The first two U.S.-based cruise lines announced mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for guests and crew today, a measure that’s been discussed but not yet widely adopted by the industry. American Queen Steamboat Company and Victory Cruise Lines company, both part of the Hornblower Group, said the move expands upon enhanced health and safety measures already in place, including pre-cruise COVID-19 testing of all guests and crew, and requiring masks in all public areas where social distancing is not possible. The coronavirus vaccine mandate will apply to sailings on both lines beginning July 1, 2021, and will apply to guests as well as on-ship crew members and non-ship, corporate employees.
“Vaccination requirements for both our guests and crew is the most prudent next step to ensure that we are providing the safest cruising experience possible,” said John Waggoner, CEO and founder of American Queen Steamboat Company. “Additionally, protecting the communities we visit on each itinerary is also a priority, as the vaccine requirement will help provide an additional safety measure that we are mandating to safeguard these communities.” American Queen Steamboat Company sails primarily in U.S. waterways such as the Columbia and Snake Rivers, as well as the Mississippi, while Victory Cruise Lines sails itineraries around the Great Lakes, Canada, New England, Alaska, and Pacific Coast.
The cruise industry has been vocal about safety measures it has undertaken since halting operations last March in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lines are implementing pre-boarding screening and testing; on-board, they’re limiting capacity while creating apps that allow for contact-less food deliveries and eliminate queues, as well as staffing up onboard medical facilities and procedures for responding to infection and outbreaks.
Yet a vaccination mandate is new—so far, only U.K.-based Saga cruise line has announced one. Whether this will be a wider industry policy is very much up in the air—the three largest U.S. cruise lines have remained noncommittal about such a policy, saying it was too soon to say, Cruise Hive reported last month. American Queen Steamboat Company and Victory Cruise Lines, meanwhile, said in a statement that because the current CDC recommendation for Phase 1c of the vaccination includes essential workers engaged in transportation, “vaccinations should be readily available and able to be administered to crew members before the July 1 target date.”
As for guests, the lines said the “majority” are over the age of 65, and thus are eligible—or will be soon—to receive the vaccine. They must receive both doses and provide documentation of the vaccination before they can board. If guests cannot or are not willing to receive the vaccine before a sailing taking place on or after July 1, they can rebook for a future sailing at no extra charge and cancel 60 days prior to departure without penalty.
One area where this policy remains unclear is the impact to younger guests. Both lines are popular in the U.S. for appealing to multi-generational family trips, and as of now, the country’s vaccination plan does not account for children 16 and younger. While both lines are “hopeful” a vaccine will be approved for younger travelers by the summer, they remain committed to the new policy as it stands. “Following July 1, all guests must be vaccinated in order to cruise with us,” a spokesperson said.
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