Carnival adds $150 testing fee, travel insurance rules for unvaccinated guests

  • Carnival Cruise Line’s Sunrise and Vista ships, along with the MSC Meraviglia, are docked at the Port of Miami, awaiting an eventual return to service. The ban of so-called vaccine passports prompted lines such as Celebrity Cruises, which originally announced they would not allow unvaccinated passengers, to adjust their policies. (Photo/Susan Stocker/Sun Sentinel/TNS)

Carnival Cruise Line is navigating Florida’s vaccine passport law by adjusting its stance on allowing unvaccinated guests on sailings, but is now requiring they both pay $150 for COVID-19 testing and pay for travel insurance.

“We know that this puts an expense on the cruise that you probably didn’t account for when you booked the cruise, but we have to keep everybody safe,” said Carnival brand ambassador John Heald.

The move comes after the line made its first sailings from the U.S. in more than 16 months, sailing with vaccinated passengers only from both Miami on Carnival Horizon and from Galveston, Texas, on Carnival Vista over the Fourth of July weekend.

Florida has a law that went into effect July 1 that would fine companies $5,000 per instance if they require proof of vaccination. The ban of so-called vaccine passports prompted lines such as Celebrity Cruises, which originally announced they would not allow unvaccinated passengers, to adjust their policies.

Florida’s law, though, has made it difficult for cruise lines to sail with what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention require for a ship to get its conditional sailing certificate without first performing a simulated sailing.

If a ship states it is sailing with at least 98 percent crew and 95 percent passengers vaccinated, it can skip the test sailing. That was how Carnival chose to get back to business with its initial sailings, but that move was also met with customer dissatisfaction since it meant no children were allowed on board initially.

The updated policy creates an opportunity for those without the vaccine to sail, and likely with the added cost, keep the ship’s numbers within the CDC’s parameters.

The policies are similar to what Royal Caribbean has in place for its Florida cruises, although Carnival is putting the onus of the cost of testing on customers for everyone in their party, including those under age 12. No one 11 and under can get a vaccine in the U.S. Carnival is also implementing the testing policy for ships outside of Florida.

The travel insurance policy, though, is only for Florida-based ships, and does not go into effect until July 31.

“Each unvaccinated guest must provide proof of a valid travel insurance policy at the time of check-in that has a minimum of $10,000, per person, in medical expense coverage and $30,000 coverage for emergency medical evacuation and without COVID-19 exclusions,” reads a statement on the Carnival website. “Guests without the required proof of insurance will not be permitted to sail and no refund will be provided.”

Unlike the testing fee, the insurance requirement does not apply to children under the age of 12.

“While you may be a little upset, you may even be angry, there are options available to you,” Heald said, saying customers can change their sail date or get a refund.

The line is slated to expand its restart business with its newest ship, Mardi Gras, from Port Canaveral beginning July 31 and another ship from Galveston, Carnival Breeze, starting July 15. In August, Carnival Magic is set to sail from Port Canaveral on Aug. 7 and Carnival Sunrise from Miami on Aug. 14.

Only Royal Caribbean has so far opted to perform test sailings for its ships, and only one — Freedom of the Seas sailing out of Miami — has earned its conditional sailing certificate. The line was always going to allow children as part of its restart plan, and has stated that those 11 and under would make up about 10 percent of passengers typically on its sailings.

Among Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, there are three ships now sailing from Florida, with another nine ships from those brands as well as MSC Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line set to join them before September. Other plans are in place to restart sailing from California, New York and Washington on Alaska cruises in the next few months.

The cruise industry first shut down in March 2020 as ships became ground zero for several deadly outbreaks as the coronavirus pandemic took hold.

Cruising from the U.S. was put under a no-sail order by the CDC until fall 2020, which then shifted to a conditional sail order that only allowed for the first sailing with paying customers on June 26, when Celebrity Edge first sailed from Port Everglades.

While the conditional sail order remains until Nov. 1, 2021, a federal judge has granted a preliminary injunction in the state of Florida that stops the CDC from enforcing it starting July 18. The injunction is part of a lawsuit brought by the state that claims the CDC overstepped its authority implementing an order the shut down an industry that brings in billions to the economy.

After July 18, cruise lines from Florida at least, won’t be subject to the rules in place from the order, although it will still be active in other states.

Disney Cruise Line was set to have already performed a simulated sailing in an effort to get its conditional sailing certificate for the Disney Dream, although positive COVID-19 test results on some of its crew caused a delay in the sailing. Disney Dream is still on the company’s website with an Aug. 9 sailing from Port Canaveral. It is unclear if Disney will still perform the test sailing, or skip it because of the injunction that goes into effect in less than week.

MSC Cruises had also made plans for simulated sailings ahead of their ships’ Florida debuts, while Norwegian Cruise Line still has a vaccines-only policy announced for its return to business.

07/14/2021 - 9:52am