Credit: Shutterstock

Are cruises covid safe? Risk of cruising in 2022 - what lines are doing to protect you

Author: Harriet Mallinson

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Are cruises safe? Is a question many have been left wondering after multiple cruise lines have reported cases of Covid onboard. This is what you need to know.

Covid on cruises has been a major topic of concern ever since Diamond Princess was turned into a "plague ship" in February 2020, nearly two years ago.

Nearly a thousand people onboard the cruise ship became infected with Covid with 14 later dying. The story struck fear into many, with the cruise industry soon grinding to a complete halt as the virus swept around the world.

Cruises resumed during summer 2021 with more and more ships returning to the waterways of the globe as time goes on - but concern is still rife.

CDC cruise update

In December 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the USA announced travellers should "avoid cruise travel, regardless of vaccination status," as it raised the COVID-19 Travel Health Notice level from Level 3 to Level 4, the highest level.

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What's more, these cases aren't necessarily serious. A CLIA spokesman explained: "The vast majority of cases that have been identified on cruise ships are asymptomatic or mild in nature due to the cruise industry’s robust protocols and extremely high levels of vaccination."

"While no setting is immune from COVID-19, CLIA ocean-going cruise line members are sailing today with some of the highest levels of COVID-19 mitigation of any industry."

By the end of July 2022, CLIA expects ocean-going member capacity to be 100 percent, with those sailing today boasting "some of the highest levels of COVID-19 mitigation of any industry."

So what are cruise lines doing to protect passengers now? We spoke to major cruise lines to find out.

- READ MORE: Full list of cruises cancelled amid Covid scares -

Are vaccinations required for a cruise?

All major cruise lines require passengers and crew to be fully vaccinated. In fact, several brands including P&O Cruises and Cunard are toughening rules booster shots on select sailings as they ramp up the fight against Covid.

Two already-departed P&O Caribbean cruises required the booster shot to travel while P&O advises boosters wherever you're sailing, stating: "We strongly recommend all guests to have a booster vaccine, should it be available to them, in order to comply with increasingly stringent vaccine policies from the countries we visit."

Are cruises safe? All major cruise lines require passengers and crew to be fully vaccinated. Credit: Shutterstock

Cruise ship Covid testing requirements

Testing is also of utmost importance, with all passengers undergoing pre-departure Covid testing.

Chris Hackney, Managing Director of TUI brand Marella Cruises, detailed: "Both crew and customers follow robust testing procedures which include regular testing onboard and daily temperature checks.

Viking has gone the extra mile and is the only cruise line to have installed PCR labs on ocean ships. There is also a network of laboratories on our river voyages too.

- READ MORE: Marella Cruises Covid restrictions explained -

"In fact, I think the only other ship in the world with a PCR Lab is a US Navy ship," said Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen. Furthermore, the line is the only travel company conducting daily PCR testing guests and crew, he added.

"Cruise ships offer a highly controlled environment with science-backed measures, known testing and vaccination levels far above other venues or modes of transportation and travel," commented Lynn Narraway MD of both Seabourn and Holland America Line (HAL).

Meanwhile, Saga has doubled the number of medical staff onboard and expanded its medical facilities, including a new isolation area.

Is cruising safe? Viking is the only cruise line to have installed PCR labs on ocean ships. Credit: Viking

Cruise Covid protocols

Cleaning procedures are rigorous onboard. "Our dedicated team ensures each ship and cabin is scrupulously clean, with touch points and shared equipment disinfected regularly," said Stuart Milan, Riviera Travel channel director.

Hand sanitising stations are ubiquitous. "Enhanced policies across the ships include the use of hand sanitiser and contact-free services," Milan added.

- READ MORE: Full list of major cruise lines' face mask rules -

Masks play a big role, with most lines insisting on face coverings when inside. "Current operating procedures require all team members and guests to wear a mask in all indoor areas," clarified Tony Roberts, vice president of Princess Cruises UK & Europe.

Emphasis is put on social distancing and cruise ship capacity during Covid has been reduced by many lines. Saga's advice "respectfully asks that, where possible, social distancing continues to be adhered to and respected to ensure the safety of both guests and crew."

In fact, the line is still limiting dining to groups of just six people to further facilitate social distancing.

How safe is cruising? Hand sanitising stations are ubiquitous on cruise ships. Credit: Shuterstock

On top of all this cruise lines are well prepared for if the worst does happen and a Covid case is identified both regarding safety as well as the quality of the holiday.

Isolation in the incidence of Covid cases onboard is factored in by all cruise lines. For instance, Crystal Cruises has isolation rooms in case of illness while Marella also has comprehensive isolation protocols in place.

Tony Roberts said of Princess Cruises: "Princess is fully prepared to manage positive COVID cases on board with minimal interruption to the overall cruise vacation.

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"Some port substitutions or cancellations may occur due to decisions by local authorities, but our cruises are operating on schedule and continuing to deliver a great guest experience."

Lynn Narraway added of Seabourn and HAL: "The majority of those cases are asymptomatic or mild in nature, posing little to no burden on medical resources onboard or onshore."

So, when will it be safe to cruise again? While the answer is arguably right now, how safe individual travellers feel is, of course, a personal matter, but confidence is clearly out there. CLIA has reported nearly six million passengers have sailed worldwide on more than 200 ships in 86 markets since cruises resumed operation in August 2020.

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