Virgin Voyages Becomes First Major Cruise Line to Eliminate Pre-embarkation COVID Testing in the U.S.

The new policy will go into affect starting July 24.

Scarlet Lady Exterior
Photo: Courtesy of Virgin Voyages

Richard Branson's cruise line Virgin Voyages has stopped requiring travelers to get tested before embarking on a voyage, becoming the first major cruise line to eliminate testing for sailings in the United States.

The new rules will go into effect on July 24 for sailings on the Valiant Lady and go into effect on July 27 for sailings on the Scarlet Lady, according to the company. Most travelers will still be required to be vaccinated to board, but the cruise line said it would open up to 10% of its capacity to unvaccinated cruisers.

All crew will still be fully vaccinated.

The new policy comes "In response to the discontinuation of the CDC's Voluntary Program for the Cruise Industry," according to Virgin Voyages.

Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially ended its pandemic-era program for cruise ships, choosing to no longer display the number of COVID-19 cases online. The move comes months after the agency allowed its Conditional Sail Order to expire, a policy that was first implemented when the agency lifted a previous No Sail Order in October 2020.

Several cruise lines have since stopped limiting capacity on cruises, including Virgin Voyages, as well as relaxed onboard masking policies like Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, and Carnival Cruise Line.

The CDC currently recommends all travelers are "up to date" with their COVID-19 vaccines before boarding a cruise, "highly" recommends cruise ships require testing within one day of embarkation, and asks cruise lines to "consider" operating with at least 90% passengers and 95% crew up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines.

While Virgin Voyages is the first cruise line to change its testing policy for sailings in the U.S., others have eliminated testing for sailings outside the country, like Azamara, which told Travel Leisure it will eliminate testing on cruises where it is not required by local country regulations starting July 25, including for sailings out of Amsterdam, Barcelona, and Southampton, England.

Norwegian Cruise Line has also eliminated testing for vaccinated travelers for all cruises sailing from any port except in the U.S., Canada, or Piraeus, Greece.

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.

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