These Major Cruise Lines Just Dropped COVID-19 Testing Requirements for Shorter Sailings — What to Know

Carnival, MSC, and Royal Caribbean will roll out the new protocol this week.

Carnival Cruise Line, MSC Cruises, and Royal Caribbean have become the latest cruise companies to roll back pre-embarkation testing for vaccinated passengers, implementing the rule change for shorter journeys.

Starting Aug. 4, Carnival will no longer require vaccinated guests to get tested for cruises that are five days or less, according to the cruise line. Vaccinated guests on longer cruises must be tested within three days of their departure.

Carnival will still require unvaccinated passengers, which remain capacity-controlled, to get tested with either a lab-administered or supervised self-administered rapid antigen test taken within three days of embarkation, but will no longer perform in-terminal testing on the day of departure.

Carnival, which lifted mask requirements in March, will continue to require travelers heading to Bermuda or Canada to take either a COVID-19 PCR test within 72 hours of their sailing or a rapid antigen test within two days of their sailing.

MSC will also eliminate pre-cruise testing on Aug. 8 for vaccinated travelers on sailings five nights and under out of U.S. ports, the company shared with Travel + Leisure. The company now recommends testing, but does not require it.

Royal Caribbean - 10 night Hawaii Cruise, Vancouver to Oahu
Courtesy of Royal Caribbean

Vaccinated passengers on longer cruises will have to show proof of COVID-19 test taken within three days of embarkation. Unvaccinated passengers will also be required to show proof of a lab-administered negative COVID-19 PCR or rapid antigen test taken within three days of embarkation for all cruises from U.S. ports.

For its part, Royal Caribbean will eliminate testing for vaccinated passengers on sailings departing the United States that are 5 nights or shorter starting on Aug. 8, according to the cruise line. On longer cruises, Royal Caribbean will still require vaccinated passengers to get tested, which currently must be with a PCR or rapid antigen test taken within two days of boarding.

The cruise company continues to require vaccinations for all guests 12 and older, but going forward, Royal Caribbean's President and CEO Michael Bayley wrote on Facebook the cruise line will also welcome unvaccinated guests over 12 and guests with a certificate of recovery within 90 days. Royal Caribbean said its current protocols will "remain in place for any cruises departing before August 8," and further details on the new rules would be provided this week.

"Today ! Finally ! we announced a change to the testing requirement," Bayley said. "Over the coming weeks as we evaluate these changes and discuss further changes with the destinations we visit, our intention is to further relax testing requirements."

Typically, Royal Caribbean requires unvaccinated travelers to get tested with a PCR test taken within three days of boarding as well as undergo a complimentary test when checking in at the terminal, no matter the cruise length, and then again before disembarking on longer cruises.

The rule changes come after both Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville at Sea cruise line dropped its pre-boarding testing requirement for vaccinated passengers and Virgin Voyages eliminated pre-boarding testing for all its guests.

Norwegian Cruise Line has also eliminated testing for vaccinated travelers, but the policy does not apply to cruises departing ports in the U.S., Canada, or Piraeus, Greece.

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially ended its pandemic-era program for cruise ships (months after the agency allowed its Conditional Sail Order to expire), choosing to no longer display the number of COVID-19 cases online. The agency 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% of passengers and 95% of crew up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines.

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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