires it.
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But that last part is key here.
The US recently dropped covid testing requirements for international travelers. This means that people no longer have to test negative before they can board a flight.
In response, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), which represents the majority of the cruise industry, requested a reconsidering of the pre-cruise testing requirement. But so far, the CDC has not made the requested change.
Holland America still requires proof of vaccination for guests who are 12 years or older, a rule that is also still followed by Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Norwegian.
So What Does The Change Mean?
At the moment, there are no real changes for Norwegian Cruise Line ships that leave from US, Canada, Greece, or Bermuda, which will still require a pre-cruise covid test before getting onboard a ship. (Technically, the CDC does not require that, but the cruise lines have opted into optional rules that do require a pre-cruise covid test).
But as pointed out by the Royal Caribbean Blog, the change will “make it easier for North Americans headed to Europe for a cruise to book a cruise, since it eliminates one more hoop to jump through.”
It’s unclear whether Royal Caribbean or Carnival will follow Norwegian’s lead, or whether the CDC will opt to do away with the testing requirement in the near future. But experts seem to think that it will be a while before there are any major changes.
Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley recently stated that “I think pre cruise testing is going to be around for another couple of months,” and “we obviously want it to go back to normal, but we’re incredibly cognizant of our responsibilities to keep our crew, the communities and our guests safe.”
Carnival has also clearly begun testing the waters, so to speak, with Holland America, but has not made the change on a sailings of its namesake cruise line. Royal Caribbean has not dropped testing on any of the lines it owns.