Andrea Zelinski
Andrea Zelinski

In January, I spent my first week on assignment for Travel Weekly trading the Texas winter weather for a week of cruising in Tahiti. But the timing was awkward: The Covid-19 omicron variant had just peaked in the U.S., and the number of reported cases was still high.

The CDC at the time warned that no one, including vaccinated and boosted people like me, should be sailing on a cruise ship. Yet here I was, as were others, on Windstar. The line required 100% of passengers to be vaccinated, and every one of us flying to and from the U.S. underwent no less than five nose-tickling PCR tests to cruise and fly home.

Three months and the softening of several CDC regulations later, Windstar is still requiring a 100% vaccination rate of guests and crew.

"There's not a golden bullet here which takes care of everything, but being at 100% vaccination ... is just another layer of safety," Windstar president Chris Prelog told me on a recording of the Trade Secrets podcast, due out May 30. "To us, it's critical."

CDC regulations are dramatically different than they were in January. The agency has done away with its cruise warnings and has repeatedly lowered its vaccination threshold. Now, "highly vaccinated" cruise ships are those with 90% vaccination rates, down from 95% in February.

As the CDC has adjusted its regulations over the last few months, so have other cruise lines. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings was something of the standard-bearer among large cruise companies for maintaining high vaccination rates. CEO Frank Del Rio insisted last fall that a spotless 100% vaccination rate was a competitive advantage.

That's changed. Now Norwegian Cruise Line now requires everyone at least 12 years old to be vaccinated. However, overall vaccination rates are now in line with the CDC's 90% vaccination threshold, which enables more families with unvaccinated children to sail.

"That opens up the family market in a big way for the summer season," Del Rio said during a Q1 earnings call with investors last week.

As CDC regulations continue to soften, it will be interesting to see which brands are maintaining higher-than-required vaccination levels and how that affects their overall recovery. 

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