Passengers are no longer advised to "avoid" cruising.
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Crystal Serenity at Sea
Credit: Courtesy of Crystal Cruises

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has lowered its warning for cruising in America, recommending travelers be vaccinated before boarding a ship instead of avoiding cruising altogether.

The CDC now classifies cruise ship travel as a "Level 3," indicating the agency has observed a "high" level of COVID-19 transmission on board ships. The warning is far less dire than the agency's previous "Level 4" classification when the CDC recommended people "avoid" cruise travel altogether, regardless of their vaccination status.

The agency now recommends travelers ensure they "are up to date" with their COVID-19 vaccines before getting on a cruise ship. The CDC also warned those who are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 to steer clear of going on a cruise, even if they are fully vaccinated.

"The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads easily between people in close quarters on board ships, and the chance of getting COVID-19 on cruise ships is high, even if you are up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines," the CDC wrote in its guidance.

The decision to lower its warning against cruise ships comes after the agency made its guidance optional for cruise lines last month, allowing its Conditional Sail Order to expire.

Now, the CDC allows cruise lines to opt in to its COVID-19 program and classifies ships under three categories: Not Highly Vaccinated (ships with less than 95% of passengers and 95% of crew who are fully vaccinated), Highly Vaccinated (ships with at least 95% of passengers and 95% of crew who are fully vaccinated, but with less than that who are up to date with their vaccines), and Vaccination Standard of Excellence (ships with at least 95% of passengers and 95% of crew who are up to date with their vaccines, including a booster shot).

Several cruise lines have chosen to relax embarkation protocols in recent weeks, easing mask rules and even vaccination requirements. Norwegian Cruise Line, which previously required all guests to be vaccinated, will now allow unvaccinated children under 5 years old to sail. The company also dropped all mask requirements, reverting to the policy it had in place before the outbreak of the omicron variant.

Royal Caribbean also dropped its mask requirement in vaccinated-only areas of its ships after the company started requiring face coverings in those areas in December.

Other companies, including Silversea and Azamara, will require passengers to be vaccinated and boosted to board going forward.

Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. When she's not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.