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Cruise lines navigate complex rules as Alaska sailings resume from Seattle

Akash Pasricha, The Seattle Times on

Published in Business News

It’s a sight Seattle hasn’t seen in a while: lines of vacationers at Pier 91, many dressed in Hawaiian shirts, bucket hats and sunglasses, with suitcases and smiles. The Majestic Princess floats on their left, the Serenade of Seas to the right.

Under sunny skies, the first Alaska cruise of the season — and the first since the onset of the pandemic — weighed anchor Monday as Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas set off on a seven-night voyage.

The long anticipated return of cruising in Seattle continues this month as six other cruise lines resume sailing, among them Seattle-based Holland America Line and Princess Cruises. Starting Friday, ships will leave Seattle almost daily for the rest of the month. In August, some days will see two departures.

“We’ve been waiting two years now to go to Alaska,” said Peter Dorney, 52, one of the first people in line with his wife, Kathy, 51, waiting to board the Serenade on Monday morning. The Massachusetts couple is celebrating their 25th anniversary this year and Dorney said they have been on more than 20 cruises. “We’re frequent cruisers.”

But Monday’s resumption also highlights the complexities of cruising in the current stage of the global pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asks cruise lines to decide whether they’ll require 95% of a ship’s passengers to be vaccinated, thereby qualifying as a “vaccinated cruise.” Depending on that decision, there are guidelines for mask use, social distancing and testing.

Royal Caribbean chose not to meet the 95% threshold for sailings of the Serenade of the Seas. That doesn’t mean the guests aren’t vaccinated; in fact, every person who is eligible for a vaccine must have gotten one.

 

The nuance in Royal Caribbean’s decision lies in the cruise line’s decision to accept unvaccinated children under 12, who are not yet eligible for the vaccine in the United States. Few other ships are permitting unvaccinated children on board.

For a voyage to be considered a “vaccinated cruise,” the CDC requires that 95% of passengers and also 95% of the crew be fully vaccinated 14 days before boarding.

On those cruises, fully vaccinated passengers do not need to wear masks anywhere. They do not need to maintain social distance. There’s no requirement for testing.

The CDC also says crew members who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear masks. However, most cruise lines leaving Seattle are requiring crew members to wear them, at least for initial voyages.

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