***Editor’s Note: Live or Taped Zoom interviews available with AAA Spokesman Doug Shupe from an Alaskan cruise (today through August 21). B-roll can also be provided.
With the increase in vaccinations and many of the world’s major cruise lines returning to sailings, AAA travel advisors have experienced a significant increase in inquiries and bookings for cruises domestically and internationally. AAA Travel booking data indicates a strong U.S. demand for cruises throughout the remainder of this year, and even more demand next year, for sailings to Alaska, Europe and the Caribbean.
In June, Celebrity Edge left Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and was the first ship to set sail from a U.S. port since the start of the pandemic. Throughout this summer other cruises set sail from Florida, California and Washington state, and this fall (September-December) cruise ships will depart from New Orleans, Baltimore, Galveston, Miami, Port Canaveral, Mobile, Cape Liberty, San Juan, Barbados and Tampa.
As many parts of the world continue to address COVID-19 challenges, cruise lines, travel advisors, ports and cruise destinations are making the health and safety of passengers and crews a top priority. Cruise lines have created extensive on board health and safety protocols to address sanitation, air quality, social distancing, as well as protocols to address a positive COVID case if one is confirmed on a ship. Those new protocols include quarantining, contact tracing, expanded medical facilities with additional doctors and nurses and safe medical evacuation.
For most cruises, proof of vaccination is required to sail. In addition, major cruise lines sailing from the United States have recently begun requiring proof of a negative COVID test taken within 72 hours in advance of embarkation for all guests. Also, cruise passengers on most ships must complete online health questionnaires prior to sailings and undergo enhanced pre-embarkation health screenings.
Travelers planning a cruise this fall should keep in mind that, as of now, masks are required to be worn in cruise terminals and when boarding and disembarking ships. Additionally, some cruise lines have recently reinstituted mask mandates for all guests (vaccinated or not) while indoors on the ship, except while actively eating or drinking. Masks are not required in staterooms or on outside decks.
On board the vessels, passengers will likely notice some other changes as well. Cruise ships are sailing with a reduced capacity to provide for more social distancing. Cruise ship occupancies currently vary between 40 percent to 70 percent, depending on the cruise line. Also, on most ships, self-service options, such as restaurant buffets, have been replaced with crew service instead.
Many cruise lines have also implemented new health protocols that are not as visible to passengers including:
- Enhanced air filtration with upgraded HVAC systems
- Fully vaccinated crew members who are required to also wear masks
- Medical grade cleaning standards
- Touchless experiences for stateroom doors and onboard purchases
- Plans for a safe return home in the unlikely event of an emergency
Some cruise lines, like Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises, have so-called “Cruise with Confidence” programs which allow guests to cancel up to 48 hours prior to sailing if they feel uneasy about traveling. Those passengers can receive a future cruise credit in the amount of their cruise fare with no penalty.
“For those who are planning to cruise again soon, AAA recommends you book early and work with a travel advisor,” said AAA VP of Travel Filomena Andre. “Demand and pricing are on the rise for 2022, and with reduced ship capacity, availability on the most popular cruises and to favorite destinations will likely be limited.”
The CDC notes that international travel poses additional risks. If you are fully vaccinated, you should continue to follow the CDC’s recommendations for traveling safely and get tested 3 to 5 days after traveling internationally. All air passengers returning from an international cruise, including U.S. citizens and fully vaccinated people, are required to have a negative COVID test result no more than 3 days before travel or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 in the past 3 months before they board a flight to the United States. Cruise lines are providing COVID testing on board ships at no cost to passengers.
The U.S. State Department is also warning Americans who wish to travel or cruise internationally that there are delays in processing passport applications. It may take up to 18 weeks to get your new passport, and 12 weeks for “expedited” service. As a result, it’s recommended that you double-check your passport expiration date before making travel plans and, if needed, submit your passport application at least six months before your planned cruise or trip. AAA Members can receive discounts on passport photos and expedited passport services.
Ultimately, the decision to travel is a personal one that must be made by the individual and family. AAA Travel advisors are available to help travelers with the information they need to plan a trip, when they’re ready to do so. For more information, visit AAA.com/Travel.