American Cruise Lines vaccine requirement blindsides passengers

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American Cruise Lines sailed its first river cruise since the pandemic began with the American Jazz on the Mississippi.
American Cruise Lines sailed its first river cruise since the pandemic began with the American Jazz on the Mississippi.

American Cruise Lines (ACL) is requiring all guests on its initial sailings to get vaccinated, a change in policy that one family said it found out about purely by accident.

An ACL spokeswoman confirmed in emails over the weekend that the company has asked all guests on its first sailings to be vaccinated "out of an abundance of caution." 

The policy had not been posted on the company website, however, and ACL said Monday it only applied to sailings before April 10. The company said it regretted any inconvenience and that all affected travelers would be offered full refunds.

Related: AQSC's American Countess sailing is back on after CDC dispute is resolved

But the decision created chaos for some travelers scheduled to join the company's first sailings since the pandemic.

Candy Watts, a passenger scheduled along with five family members for the first sailing of the Queen of the Mississippi next week, said in emails to Travel Weekly that they were called earlier this month by the line to let them know that they would be staying the first night on board the boat instead of in a hotel, as is normal procedure.

During that call, she said she was also asked if she and her husband had been vaccinated. Her brother and sister-in-law got a similar call, she said, and he informed them he had not.

Nothing more was said, according to Watts, and she only found out about the vaccine requirement in some follow-up calls Friday when she was trying to get more information about what Covid tests would be accepted under their pre-travel testing policy, which requires that guests get a PCR or molecular test within four days of traveling.

The policy posted on the company website encourages passengers to be vaccinated, but does not say vaccines are required for any of the company's sailings.

During that call Friday, Watts said a customer service representative "told me my brother was not going to be allowed to cruise because he wasn't vaccinated. I was shocked. I asked since when? Why did they not tell him? She said they sent emails. I said he didn't get anything and why did they not tell his wife who just called?"

ACL spokeswoman Alexa Paolella said she was unsure when the decision to require vaccines on the early sailings was made, but she said the company made written contact with all passengers.

ACL launched its first trip since the pandemic on March 13 with the departure of one of its coastal cruisers, the 100-passenger Independence from Amelia Island, Fla., to Charleston, S.C.

On Sunday, it sailed its first river cruise with the American Jazz on the Mississippi. The Queen of the Mississippi is set to launch this weekend.

This report was updated to add additional comments from American Cruise Lines.

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