Norwegian Cruises to Allow Unvaccinated Passengers Starting in September

·3 min read
The Norwegian Encore at sea in Alaska
The Norwegian Encore at sea in Alaska

Michel Verdure/Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Cruise Line, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, and Oceania Cruises will drop their pandemic-era vaccination requirements in September, the first cruise lines in the U.S. to do so completely.

The changes for all three cruise lines – which are a part of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings — will go into effect on Sept. 3.

Norwegian Cruise Line initially mandated all passengers be vaccinated and then allowed unvaccinated children under 5 years old to sail. Next month, the cruise line will welcome unvaccinated guests, however, those 12 and older will need to show proof of a medically-supervised negative COVID-19 PCR or rapid antigen test taken within 72 hours of embarkation.

"Our long-awaited revisions to our testing and vaccination requirements bring us closer in line with the rest of society, which has learned to adapt and live with COVID-19, and makes it simpler and easier for our loyal guests to cruise on our three best-in-class brands," Frank Del Rio, the president and chief executive officer of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., said in a statement. "Health and safety is our top priority and we will continue to modify our robust SailSAFE program as the public health environment evolves."

Currently, vaccinated travelers must show either a PCR test taken within three days of sailing, a rapid antigen test taken within two days of sailing, or proof they contracted COVID-19 and recovered, according to the cruise line.

Additionally, after Sept. 3, fully vaccinated passengers and travelers 11 and younger will also no longer be required to get tested before boarding a cruise.

While the cruise lines will drop its rules for most sailings, different protocols may apply depending on the country a cruise is traveling to. In the Bahamas, for example, all unvaccinated travelers over 2 years old will still be required to show proof of a negative test or proof they contracted COVID-19 and recovered. And all travelers 12 and older on a cruise to Canada will have to be vaccinated and get tested, according to Norwegian.

For its part, Regent Seven Seas will also drop its vaccination requirement, which previously required all guests to be fully vaccinated to sail. Starting next month, unvaccinated travelers will be allowed to board if they show proof of a negative PCR or antigen test taken within three days of their trip, according to the cruise line.

Similarly, Oceania Cruises will eliminate testing for vaccinated travelers next month and welcome unvaccinated passengers who show proof of a negative PCR or antigen test taken within 72 hours of boarding, the cruise line shared with Travel + Leisure. Unvaccinated travelers 11 and younger will be exempt from testing.

"We have been waiting a long time for this moment to arrive," Howard Sherman, the president and CEO of Oceania Cruises, said in a statement provided to T+L. "The world has been re-opening quickly and once more, we are pleased to welcome all travelers, of all ages, to safely explore the world with comfort and ease aboard the small, luxurious ships of Oceania Cruises."

The protocol changes reflect a larger trend in which several cruise lines have relaxed testing rules in recent weeks. This month, Carnival Cruise Line, MSC Cruises, and Royal Caribbean all relaxed testing rules for vaccinated passengers on shorter journeys. Additionally, both Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville at Sea cruise line and Virgin Voyages eliminated pre-boarding testing for all their vaccinated guests.

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially ended its pandemic-era program for cruise ships (months after the agency allowed its Conditional Sail Order to expire), choosing to no longer display the number of COVID-19 cases online. The agency currently recommends all travelers are "up to date" with their COVID-19 vaccines before boarding a cruise.

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.