Could this be the catalyst for Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Norwegian to make their own major covid policy changes?
The major cruise lines walk a delicate line.
Cruise companies need to take the actual steps required to keep their passengers safe, and they also need to be aware of how things look to the outside public. It’s a mix of practical covid policy balanced with covid theater.
You have to do the right thing — and Royal Caribbean International (RCL) – Get Royal Caribbean Group Report, Carnival Cruise Lines (CCL) – Get Carnival Corporation Report, and Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCLH) – Get Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. Report have been doing that with very meticulous protocols — but you also have to show the general public you’re taking the pandemic seriously. The cruise industry has been under the microscope of both public perception and the Centers for Disease Control since covid first appeared.
That’s not because you’re more likely to get infected on a cruise ship than at a concert, sporting event, theme park, restaurant, or any other crowded space. It’s because when you get sick at one of those locations nobody can pinpoint the source of your infection.
Cruises last from three days to seven days or even longer and that means that some people will get covid onboard and that will be blamed on the cruise industry. To mitigate that Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian have rigid protocols in place that require passengers 12 and over to be vaccinated as well as pre-cruise covid tests taken no more than two days before your cruise leaves.
Once cruise line has dropped that testing requirement (at least on a few sailings) and that could lead Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Norwegian to follow.
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Holland America Drops Some Covid Testing
As the largest cruise lines sailing from the U.S., Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Norwegian don’t want to be the first to make major covid policy changes. They acted more or less in tandem when it came to loosening, then dropping mask rules and have generally followed the lead of the CDC, even when that agency’s rules became optional.
Now, Holland America cruise line has dropped pre-cruise covid testing on a handful of cruises. It’s a minor move, but it does provide cover and precedent for Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Norwegian to eventually do the same.
“Holland America Line becomes the first US-based cruise line to remove testing for select cruises. Unfortunately for those taking a cruise from the United States, the new protocols are only in place for certain cruises onboard the company’s latest ship, the Rotterdam, in Europe,” Cruisehive reported.
The current CDC guidelines do recommend pre-cruise testing, but the cruise lines opted into following those rules. By picking cruises sailing out of Europe, Holland America avoids picking a fight with the federal agency just yet, but it will be able to gather data as to whether the pre-cruise testing actually helps.
Holland America has not changed its vaccination requirements for those cruises which mirror the 12-and-up rule used by Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Norwegian.
Some guests have called for the end of the testing requirement because they believe it’s more theater than precaution because people can test and then contract covid while traveling to their cruise.
The Current Cruise Protocols Work
Royal Caribbean President Michael Bayley does expect changes to come in his cruise line’s covid protocols, and he talked about them during Royal Caribbean’s recent President’s Cruise, the Royal Caribbean Blog reported.
“I think pre cruise testing is going to be around for another couple of months,” Bayley told passengers during a question and answer session. “We obviously want it to go back to normal, but we’re incredibly cognizant of our responsibilities to keep our crew, the communities and our guests safe.”
People do still get covid onboard despite the crew being 100% vaccinated and all passengers 12 and over being vaccinated, but the protocols have worked well when it comes to preventing serious illness.
Bayley said that the CDC shared some information with him in a call.
“The cruise industry sailing out of the US ports over the past 12 months and how many people have been hospitalized with Covid and how many deaths occurred from Covid from people who’d sailed on the industry’s ships, which is in the millions,” he said, “And the number of people who died from COVID who’d sailed on ships over the past year was two.”
That success may be why the major cruise lines are reluctant to make changes. The current rules, even if they’re partially for show, have been incredibly effective.
“Two is terrible. But but but against the context of everything we’ve seen, that’s it’s truly been a remarkable success.” he added.