After headlines were made by COVID-19 outbreaks onboard cruises at the start of the pandemic, the cruise industry has been reeling. Now in the spring of 2021, with vaccination rates steadily increasing, many are wondering,  “Is it safe to cruise now?” “When will cruises open back up?” 

When it comes to cruises, there are many considerations for safety. Tight indoor spaces, lots of contact between guests, and international travel make these trips some of the most difficult industries to regulate. With these challenges in mind many cruise lines are learning how to take those precautions for a safer sea journey.

Is it safe to go on a cruise right now?

At the moment, all of the major cruise lines operating out of the U.S. are shut down due to ongoing COVID-19 regulations. However, cruises that originate in the Caribbean and some countries in Europe are fully operational. Cruises “to nowhere”—meaning not docking at a specific port—are popular at the moment, as are cruises between areas where regulations have been lifted.

This doesn’t exactly mean they’re safe to go on at this point in time. Any activity with large groups of people in close proximity carries some risk of being exposed to COVID. Things to consider before boarding a ship are the transmission rates in the countries you will be visiting, the ship’s safety precautions and the level of risk you are willing to take. 

However, most of the cruises operational at the moment require a negative test before traveling. This doesn’t guarantee safety since it’s possible to contract COVID-19 after the test, but it’s better than nothing. It is also much safer for yourself and others to go on a cruise after you have already been vaccinated.

When are major cruise lines opening back up?

Most major cruise lines are attempting to reopen in the open in 2021. No dates are set in stone yet, but many have thrown around July 1st, September 1st, or November 1st as possible dates to restart operations. These dates are dependent both on when governments lift restrictions around cruise travel and when private cruise companies decide to restart business.

 cruises that originate in the U.S. are looking at this summer or fall as a likely time to resume operations. Exactly when this occurs will depend heavily on how much of the population is vaccinated before then, and what the CDC decides to do for safety as the economy re-opens. 

Do I have to be vaccinated to go on a cruise?

Currently companies operating out of the Caribbean and some European countries only require a negative COVID-19 test, but in the future—as more people have had access to the vaccine—this is likely to change. It is likely that most major US cruise lines are  are going to require vaccinations prior to boarding. This requirement will likely be waived if you can prove a medical exception such as having a medical condition that makes vaccination risky.

Will cruises still go to all the places they used to?

Cruises can only go where local governments allow them. For example, at present cruises can only go to ports where restrictions against cruises don’t exist—such as ports in the UK, some countries in Europe, and the Caribbean. As restrictions lift in places like the U.S., the amount of cruise destinations possible will increase.

Some countries will continue to ban cruise ships from their ports.  Canada has already announced a ban on cruises until February 2022, for example.

Will it be the same experience onboard the cruise?

There will be some changes in the typical cruise experience. This changes will likely include fewer direct interactions between the crew and guests, fewer people eating in the same room at the same time, increased ventilation in the indoor spaces, a greater emphasis on onboard cleaning, and daily temperature checks.  Smaller ships for a cruise may also be a trend in the future.