Why It’s A Dumb Risk To Take A Cruise Right Now

Cruise ships are going to have Covid cases. Everywhere you go there are going to be Covid cases. Delta was highly transmissible. Omicron is more transmissible still. Finding Covid cases on cruise ships shouldn’t be surprising, or alarming.

As of Tuesday, there were 89 cruise ships with COVID-19 cases reported, according to the CDC. All but three of those ships were under CDC investigation. Aside from Carnivaland Royal Caribbean RCL, COVID-19 cases also occurred on ships operated by Disney, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Viking Cruises.

Indoor congregant settings are where the virus spreads most easily. Cruise ships require very high rates of vaccination in order to sail. They’re likely safer than spending time indoors at restaurants, bars and gyms or attending indoor concerts and sporting events. But they’re going to have Covid-19 cases because breakthrough infections are real, and they’re looking for cases.

Senator Richard Blumenthal has taken a brief break from populist railing against airlines to call for the CDC to ban cruising, calling ships “petri dishes of COVID infection.” This seems like a silly overreaction, given 95% vaccination rates on board (and full vaccination of crew).

However for over a year I’ve written the reasons I consider cruising during the pandemic to be too risky – not so much to your health if you’re vaccinated (and boosted!) but that there’s too much uncertainty around whether you’ll be able to experience the trip you’re expecting.

  1. Will you be able to enjoy your cruise, or be forced to quarantine in your cabin? Hope you have a balcony at least!

  2. Will you be able to make your planned stops at various ports, or be stuck on the ship?

  3. Will you be able to disembark at your final planned stop and go home as planned?

And if your trip doesn’t work out as expected, don’t expect a do-over.

In some cases, ships were not able to visit planned stops during the itinerary because of the COVID-19 cases among passengers. One passenger reported that she and her fellow travelers were only offered $100 per room as compensation for the inconvenience.

This just isn’t the time where the odds are in your favor to get the cruise experience you’re after. Of course, if the price is low enough for a top shelf cruise, you may still wish to take your chances rather than waiting until pandemic odds improve and prices go up further.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I board one this afternoon. The ship is operating WAY under capacity, probably around 40% occupancy. Makes sense since it cost me less than $60/day (and that’s for an upscale cruise line, not ratchet Carnival or NCL)

    As someone who’s young and boosted, I’m excited to board. Maybe I get some minor symptoms and have to sit on my balcony and watch the ocean go by with room service; sounds better than going through that at home. Even if ports are skipped, I’m relaxing by the ocean. Booked a cabin adjacent to the aft pool, 10 steps and I’m outside, avoiding elevators and hallways.

    I’m bringing my work laptop in-case we can’t disembark as planned. Living in Miami means I don’t have to worry about return travel plans being messed up; I’ll just uber home a few days later than expected.

    Folks on ships right now are having a blast and saying they feel 110% safer than they would ashore in their hometowns. I’ll find out for myself in a few hours, but I can’t see a ship with strict rules being any less safe than the 45 story high-rise I live in where there are “rules” that 50% don’t follow.

  2. As Gary says, “everywhere you go, there are going to be Covid cases.” Imagine you and the kids are quarantined on your Disney cruise in a tiny windowless room and forbidden to disembark for two weeks. During quarantine, you would be able to experience quality family time while forming lifetime memories. Furthermore, your entire family receives flavorful dining options with complimentary room service. For your protection and health mandates, infected families are sealed in their room while being served by Mickey Mouse, Goofy, or Donald Duck during breakfast, lunch, dinner, and midnight snack. Disney Cruise Line offers unforgettable fun and relaxation for all. Enjoy your magical one-of-a-kind vacation experience and reserve today.

  3. Staunch pro-vaxxer here: Blumenthal’s thinking re: cruise ship travel is ridiculous. Aren’t restuarants, bars, gyms, and practically every other social setting a “petri dish”?

    Are ‘we’ going to continue to overreact as the Covid-19 virus becomes more like the common cold?

    Where is the science behind all this?

  4. Folks…Gary was recently arguing that we should be maskless on airplanes regardless of capacity or duration.

    Get your health advice from someone who knows what they’re talking about.

    @305…have a great time. I’ve been on virtually every line just about everywhere. May I ask which line you’re on?

  5. I find the natural experiment occurring right now on cruise ships (which, to be fair, I’ve only followed as headlines) fascinating and rather hopeful. High vax rates and reasonable precautions seem to be highly protective, with the ships reporting on a few percent of subjects testing positive and few, if any, occurrences of serious illness.

