Ships with at least 95% of both crew and passengers fully vaccinated, "cruise ship operators, at their discretion, may advise passengers and crew that they do not have to wear a mask or maintain physical distance in any areas."

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Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas
Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas
| Credit: Courtesy of Royal Caribbean

As cruise lines begin to announce their plans for relaunching summer itineraries, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have significantly relaxed their rules for cruises when both the crew and passengers are fully vaccinated.

In the latest guidance from the CDC, ships with at least 95% of both crew and passengers fully vaccinated, "cruise ship operators, at their discretion, may advise passengers and crew that they do not have to wear a mask or maintain physical distance in any areas."

On cruises that do not meet the vaccination minimum, operators can establish certain sections of the ship that are only accessible to fully vaccinated passengers and crews where masks and physical distancing are not required. For fully vaccinated passengers, a number of the CDC recommendations will be considered optional, including social distancing in restaurants and self-service food and drink.

Fully vaccinated passengers are also permitted to gather and take off their masks for outdoor activities, including eating or drinking.

Crew who are fully vaccinated are not required to wear masks or maintain social distancing in parts of the ship that passengers can't access.

Foodservice protocols will also change for cruise ships that are fully vaccinated. On ships where both crew and passengers are vaccinated, self-service at buffets and salad bars will once again be permitted aboard vaccinated cruises. Tables will not need to be socially distancing and passengers will be able to share menus.

The relaxed CDC rules will apply when fully vaccinated cruises relaunch this summer. This week Celebrity Cruises announced it would be the first cruise line to depart from U.S. waters with vaccinated, paying passengers on June 26.

Royal Caribbean will launch the first "test cruise" made up of volunteer passengers who are not required to be vaccinated on June 20.

Cailey Rizzo is a contributing writer for Travel Leisure, currently based in Brooklyn. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, or at caileyrizzo.com.