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9 Things You Won’t Be Able to Do on Cruises Anymore

Cruises are sailing again, but the world of cruising looks a little different. Here's what you should know if you're planning to book a cruise.

empty swimming pool deck on cruise shipLOIC VENANCE/Getty Images

Get on board with these changes

Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, cruise ships are sailing again and are doing their utmost to convince an understandably wary public that they’re safe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has imposed a “Framework for Conditional Sailing Order” that will be in effect until January 15, 2022, and that requires cruise ship operators to have adequate safeguards. Beyond that, though, many individual cruise ships and companies are imposing their own rules for prospective passengers. But they’re certainly not as restrictive as rules were earlier in the pandemic—or as many people thought they’d be. In fact, travel journalist and cruise expert David Yeskel, aka The Cruise Guru, who sailed twice in November 2021, tells Reader’s Digest, “In terms of normality, I’d say that other than masking, almost the entire pre-pandemic cruise experience has returned—just with more health and safety protocols in place.”

When, if ever, you choose to go on a cruise again, you and your fellow passengers may notice some changes. Experts say there are certain things you won’t be able to do. Of course, these will vary quite a bit by cruise line and individual ship, so if you decide to cruise, make sure you read up on your ship’s guidelines. And before you hit the high seas, check out these things polite people never do on cruises.

Mature couple on lounge chair on cruise shipDavid Sacks/Getty Images

Go maskless

Regardless of vaccination status, cruise passengers must be vaccinated—and that’s per order of the CDC. The 2021 directive requires face masks for “all passengers on board and all personnel operating maritime conveyances traveling into, within, or out of the United States.” But this order only applies to indoor spaces. “Travelers are not required to wear a mask in outdoor areas of a conveyance,” the CDC says. Here’s why one cruise lover won’t stop taking cruises even after the coronavirus.

covid-19 vaccine card on top of packed suitcase ready for travelWachiwit/Getty Images

Board sans vaccination, medical documentation, and/or COVID-19 test

Vaccine requirements for cruise ships are still a little wishy-washy, despite the length of time they’ve been available for Americans. But some major cruise companies are requiring passengers to be vaccinated—especially now that young children are eligible.

“The general consensus is that travelers will have to be vaccinated in order to sail on a cruise,” says Terika Haynes, owner of Dynamite Travel, who has conducted ship inspections for three luxury cruise brands (Disney, Virgin, and Crystal). “There are a small number of exceptions that will be made—travelers will have to present medical documentation that supports the reason(s) why they are not vaccinated,” she says. Haynes adds that some cruise lines will require a negative COVID-19 test for passengers, regardless of vaccination status, taken within 48 to 72 hours of boarding—and another test the day of sailing. Passengers will need to wait until they receive a negative result before boarding the ship.

As for proof of vaccination, “most lines want to see the original CDC vaccination card,” Yeskel says. “Some are accepting a QR code.”

Siblings looking at sea while standing by porthole in cruise shipCavan Images/Getty Images

Bring your kids (on some cruises)

As children ages 5 to 11 have only just become eligible for vaccination, some cruise lines aren’t allowing kids to sail again yet, says Yeskel, including Norwegian Cruise Line and their partner companies. That said, rules are changing constantly now that the young ones are eligible. For instance, the kid-focused Disney Cruise Line was allowing kids to test out of the vaccination requirement so that they could still sail. But recently the line announced that starting in January 2022, all passengers ages 5 and up will need to be vaccinated.

Waiter Serving Cocktails and Water on Cruise ShipFuse/Getty Images

Interact with unmasked crew

This isn’t specifically regarding you as a passenger, per se, but it’s a major part of the current safety requirements of cruises. On cruises, crew members and staff are subject to much stricter masking and vaccination requirements than passengers. “Every major cruise line sailing from U.S. ports is operating with 100 percent of crew vaccinated, and they’re all meeting—or exceeding—the CDC’s threshold for 95 percent of passengers to be vaccinated,” says Yeskel.

Haynes adds that on most of the major cruise lines, crew members are required to be masked at all times—even if passengers are not. It’s just one way cruise operators are ensuring you stay healthy on a cruise.

Suitcases Outside of Cruise ShipFuse/Getty Images

Board all at once

Cruise ships are taking steps to limit crowding, which includes the often-hectic boarding process. “Guest arrival times at embarkation are staggered to prevent crowding, and most muster drills are now conducted virtually (rather than in person) for the same reason,” Yeskel says. Whether changes like these will last beyond the duration of the pandemic remains to be seen. Not sure which cruise to take? Consider taking a trip on the most trusted cruise line in America.

empty cruise ship dining roomView Pictures/Getty Images

Fill the ship

For many cruise ships, capacity limits are still in place for passengers. “Most cruise ships are operating at reduced passenger capacity until the end of [2021] in order to give crew the ability to learn/put into practice the new health and safety protocols,” Yeskel says. This reduced capacity, he says, ranges from 50 to 75 percent. He adds that this only applies to passengers, and most ships are fully staffed now, “making the crew-to-guest ratio very favorable!” You may just find that your favorite cruise is the one you take with fewer passengers.

Beach sun loungers and sunshadesonfilm/Getty Images

Go on full-shore excursions

For many cruisers, the shore excursions are the best part of the vacation. But the last thing cruise companies want to do is infect the population of a port that’s hosting them. And some ports, which don’t want that either, might not allow cruise ships to dock. On the flip side, someone living there could infect a ship passenger, rendering all of the ship’s safety protocols irrelevant.

Cruise companies are taking steps to minimize risk. “Some shore excursions are kept in a ‘bubble,’ i.e., not mixing with anyone from outside the ship while onshore,” Yeskel explains. “Some lines are allowing guests to explore independently in port (without a bubble excursion), although this is mostly up to the regulations set by the individual ports and/or countries.” Here’s what you need to know about how not to get sick on a cruise ship.

Low angle view of girl climbing steps in cruise ship against skyCavan Images/Getty Images

Touch anything and everything

Amenities on cruise ships will not be widely available the way they used to be, especially when it comes to items that multiple people might touch over the course of the cruise. Touchless experiences could be the wave of the future. In fact, Princess Cruises is already touting its TrulyTouchless experiences that “[simplify] the guest experience and [deliver] next-level service supporting new health protocols.” The line supplies passengers with an OceanMedallion device, which they can wear and use instead of a key card, credit card, or money. 

Dining Room Buffet aboard the luxury abstract cruise shipMarina113/Getty Images

Serve yourself at buffets

It’s no secret that buffets, a hallmark of cruises, aren’t the most hygienic. Cruise passengers for the foreseeable future won’t be able to serve their own food in an effort to reduce potential germ spread. “Buffets are back on some ships, but travelers cannot serve themselves,” Haynes explains. “A staff member wearing a mask and other protection gear, such as gloves, has to fix their plates. Travelers receive their plate back at the end of the buffet line with their requested food items once all of their food has been placed on their plates.” It’s up to you whether you still consider that a buffet!

Now that you know what you can and can’t do on cruise ships during the pandemic, find out some things you won’t be able to do on airplanes anymore.


Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a word nerd who has been writing for since 2017. You can find her byline on pieces about grammar, fun facts, the meanings of various head-scratching words and phrases, and more. Meghan graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 2017; her creative nonfiction piece “Anticipation” was published in the Spring 2017 issue of Angles literary magazine.