  6. Anti-capitalist liberals love to use “Petri dishes” to refer to cruise ships like they enjoy using “racist” to refer to white people. Blumenthal probably thought renaming the Las Vegas airport after Harry Reid was a good idea since fellow Democrat Mccarran was so racist and Reid wasn’t #noresearch. Cruise ships are likely less dangerous than air travel yet you don’t see him saying to “pause” airplanes for a while.
    I agree that you are taking a chance on a cruise that may not stop at the places planned. I’m getting on a cruise in February that has been booked since 2019 and the itinerary has changed at least 5 times but what you may not understand is that cruise fans go for the ship as much as the destination. Much like you would enjoy flying Emirates First regardless of the location. Avgeeks fly top-shelf planes for the experience and enjoyment, even if they don’t spend time at the place it’s going.

  7. I am sure Blumenthal is booking a luxury cruise right now for himself and his family. After all, “Rules Are for Thee, But Not for Me”.

  8. @Tom K from Seattle – way to misrepresent my arguments.

    1. Pre-omicron I said that mask *mandates* should go away, but people should consider protecting themselves with N95 masks.
    2. It seems likely that lesser masks are even less protective than before with Omicron
    3. But go ahead and mandate cloth masks that did very little against earlier strains and tell yourself you’re fighting the virus, those provide very little source control and pretty much zero protection to the wearer.

    Remember, airlines mandated masks before government called what was already happening a mandate. The mandate added little to nothing, and in fact imposed required exceptions to mask wearing that American, United and Southwest were not permitting before it was a government rule.

    From the start, I’ve 100% been about following the science but that also means questioning those who don’t when they speak from supposed authority rather than data.

  9. Omicron is around 4.5x more infectious to VACCINATED people. (see UK, Denmark studies this week).

    IE, the vaccines make you more susceptible to Covid now.

    You certainly don’t want to be around vaccinated people – as much as possible.
    They are disease carriers with poor antibodies and a weakened immune system.

    We’re traveling the world, and avoiding any place that requires vaccination.
    Just not worth the risk to be around immunocompromised people.

    Feel bad for all the people who got vaccinated. Like sheep to the slaughter 🙁

  10. “Dumb risk”? Disagree.

    As a travel reporter who has covered the cruise industry extensively for more than a decade, I have taken 5 cruises in the last 6 months. Yes, there were substantial itinerary diversions on two of them. Yes, there were COVID cases (confirmed on one, presumed on another). But, as Gary points out, there is going to be COVID everywhere you go right now.

    That includes travel destinations like theme parks, casino hotels, beach resorts, shopping malls, airports, plus public transportation. Depending on the state, in most of those places, vaccinations are not required, testing is not required, and masks are not always enforced even if they are required. Do you know what the case rate is for Disney World right now? Nope, nobody does. That’s because protocols for contacts tracing and quarantine are not in effect, as they are on most cruise ships.

    I’m not telling anyone to cancel their Disney vacation (though it’s not where I would hang out during the next few weeks, especially if I were in a high-risk category or unvaxxed). But I am pointing out the hypocrisy of slamming one segment of the travel industry without reviewing the bigger picture. It’s like all the arguments favoring marijuana restrictions or laws that ignore how alcohol is a far bigger cause of driving accidents.

    While protocols vary by cruise line and destination, in general, vaccinations are required for crew and passengers alike. Testing before boarding is required; testing before docking at certain ports is required; and testing is required for cruise lines that disembark at a foreign port (as with flying into the US). On two 7-night cruises I did, this meant 5 tests over 8 days. This might not be your cup of tea, but for the opportunity to cruise the Greek Isles or Caribbean, it was worth it to me.

    In the event positive cases are discovered after embarkation, crew or guest is quarantined in a designated section of the ship, meals are delivered to the cabin and the individual is not allowed to roam the corridors. Even crew that is joining a ship is required to quarantine before they are allowed to mingle with guests. And, without exception, I have never seen a single crew member not wearing a mask during the cruise — not once.

    The one area I am most concerned about, which doesn’t get the play it should, is protecting residents of the destinations cruise ships sail to. While some Caribbean islands are requiring cruise passengers to visit only inside “bubble tours,” others are not as rigid about protocols. Places like St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines are only 30% fully vaxxed; Jamaica is only 24% fully vaxxed. Omicron has proven that even fully vaxxed cruisers can spread the virus, even while having little or no symptoms.

    So, I say, if you don’t mind being in a group setting, a cruise is a better way to travel than most right now, IF you’re willing to wear a mask in shared spaces, except while dining (and dining al fresco is almost always an option on most ships, into dinner). Don’t depend on your itinerary to be followed exactly, select a ship with enough space that you can enjoy an unplanned sea day (relative to number of passengers, not size), and bring a book.

  11. It only took 1 hour and 21 minutes
    (7th comment) for someone to make a racist, biased political comment. Is there no break from getting away from these people?
    And then another comment with misinformation (what normal people call lies).

