(CNN) – There is hope on the horizon for travelers who have been waiting to embark on a cruise from the United States.A handful of vessels departing from US ports are scheduled for next month, nearly 15 months after a boating ban order from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, for its acronym in English). ) will paralyze the cruise ships.
Most ships are still waiting for CDC approval to sail. Since October last year, the agency has issued a series of changing conditional navigation order requirements and guidelines.
In the last month, as vaccination rates in the US have risen, these requirements have given more and more freedom to ships in which the majority of passengers and crew, 95% in both cases, they are fully vaccinated.
Summer trips with vaccination requirements, which many cruise lines have started to advertise, are expected to bring some normalcy to upcoming cruises.
“Looking at what’s going to happen on those cruises and what the CDC allows, honestly makes the cruises look a lot like pre-pandemic cruises,” said Chris Gray Faust, editor-in-chief of the cruise website. Cruise Critic.
Ships that expect to sail without meeting these requirements are required to perform test trips with volunteer passengers to check security protocols before receiving clearance from the CDC.
“Obviously, it can be a very confusing situation,” said cruise expert Stewart Chiron of the The Cruise Guy website.
And so it is. As with so many things travel related During the pandemic, there is a tangle of requirements.
Here’s what CNN knows so far about what to expect:
When will you be able to cruise from US ports?
Major cruise lines have started announcing departures from US ports starting in late June and July.
As mentioned, the situation is changeable, as cruise lines await CDC approval to sail with almost fully vaccinated departures or test cruises.
Celebrity Cruise Line was the first to obtain the CDC approval to browse from an American port with paying passengers.
However, the line is still finding out if that requirement would work, and how, with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s recent ban on “vaccine passports,” which prohibits companies from requiring proof of vaccination against COVID-19. 19.
In response to questions about the situation in Florida, Celebrity Cruises said “we are encouraged by the ongoing dialogue” with the CDC, state and local authorities in US ports, including Florida, and the destinations where the line cruise ship stops.
What ports are at stake?
Carnival cruise line announced that it is one step closer to resolving arrangements and approvals to sail from Miami, Port Canaveral, Florida and Galveston, Texas in July. Additionally, Celebrity plans to sail from Fort Lauderdale.
Numerous cruise companies, including Celebrity, its sister line Royal Caribbean International, Holland America Y Silversea, have also recently announced their plans to sail from Seattle to Alaska this summer.
This route, which would normally require foreign-flagged ships to call in Canada under maritime law, is made possible this year thanks to the recently approved Alaska Tourism Restoration Act. This law allows cruise ships to temporarily avoid docking in Canada en route to Alaska.
Major cruise companies are busy preparing ships and vaccinating crews for these and other routes that have yet to be announced or authorized to sail.
But while companies prepare and await CDC approval for cruises from US ports, some large cruise ships have organized their departure from the Caribbean. The first departure of a large ship to the Caribbean since the pandemic disrupted operations is scheduled on the Celebrity Millenium from Saint Martin on June 5, with departures on other lines to follow.
However, Chiron, The Cruise Guy, warns that vessels could return to US ports if they get CDC approval.
“So they could go back to Miami, Fort Lauderdale or Port Canaveral, so if I had a reservation on one of those ships, I should take that into account and make sure the airline allows me to cancel and rebook my flights,” he advises. .
Is it necessary to be vaccinated?
The lines listed above for Alaska cruises departing from Seattle have vaccination requirements. Some require that all passengers are vaccinated, excluding children under 12 years of age who cannot yet be vaccinated.
Others require that everyone over the age of 16 be vaccinated, and in many cases it is planned to lower that age to 12 later in the summer, as vaccines become more available.
CDC conditions for navigation require ships to have 95% vaccination rates for both crew and passengers to be able to navigate without first doing a test cruise. Other recent updates from the CDC have raised less stringent requirements that would make cruises much less restrictive for vaccinated passengers.
Some ships, especially those sailing with more than 5% passengers under the age of 12, will likely have to go the test cruise route to gain CDC approval and apply more stringent restrictions.
The CDC does not require cruise lines to test fully vaccinated passengers. Testing is required upon departure and disembarkation (on trips of more than four nights) for unvaccinated passengers.
Check with the cruise company your specific itinerary to know the requirements of each trip.
Will cruise ships departing from US ports require passengers to wear masks?
The CDC guide on masks is still in effect for transportation hubs, so it will be necessary to wear a mask in port, but not necessary inside staterooms.
The decision to require the use of masks abroad is up to the cruise companies. Unless otherwise stated, the rules are likely to depend on whether or not you are vaccinated.
The latest CDC guidance for cruises is in line with its broader recommendations for fully vaccinated people, the agency confirmed.
The guide ‘allows cruise operators the discretion to require the use of face masks outdoors, in crowds, in crew-only areas, in vaccinated passenger-only areas, and on ships with at least 95% of the crew. and fully vaccinated passengers, “the CDC said in a statement.
Ships that do not have the 95% vaccination requirements will have more protection standards for unvaccinated passengers.
What will my time on board the ship be like?
This also depends on your vaccination status. The CDC allows cruise lines to designate certain areas to be accessible only to fully vaccinated passengers: spaces like casinos, bars, spas, and dining rooms.
This and other expanded accesses for vaccinated passengers, “in which masks or physical distancing are not required”, will be determined by “cruise operators, at their discretion.”
Self-service buffets are among the areas where only fully vaccinated passengers could be allowed to gather without face masks or social distancing.
In addition, in most of the spaces of the cruise ships, physical distancing must be respected.
What kinds of shore excursions will be possible?
Many cruise lines base their shore excursion policies on the regulations of the destinations where the ships call.
On Celebrity, independent tours are «available unless locally restricted“Although the line promotes the safety of its own shore excursions.
“Our excursions extend the highest standards of health and safety that we follow on board. Most of the experiences are outdoors, and guests will be encouraged to stay with their group. The buses will have reduced capacity and will be sanitized frequently, ”says the cruise line’s website.
The CDC says that cruise lines, “at their discretion,” can advise fully vaccinated passengers that independent excursions during port stops are okay.
What happens if the cruise is canceled or I have to change my plans?
Some cruise lines have adopted cancellation policies more flexible during the pandemic. And if a cruise is canceled, the lines generally offer a refund or credits for future cruises.
But travel insurance is more essential than ever, said Angel Wilson, a travel consultant for Dream Journeys in Indianapolis.
While last year travel insurance did not cover the pandemic at all, many companies have adapted their policies to cover COVID-related events.
But don’t take covid coverage for granted, says Chiron. “You have to be able to clearly understand what the coverage is, because they are all going to be different.”
A cancellation for any reason insurance policy offers the broadest protection in the event that any situation or uncertainty causes a passenger to rethink their trip, Wilson says.
Her best advice for cruising this summer: “Keep an open mind and be prepared for changes.”