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These 3 Major Cruise Lines Are Set To Lift Mask Mandates As COVID-19 Cases Drop

Two major cruise lines, Royal Caribbean International and Carnival Cruise Line, recently announced plans to ease onboard masking requirements in the coming weeks.

Royal Caribbean plans to drop its indoor mask requirement for fully vaccinated passengers starting Friday. Carnival Cruise Line’s new masking policy, which will lift mask requirements in most venues, goes into effect March 1. 

A third cruise line, Norwegian Cruise Line, announced earlier this month that it would let passengers ditch their face masks on board starting March 1.

Royal Caribbean and Carnival’s updated policies were announced shortly after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its voluntary COVID-19 program for cruise lines. Under the updated guidance, cruise lines that opt into the program can lift masking requirements if 95% of passengers and crew members are fully vaccinated or up to date with their shots.  

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Both cruise lines plan to participate in the federal agency’s COVID-19 program. 

Royal Caribbean CEO and President Michael Bayley said on Facebook last week that the cruise line would participate in the program under its highly vaccinated category, meaning 95% of crew and passengers over the age of 5 will be fully vaccinated starting Friday. 

“We are thoughtfully working through the details regarding other changes to our health and safety protocols which we will share with our guests and travel advisors before Feb. 25,” Bayley said on Facebook. 

A Friday statement from Carnival Cruise Line confirmed that it too would participate in the CDC program for cruise ships operating in U.S. waters. 

Three brands from Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings – Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises – have opted into the program. 

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What are Royal Caribbean’s new mask rules?

Starting Friday, fully vaccinated travelers on Royal Caribbean ships departing the U.S. and Puerto Rico will no longer need to wear masks indoors. Unvaccinated children aged 2 and older are still expected to mask up indoors and in crowded settings, according to the cruise line’s website. 

Masks will also be optional at private destinations Perfect Day at CocoCay in the Bahamas and Labadee on Haiti’s northern coast. Travelers will still need to follow local mask mandates at public ports of call, and masks should be worn at the cruise terminal during the boarding and screening process and during disembarkation. 

What are Carnival Cruise Line’s new mask rules?

Carnival Cruise will soon follow with its own revamped masking policy on March 1.

Starting then, masks will be recommended on board but not required. Face coverings may still be required “in certain venues and events,” according to its website.

The company suggests passengers pay attention to signage to learn more about each venue’s mask policy. 

Passengers will still need to mask up during the embarkation and debarkation process, during any Carnival-approved shore excursions and while on transportation vehicles like water shuttles. Guests must also continue to follow local mask guidance. 

The cruise line also noted that children under the age of 5 will not need to receive a vaccine exemption to sail under the new COVID-19 program, and passengers can expect “additional flexibility” in pre-cruise testing requirements starting March 1.  

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According to the CDC’s COVID-19 program, passengers who are up to date with vaccinations have the option of taking a pre-embarkation test three days prior to boarding instead of two. 

“The public health situation has continued to improve, providing confidence about these changes,” Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line, said in a Friday statement. “Our protocols will evolve as we continue to remain dedicated to protecting the public health of our guests, crew and the communities we visit.”

Follow USA TODAY reporter Bailey Schulz on Twitter: @bailey_schulz

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