  12. @Don – wow, you understand neither science nor statistics. Good to know that there’s someone posting here that gives worse health advice that Gary.

    @everyone else: You know what’s a stupid risk? Taking your public health advice from noted credit card salesman Gary Leff.

  13. @ Gary

    Masks save lives. Obviously surgical masks and N95 do a much better job than cloth masks or gaiters. Talk about misrepresenting someone’s position…when did I suggest cloth masks?

    Delta appears to be much more deadly but less transmissable than Omicron. The official death count from Covid is 830K but in reality is certainly higher. The number of excess deaths the US has experienced since the beginning of the pandemic is more than 1M.

    You claim that you have always argued for following the science. When did actual medical experts, as opposed to people who make money convincing others to travel, argue against masks on airplanes? Has that ever been the position of the CDC or WHO?

    Your arguments are inconsistent and understandably don’t like being called out on it.

    Oh, and I certainly could have missed it, but can you direct me to your post where you argue in favor of airplane masking in light of Omicron?

  14. @Don…you’re completely nuts. Omicron is more likely to infect vaccinated people than Delta was although once boosted (especially w Moderna) you’re still ahead of the game
    But unvaxxed are waaaaay more likely to be infected…get really…seek hospitalization…and die than vaxxed people. Isn’t that obvious?

    You must be a devotee of Gary’s “science-based” approach to travel. Yikes.

  15. ban all flights ban all cruises ban all outdoor events EVERYONE SHOULD BE LOCKED IN THEIR HOMES FOR 1 MONTHS then we will stop the virus

  16. @Gary – Please base what you state in facts – Your opinion is very different form the facts.. The hysteria from the “Huge Outbreak” on recent cruises where 40 out of 4000 people became infected – So a 1% positivity rate on the WORST cruise outbreaks – Wyoming currently has the lowest positivity rate in the nation at 4.1 % (https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/public-health/states-ranked-by-covid-19-test-positivity-rates-july-14.html) – So cruises ARE significantly lower than any other location in the United States. Cruises are the ONLY travel option where there is 100% testing. The CLIA’s protocols have ensured that the cruise lines are traveling as safely as possible in this environment.

    @Diego Dave is 100% correct the concern is for the Islands with low vax rates.

    I have been on one of Viking Ocean’s first cruises when service restarted to Iceland this past July – Mandatory PCR tests EVERY MORNING – name another travel-related industry that is taking those precautions.

    I just returned from an NCL trip last week – No, I did not feel safe all of the time as people that should have been wearing masks were not and there was limited enforcement – Shame on NCL for that and I will be avoiding them as a line in the future – However, at least I knew everyone was Vaxed and tested prior to boarding

    As far as ports – As long as you are going into the cruise knowing that there may be changes and ports may be missed then what is the big deal – Plan for it…. Expect it – Most of the islands in the Caribbean are pretty much the same anyway..

  17. @jojo – how did that work out for Australia?
    2 years of being imprisoned in their homes and not being able to leave the country.

    And they are just as screwed as everywhere else now. The sacrifices were for nothing.

  18. Nah, if you choose a line with a good reputation and demographic, there is very little risk of any of that. I’m following the cruise message boards and while yes, there are a few small breakouts on the better lines, travelers appear to be having a wonderful and healthy experience. Respect among passengers and crew is key.

  19. Just got off a 23 day cruise on Silversea. Maximum number of passengers was 400 on a 600 passenger ship. Mandatory vaccinations for all passengers and crew and negative test before boarding. We went through 5 covid tests on board. The level of sanitation was very high and passengers adhered to mask and other protocols. It felt very safe. Of course there is the risk of bringing something back on board when you go ashore, but many people stayed on board and others took ship sponsored excursions which were very well done. I felt safer there than I did in the taxi to the airport or on the flight home.

  20. There’s a lot of real crazy things being written here, much like the rest of the internet. Obviously, being vaccinated dies NOT make one more susceptible to Omicron. And the other blatant misstatement I see often is that the vaccines somehow cause these mutations and variants. I guess that’s why Delta arose in largely unvaccinated India and Omicron in largely unvaccinated South Africa. I am a physician and consider myself reasonably well versed on the epidemiology of Covid-19.

  21. So far in 2021 we have cancelled one cruise because of two itinerary changes announced only at time of online check in; went on one cruise where we had no COVID aboard but all the ports were like ghost towns; went on a European cruise where 2 ports were cancelled, 10 sets of passenger locator forms had to be filled and 10 COVID tests performed (2 people on cruise – 5 each); cancelled our Japanese cruise for the 4th time and pushed off another cruise into 2022.. We definitely book balcony, in event of quarantine, and realize the chance of getting the exact itinerary we bought is less than 20%. Having spent hundreds of days at sea I still enjoy cruising, but my SO hates that socializing aboard is pretty much gone and our friends in Japan and Scotland cannot join us. Cruising is limping along like a car with a flat tire..

