These Caribbean Islands Are On CDC’s Do Not Travel List: Here’s How Cruise Lines Navigate Covid Troubled Waters

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IIt’s getting harder and harder to find a Caribbean cruise itinerary that doesn’t include a stop on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Do Not Travel” list. In recent weeks, the list of popular Caribbean cruise ports, given the dreaded CDC Level 4 designation, has exploded.

The CDC uses a four-tier system to alert travelers to health threats around the world. Countries with a level 4 travel health advisory are deemed to have a “very high risk” of Covid-19 with a “Do not travel” recommendation for Americans.

Caribbean Islands at level 4 now include: Aruba, Bahamas, British Virgin Islands, Curacao, Dominica, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Puerto Rico, St. Barth, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucie, Saint-Martin / Sint Maarten and the US Virgin Islands.

It is an understatement to say that cruise lines and Caribbean countries share a common interest in navigating the murky waters of the Covid pandemic together. The North American cruise market is dominated by the easily accessible Caribbean, Bahamas and Bermuda.

Likewise, cruising plays a disproportionate and growing role in tourism in the region. In 2019, nearly 12 million people visited the Caribbean on a cruise ship, roughly double the 6.2 million recorded in 2010.

Despite rising rates of Covid transmission, cruise lines have kept the popular Caribbean islands on their itineraries by skillfully adapting their protocols to stay in compliance with CDC guidelines and evolving restrictions in host countries. “Caribbean destinations and cruise lines began working together in the summer of 2020 to develop a universal set of guidelines for resuming cruises to the Caribbean, Mexico and the Americas,” said a spokesperson for Royal Caribbean.

The CDC recommends that passengers and crew be vaccinated before boarding a ship, and says vaccinated passengers can usually go mask-less and explore ports on their own. These days, cruise ships are overwhelmingly filled with travelers aged 12 and over who are fully vaccinated. Some cruise lines require all guests to be fully immunized prior to boarding, with no exceptions. Others allow unvaccinated passengers for certain cruises, but then subject them to strict masking and testing policies as well as restricted shore excursions. These protocols also generally apply to children under the age of 12.

When the CDC issues a “Do Not Travel” travel health advisory, cruise lines have several tools in their toolkits, says Chris Gray Faust, editor of CruiseCritic.com, a cruise reviews site owned by Tripadvisor.

The first option is to substitute for a route. “If Covid skyrockets in one country and stops at the cruise, the cruise line will find another port,” says Faust, citing the Cayman Islands as an example of a destination closed to tourists.

But rather than banning cruise ships outright, it’s much more likely that a country with a peak in Covid transmissions would tighten its regulations. In this case, cruise lines are adjusting their protocols to comply with the new rules. For example, when the Bahamas recently required that only fully vaccinated cruise ships be allowed to stop at their ports, cruise lines were forced to change the way they treat passengers on Bahamian routes departing from the Florida. Previously, most cruise lines had not asked passengers departing from Florida for proof of vaccination, due to Governor Ron DeSantis’ much-publicized but unpopular ban on vaccine passports.

The Bahamian tenure essentially required Royal Caribbean to align its vaccine policy for cruises departing from Florida to the Bahamas with its own policy for departures from all other U.S. ports, a Royal Caribbean spokesperson said. “Travelers unable to show proof of vaccination will not be able to navigate. There is an exception for children under 12, who are not eligible for vaccination, and must provide a negative test result upon boarding and follow certain health and safety protocols.

Likewise, Carnival Cruise Line and Disney Cruise Line now require that passengers aged 12 and over sailing from Florida to the Bahamas must show proof of vaccination, with the exception of young children, who must be tested and adhere to policies. masking.

Norwegian Cruise Line is taking an even tougher stance, requiring all passengers, regardless of age, to be fully immunized before departing from any port to all destinations. This policy will remain in place at least until the end of 2021. Last month, a US judge ruled that Norwegian may require passengers to show proof of their vaccination status before boarding a ship. , agreeing with the cruise line that Florida law endangers public health and is an unconstitutional violation of Norwegian’s rights. Virgin Voyages also requires that all passengers be fully immunized.

A third way that cruise lines cope with an increased risk of Covid-19 is by changing the way they handle shore excursions at a specific port of call. Faust saw it with his own eyes on a recent Viking ocean cruise in Europe. “In countries that are at Level 4, they limited shore excursions to ship-sponsored ‘bubble tours’, and in places where the CDC rating was below 4, passengers were allowed to explore by themselves- same, ”she said.

Passengers on ‘bubble tours’ explore a port on a guided tour with others from the same ship, while passengers exploring a destination on their own should always follow that country’s protocols. For example, a country may require visitors to present proof of vaccination to dine indoors.

Caribbean Islands currently at Level 3, meaning “at high risk” for Covid-19, include: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bermuda, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and the Turkish Islands and Caicos. Many Caribbean routes also include stops in Mexico, which is also level 3.

It’s absolutely crucial that cruise passengers realize that protocols differ from cruise line to cruise line, Faust said, which means travelers need to do their homework before booking and then be prepared for them. protocols change on the fly. “Our advice to cruisers during this time is to be very flexible,” said Faust, “and realize that when you sign up for the cruise some destinations and routes may end up changing due to the pandemic.”

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