Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) – There is hope on the horizon for travelers who have been waiting to board a cruise ship from the United States, and a handful of ships departing American ports are scheduled to begin next month, nearly 15 months after an order Ban issued by the US Centers for Disease Control. Navigation and Prevention System (CDC) Seychelles cruise ships.
Most ships are still waiting for CDC approval to sail. Since October last year, the agency has issued a series of changing conditional navigation order requirements and guidelines.
In the past month, with vaccination rates on the rise in the United States, these requirements have given more and more freedom to ships in which the majority of passengers and crew members, 95% in both cases, are fully vaccinated.
Summer cruises with vaccination requirements, which several cruise lines have started announcing, are expected to bring some naturalness to upcoming cruises.
“Given what’s going on on those cruises and what the CDC allows, it honestly makes cruises look a lot like pre-pandemic,” said Chris Gray Faust, editor in chief of cruise website Cruise Critic.
Ships that expect to sail without meeting these requirements are required to take test flights with volunteer passengers to check safety protocols before obtaining a permit from the CDC.
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“It can obviously be a very confusing situation,” cruise expert Stuart Chiron of The Cruise Guy said.
This is so. As with a lot of travel during a pandemic, there is a tangle of requirements.
Here’s what CNN knows so far about what to expect:
The Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas sails off shore as it prepares to dock in the Port of Miami on May 28, 2021 Credit: Joe Raedle / Getty Images
When will you be able to sail from US ports?
Major cruise lines began to announce their departures from US ports starting in late June and July.
As mentioned, the situation is changing, with cruise lines waiting for CDC approval to sail with almost completely fortified departures or test flights.
Celebrity Cruise Line was the first to gain CDC approval to sail from a U.S. port by paying passengers.
On June 26, Celebrity Edge is scheduled to set sail from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on a seven-night cruise to the Caribbean with vaccinations required.
However, the line is still figuring out if and how that requirement will work, with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ recent ban on “vaccine passports,” which prohibits companies from requiring proof of vaccination against COVID-19.
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In response to questions about the situation in Florida, Celebrity Cruises said “we are encouraged by the ongoing dialogue” with the CDC and state and local authorities at US ports, including Florida, and the cruise ship destinations.
What ports are at risk?
Carnival Cruise Line has announced that it is one step closer to resolving arrangements and approvals to sail from Miami, Port Canaveral, Florida and Galveston, Texas in July. Additionally, Celebrity plans to sail from Fort Lauderdale.
Several cruise companies, including Celebrity, and its sister plan Royal Caribbean International, Holland America and Silversea, have also announced plans to sail from Seattle to Alaska this summer.
This route, which usually requires foreign-flagged ships to connect to Canada under maritime law, was made possible this year thanks to the recently passed Alaska Tourism Recovery Act. This law allows cruise ships to temporarily avoid docking in Canada en route to Alaska.
Major cruise companies are busy preparing ships and vaccination crews for these and other routes that have not been declared or authorized to sail.
But as companies prepare and await CDC approval for cruises from US ports, some large cruise ships have organized their departures from the Caribbean. A major ship’s first voyage to the Caribbean since pandemic operations were disrupted at the Celebrity Millenium is scheduled to depart from St. Maarten on June 5, with departures on other lines to follow.
However, Chiron, The Cruise Guy, warns that ships could return to US ports if they receive CDC approval.
“So they can go back to Miami or Fort Lauderdale or Port Canaveral, so if I have a reservation on one of those ships, I have to take that into account and make sure the airline allows me to cancel and rebook my flights,” he advises..
Carnival Cruise Line is working on details to re-sail from Miami and other US ports Credit: DANIEL SLIM / AFP / AFP via Getty Images
Is vaccination necessary?
The above lines for Alaska cruises departing from Seattle have vaccination requirements. Some require that all passengers be vaccinated, except for children under 12 who cannot yet be vaccinated.
Others require that everyone over the age of 16 be vaccinated, and in many cases it is planned to lower that age to 12 later in the summer, as vaccines become more available.
The CDC’s terms of navigation require ships to have 95% vaccination rates for both crew and passengers in order to sail without first making a test voyage. Other recent updates from the CDC have raised less stringent requirements that would make cruises less restrictive for vaccinated passengers.
Some ships, especially those sailing with more than 5% of passengers under the age of 12, will likely have to go on the test flight route to get CDC approval and stricter restrictions in place.
The CDC does not require cruise lines to test fully vaccinated passengers. Testing is required at departure and disembarkation (on flights over four nights) for unvaccinated passengers.
Check with the cruise company for your itinerary for the requirements for each cruise.
Will cruise ships departing from US ports require passengers to wear masks?
The CDC’s guidelines on masks remain in effect for transportation centers, so a mask will be necessary at the port, but not necessary inside rooms.
The decision to require the use of masks abroad is up to the cruise companies. Unless otherwise stated, the rules will likely depend on whether or not you’ve been vaccinated.
The agency emphasized that the latest CDC guidelines for cruises are in line with its broader recommendations for fully vaccinated people.
The guide allows cruise operators the discretion to require the use of face masks outdoors, in crowds, in crew-only areas, in passenger-only areas, and on ships with at least 95% of the crew. The Centers for Disease Control said in a statement.
Ships without a vaccination requirement of 95% will have more protection standards for unvaccinated passengers.
How will your time on the ship be?
This also depends on your vaccination status. The CDC allows cruise lines to designate certain areas that are accessible only to fully vaccinated passengers: spaces such as casinos, bars, resorts, and dining rooms.
This access and other extended entrances for vaccinated passengers, “where no masks or physical distancing are required,” will be determined by “cruise operators, at their discretion.”
Self-service buffets are among the areas where only fully vaccinated passengers are allowed to gather without face masks or social distancing.
Additionally, in most cruise ship spaces, physical distance must be respected.
MSC is among the cruise lines that have started sailing in Europe Credit: Courtesy of MSC Cruises
What types of shore excursions will be possible?
Many cruise lines base their shore excursion policies on the destination regulations that ships call in.
In Celebrities, independent cruises are available “unless restricted locally,” although the line promotes the safety of beach excursions.
“Our cruises extend our highest standards of health and safety on board. Most experiences take place outdoors, and guests will be encouraged to stay with their group. Buses will have reduced capacity and will be sanitized more frequently,” says the cruise line’s website.
The CDC says cruise lines “in their discretion” may advise fully vaccinated passengers that independent cruises during port layovers are OK.
What happens if the cruise is canceled or I have to change my plans?
Some cruise lines have adopted more flexible cancellation policies during the pandemic. And if a cruise is cancelled, the lines generally offer a refund or credits for future cruises.
Angel Wilson, travel advisor at Dream Journeys in Indianapolis, said travel insurance is more important than ever.
While last year’s travel insurance didn’t cover the pandemic at all, many companies have adapted their policies to cover COVID-related events.
But don’t take COVID coverage for granted, Chiron says. “You have to be able to clearly understand what coverage is, because they are all going to be different.”
Wilson says an insurance policy to cancel for any reason offers the broadest protection should there be any situation or uncertainty that leads to a rethink of their trip.
Her best advice for sailing this summer: “Keep an open mind and be prepared for changes.”