If you want to board a cruise in the US right now, and you’re at least 12 years old, you’ve got to be vaccinated. Note that several cruise lines require those five and older to be vaccinated. What exactly does it mean, though, to “be vaccinated”? It turns out, the definition varies, and it kept some would-be-cruisers from setting sail, especially Canadians. That is, until now. Because so many things have changed recently, it's easy to get confused, so let's review vaccine requirements for cruisers.
Cruise Vaccination Requirements - The Basics
Since The Bahamas began requiring that all cruisers 12 and older be vaccinated against COVID-19, that’s been the basic requirement that cruise lines have adopted in North America, even, in most cases, when the cruise isn’t stopping in The Bahamas.
There are still some minor policy variations though, as some lines only allow vaccinated guests, regardless of age. This means lines such as Norwegian Cruise Line and Princess Cruises simply aren’t allowing kids, unless they were somehow vaccinated early.
To demonstrate to cruise lines that you, the guest, is vaccinated, you must show proof. For most Americans, this is a CDC vaccine card, though some other documents are acceptable as well. Ultimately, you have to prove that you've had your final vaccine at least 14 days before embarkation. If you received the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, just one shot is required. If you were vaccinated with Pfizer or Moderna, then you must show that you got both shots in the series, and that the second shot was received at least 14 days prior to embarkation. What if you were vaccinated outside of the US?
Acceptable Vaccine Brands
Most cruise lines accept a variety of vaccines for US sailings. Royal Caribbean’s policy says they’ll accept vaccines that have been, “fully approved or authorized for emergency use by the U.S. FDA or the World Health Organization.” That’s AstraZeneca/Oxford, Johnson and Johnson (Janssen), Moderna, Pfizer/BionTech (Comirnaty), Sinopharm, and Sinovac (as of Sept 22 2021). Carnival Corporation and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings have the same general requirements, though the Carnival Cruise Line brand doesn’t call this out on their website.
Mixed Vaccine Policies
While the majority of people in the United States received the same brand of vaccine for each of their two shots (except the Johnson and Johnson, where only one shot is required), in some countries, including Canada, there are many who received a dose of one brand of vaccine, and then a dose of another brand of vaccine. For a time, the rules for those with mixed vaccines were restrictive. In October of 2021, however, the CDC updated it's guidance making mixed vaccines acceptable, and shortly thereafter, cruise lines updated their policies.
Now, most cruise lines consider those guests with mixed vaccines to be vaccinated, so long as it's been at least 14 days since the last vaccine in a series. This 14 day wait, however, doesn't apply to boosters or additional shots received after the initial dose or doses.
What to Do if You Have Been Vaccinated with AstraZeneca and an mRNA Vaccine
If you are looking to cruise soon and have one AstraZeneca vaccine and one mRNA vaccine, there are a few options, initially, you were out of luck, as vaccine mixing only applied to mRNA vaccines. This however is no longer the case for most cruise lines. In other words, for most travel, including cruises, you are considered fully-vaccinated if you received one AstraZeneca shot, and another of Pfizer or Moderna. If, however, you are looking to travel to a place, or with a company, which still require both shots to be mRNA, you may have an option.
See if you can get a Johnson and Johnson vaccine. Regardless of any other vaccinations, once you’ve had one Johnson and Johnson shot, and 14 days have passed, you’re considered fully vaccinated. Anecdotally, we’ve heard that some provincial healthcare systems in Canada have provided an additional J&J jab, while others haven’t. If you’re able to do this, then you’re just 14 days away from US cruise lines considering you fully vaccinated. As an added benefit, the details of increased efficacy from having a Johnson and Johnson vaccine on top of others isn’t clear, but it would seem likely that it can only increase your protection against severe illness from COVID-19.
But Wait, There's More
In addition to vaccine requirements, cruise lines have varying rules for testing, social distancing, and masking policies. While your travel advisor or cruise line are the best sources of the rules and restrictions for your specific circumstances and sailing, we do have a post where we're aiming to keep this information up to date to give you a general idea of what to expect: Masks, Testing, Buffets, and More - The Skinny on Cruise COVID Restrictions. Check there, and remember, that to make all of this much easier on yourself, while avoiding long hold times, and getting the best deal you possibly can, book your next cruise through a good travel professional.
As with all of the health and safety policies we’ve seen in the past year and a half, at cruise lines and elsewhere, change is constant. If you’re not able to sail yet because you don’t have what the CDC considers an acceptable mix of vaccines, remember that the policies could change at any time. It’s also possible that guidance changes and you end up receiving different, or additional vaccines, which allow you to qualify under existing cruise line policies. Whatever the case, we look forward to you being able to sail safe, real soon.