Johanna Jainchill
Johanna Jainchill

As cruise lines resume sailing, it is with a patchwork of vaccination policies that can be difficult to keep track of.

Some lines have full-ship, 100% fleetwide vaccination policies. Some have vaccine mandates for people 16 or 18-plus and allow minors to board with a negative PCR test. Some tend towards ship and destination-specific policies.

It is baffling, even to at least one cruise line CEO.

Last week, Frank Del Rio, CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH), reiterated that the company's three cruise brands Norwegian Cruise Line, Regent Seven Seas and Oceania would have one, consistent vaccination policy across every one of its 28 ships: 100% vaccination of all passengers and crew.

"With the pandemic still being front and center in everybody's mind, and we're just getting out of the worst part of it just weeks ago, I think everyone should be wanting to start cruising in the safest possible manner, and that's exactly what the [NCLH] plan does: 100% vaccination of both crew and passengers," he said, adding that "For the life of me, I don't understand" the CDC's suggestion that 98% of crew and 95% of passengers be vaccinated.

"I mean, what a loophole to allow potential Covid to be introduced in the crew area," he said. "100%, at least at the beginning, I believe, should be the model."

Del Rio is so adamant, he also suggested that NCLH ships may have to move out of Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis has banned business from requiring proof of vaccination, which is exactly what the company plans to do.

"It is a classic state-versus-federal-government issue," Del Rio said, adding that lawyers believe that federal law applies and not state law. "We hope that this hasn't become a legal football or a political football. But at the end of the day, cruise ships have motors, propellers and rudders. And [if] we can't operate in the state of Florida for whatever reason, then there are other states that we do operate from. 

"And we can operate from the Caribbean for ships that otherwise would have gone to Florida. We certainly hope it doesn't come to that. Everyone wants to operate out of Florida. It's a very lucrative market. It's close drive market. But it is an issue. Can't ignore it."

Taking a different tack is Holland America Line. When president Gus Antorcha recently revealed that the line would resume service in Greece this summer on the Eurodam, he said the ship's 100% vaccination policy applied to that ship on those itineraries only.

"It will be very specific and dependent on the discussions with government in other geographies and what's happening in the world," Antorcha said. "We'll take it one ship, one geography at a time."

Then there's American Cruise Line, which is launching its full, 13-ship fleet in the U.S. this spring and stopped short of a vaccine mandate; it is instead taking a state-by-state approach to its requirements. But it is strongly recommending people get vaccinated, and it is suggesting they move their cruise to a later date if they don't.

"We are very, very strongly recommending it and have found that between 80% to 100% of guests actually have it," said CEO Charles Robertson, who added that the company will likely require vaccines to sail in Washington state and Alaska. "There is no vaccine mandate on East Coast cruises, just a recommendation."

And for those who are not vaccinated, Robertson said most are willing to move their sailings to later this year.

American Cruise Line is staying flexible.

"We'll continue to amend this policy as vaccination rates increase and as the virus tapers," Robertson said. "And if it spikes up again, then of course we'll deal with that also, including potentially stopping operating if we have to. We're very careful to resume operating here, in line with the rest of the larger travel industry."

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