Skip to Content

U.S. Cruises May Return in July, But With These Major Changes

Share The Article

Last Updated

Eager cruisers are getting excited about the latest modification to the Conditional Sail Order by the CDC, which could see the safe return to cruising from U.S. ports as early as July. However, the good news comes with a few caveats and unexpected changes that hopeful cruisers need to be aware of before they start packing their bags.

U.S. Cruises May Return in July, But With These Major Changes

CDC Modifies ‘Conditional Sail Order’ Making A Return More Achievable

On April 2, 2021, the CDC released a new phase of the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (originally written in October 2020) for cruise ships returning to U.S. waters. The good news came on April 28th as they clarified some points on updated framework, which has widely been regarded as a positive step for the entire industry.

While the CDC is still requiring cruise lines to meet some lofty expectations in order to resume sailing, the updates give them the freedom to bypass some obstacles, like test voyages for example.

Cruising can return to U.S. ports as early as mid-July 2021, as long as cruise lines are fully compliant with the CDC’s newly updated Framework for Conditional Sailing Order.

The five main updates include:

Some cruise lines can bypass test voyages

Simulated test voyages (which saw hundreds of thousands of volunteers sign up for throughout the year) can skip the test sail and jump right back into real sailings if 98% of crew and 95% of passengers are fully vaccinated.

Realistic timelines for test voyage applications

For cruise lines that aren’t going to require crew and guests to be fully vaccinated, they will still need to run test voyages, but applications will now be looked at on a realistic schedule. Prior to the updates, the CDC said it would take them at least 60 days to process applications for simulated sailings. Now the CDC states they can respond to applications in just 5 days.

More relaxed rules for fully vaccinated passengers

The CDC’s general travel guidance is more relaxed for fully vaccinated people but hasn’t yet updated it to include cruising. The CDC says it will now update the general guidance and advice to also include cruise travel, which is expected to have less restrictions and rules for fully vaccinated passengers.

Example: They might suggest an unvaccinated passenger should comply with multiple PCR tests before boarding, but a fully vaccinated passenger may be able to skip testing, or perhaps simply undergo a quick rapid test just before stepping on the ship.

Cruises Can Have Multiple Port Stops

The CDC has clarified that cruise ship operators may enter into a “multi-port agreement” rather than a single port agreement, of course as long as the countries and ports agree to have ships visit at this time. Many Caribbean and Central American ports have suggested they will sign multi-port agreements with U.S. cruises.

They’ve Clarified a Covid Exposure Protocols

The CDC has clarified quarantine guidelines for passengers who may have contracted or been exposed to the virus on the cruise. Example:  Passengers who live in the local area of the cruise port may be able to drive home in their private vehicle after exposure instead of being required to stay in a quarantine hotel.

How These Updates Change Cruising

While these 5 updates and clarifications are being generally received as good news, they will effectively change cruising from the U.S. for the foreseeable future.

No Kids?

The CDC is giving a green-light pass for ships to skip the costly and difficult test voyages, so long as they can prove 95-98% of everyone on board is vaccinated, which unfortunately blocks families with children from cruising.

Currently, vaccines are only approved for 16-18 years and up in the U.S., depending on the brand. There are talks approval might go forward for ages 12 and up in the very near future, but that will still exclude families with kids under the age of 12 from boarding many ships.

Cruise lines that decide to not take advantage of the pass, and instead go the long route of test voyages, may be able to board children as they will not be bound to the 95% requirement. However, those lines will consequentially see further delays in restarting.

Disney Cruise Waterslide

You’ll Likely Need a Vaccination to Cruise

While not every cruise line has announced vaccines will be mandatory, the majority of them have. Popular lines like Disney, Celebrity, Cunard, Norwegian, Princess, and Royal Caribbean all currently say they require guests over 18 to be fully vaccinated.

For cruise lines, like Carnival, that have not yet taken a stance, the CDC is essentially forcing their hand on the matter if they want to return to U.S. waters this summer.

Some lines might have exceptions for passengers who have proof of a medical condition or severe allergies to the vaccines, but only a few spots per ship. With 95% of passengers needing to be vaccinated, they don’t have much extra space for exceptions.

You Still Might Need Tests

Even with having almost the entire crew and guest population vaccinated, testing rules might still be in effect for all passengers. The CDC will issue some guidance on the matter, but cruise lines may require additional testing as part of their own safety protocols.

Masks Will Still Be Required, For Now

The CDC updated their advice to say that vaccinated people don’t need to wear face masks in outdoor settings, but only for small and uncrowded gatherings.

With most public spaces on cruise ships being smaller confined areas, face masks are here to stay for a while, even with vaccinated passengers.

passengers on cruise ship

Royal Caribbean’s site reads:

“All guests and crew will be required to wear a mask onboard. Specifically, guests should wear face masks in nearly all public settings regardless of physical distancing measures but will not be required to wear face masks in their own stateroom. There are exceptions, however, such as dining venues, where guests can eat and drink without face masks while seated, provided physical distancing is observed. Also, guests should not wear masks while engaged in activities that may cause the mask to become wet, like when swimming in our pools, or when participating in strenuous activities, such as jogging, running, or fitness classes at the Vitality Spa and Fitness Center. Note that neck gaiters, open chin bandanas and scarves, and face masks with valves do not meet health authority guidelines and will not be permitted.”

CDC under pressure to resume cruising

The CDC has prevented cruise lines from resuming operations in the U.S. for over one year, which has some states furious.

Last week, The Governor of Alaska, Mike Dunleavy,  announced they will be joining Florida in a lawsuit against the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) to resume cruising in U.S. waters.

While some cruise lines have taken to moving their home ports in order to resume operations, the Governor of Florida threatened legal action against the CDC to bring cruise ships back earlier this month.

Read More:

↓ Elevate Your Travel↓

Sign Up Now For Travel Off Path Premium! No ads, VIP Content, Personal Travel Concierge, Huge Savings, Daily Deals, Members Forum & More!

✈️Join Our Travel Off Path Community Forum: Where travelers unite, ask questions, share experiences and even find like-minded travel buddies!


Enter your email address to subscribe to Travel Off Path's latest breaking travel news, straight to your inbox.

This article originally appeared on

Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.