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CDC lowers cruise travel warning from ‘very high’ to ‘high’

The agency says travelers should be ‘up to date’ on coronavirus vaccinations if they want to take a cruise

The Norwegian Bliss cruise ship passes through John Hopkins Inlet in Glacier Bay, Alaska. (Tim Rue/Bloomberg)
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says taking a cruise now presents a lower risk than it did at the end of 2021 — at least in some cases.

On Tuesday, the public health agency lowered its travel health notice for cruises from Level 4 to Level 3, which indicates covid-19 levels on ships are “high” rather than “very high.” The agency had been warning all travelers to avoid cruise travel regardless of vaccination status since Dec. 30, after the omicron surge sent cases on ships soaring.

Under the new guidance, the CDC says travelers should make sure they are “up to date” with their coronavirus vaccines — which means the initial vaccination and a booster, when eligible — before taking a cruise.

People who are not up to date with their vaccines should avoid cruise travel, the CDC says. And regardless of vaccination status, the agency says those who are at increased risk for severe illness from covid-19 should also avoid cruises.

Ships reported 14,803 coronavirus cases between Dec. 30 and Jan. 12. Updated numbers were not available late Tuesday, but CDC spokeswoman Caitlin Shockey said in a statement that the agency made its decision to lower the travel health notice in response to decreasing cases on ships operating in the United States.

The Cruise Lines International Association welcomed the new designation Tuesday, calling the lower level “a step in the right direction” that recognizes the industry’s health and safety protocols. Cruise companies require all crew and almost all passengers to be vaccinated, though most are not requiring boosters.

The CDC’s change comes as some cruise operators have eased mask rules for vaccinated passengers or announced plans to drop those requirements in the near future.

Two major cruise lines to drop mask requirements from covid protocols

On its information page for cruise travel, the CDC says anyone getting on a ship should get tested as close to the departure time as possible, and check to see whether a ship has reported covid cases and if the vast majority of passengers and crew will be fully vaccinated.

“The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads easily between people in close quarters on board ships, and the chance of getting COVID-19 on cruise ships is high, even if you are up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines,” the agency still warns.

Last month, the CDC lifted its order that set out strict rules for cruise lines to follow; they are now recommendations. Cruise lines have until Friday to tell the agency if they plan to voluntarily follow those guidelines.