  22. From the numbers that I’ve seen, only about 1% of cruise ship pax test positive after the cruise. That’s a risk I’m willing to take.

    The other point in Gary’s post, that you may be stuck in your cabin or that you may not be able to disembark during or after the cruise, are very real and a genuine risk.

  23. As someone who loves to travel, but has no interest in taking a cruise – ever, unless it gets me to a place I couldn’t get to otherwise, let me just say that it’s never a good time to take a cruise.

  24. I canceled an Alaska cruise in September as we were not “boosted and there were reports of positive cases amongst crew. After getting the booster, we went on a 10 day cruise to Panama canal in mid November. The cruise ship had only 40% of its passenger capacity, required full vaccination and mandatory testing 48 hour prior to boarding. I found that all the crew were always masked with K95 masks and all passengers adhered to masking rules when indoors. The demographic was largely middle aged with no kids and only a handful of teenagers. There was plenty of room whole dining or in the theater to practice social distancing if one wanted to. All port visits/tours required masking in the bus and even when outdoors. CDC status for the ship was green before and after our cruise.
    I realize that the timing of the cruise was fortuitous before the current wave with Omicron. So, the risk of breakthrough infection is likely a bit higher now. In the end, each one of us has to base their decision on their risk evaluation and tolerance. For full disclosure, I am a Physician, so my risk calculus may be different.

  25. @Tom K

    I definitely don’t trust government or any leftist institution or establishment (all of them) to give medical advice given they are pushing a political agenda all the time. It really takes only a year of study on your own to become adept in medicine for yourself and family. It’s not like medical textbooks (online) are difficult to find. If you have no faith in government or institutions, you shouldn’t trust the judgement of the government controlled medical community or medical media. Let doctors do procedures, read imaging, and do the blood work which I can interpret. I don’t need them for the knowledge component or discernment.

    I agree about the unique issues facing cruises. Like with everything, it’s not Covid I am afraid of. Covid is a mild virus for most. Nearly everything the public knows about it is propaganda. It’s the extreme restrictions which can change at a moments notice. I don’t fear being on a cruise now more than when there was the flu, cold, or Norovirus. I fear government being absurd and companies who follow the absurdity.

    Conservatives are stupid to put up with the system that allows their enemies to vote and tell them what to do.

  26. Lots of nonsense comments, as usual, but I think Jackson Waterson’s gets the crazy award of the day—in few words he makes a travesty of the medical profession, trashes science, and perverts democracy. Definitely worth a laugh.

  27. Jackson Waterson is 100% correct.

    And isn’t funny how everyone boarding cruises these days MUST be vaxxed, yet cruises are quickly becoming hotbeds of China virus outbreaks?

    Gee, I wonder how THAT happens? It’s almost like the “vaccine” is actually making people sick… looks like it’s way past time for a HUUUUGE “I told you so.”

  28. @UA-NYC

    That is 100% USDA, Grade a BULLSHIT.

    The VAST majority of those getting sick and dying are the VACCINATED. Sorry to burst your bubble… boohoo. Just ask anyone who works in a hospital setting… and are not afraid of being persecuted for telling the truth.

    Spreading the fake news that you usually do will get people killed. KNOCK IT OFF!!!

  29. DaninMC, you are certainly racist. I bet you supported the racist president and admire men who grab women by their genitals. You put on your racist rant on a blog about travel. White Supremacists nationwide would love your rant. History will be very unkind to your racism

  30. @Gary – I know you don’t like to “wade into the comments” as you have said, and I appreciate you not letting the ridiculous anti-vaxxer links get posted…but some of this stuff is still mind blowing. See the (frequently racist, now anti-vax misinformation-spreading) Amazing Larry’s comments above…you have some seriously deranged readers.

  31. Some nice recent November 2021 data from Wisconsin (www dhs wisconsin gov) to counter the mouth-breathing lying anti-vaxxers upthread:

    People not fully vaccinated were diagnosed with COVID-19 at a rate 5x higher than people who were fully vaccinated.
    People not fully vaccinated were hospitalized with COVID-19 at a rate 11x higher than people who were fully vaccinated.
    People not fully vaccinated died from COVID-19 at a rate 12x higher than people who were fully vaccinated.

  32. Gary,

    You really need to clean up your comments section. They are getting worse and worse. There is a lot of dangerous misadvice being thrown around here.

  33. Onboard now. Ship is 42% full according to pursers desk, shockingly low for a cruise over New Years. Masks required indoors and I’d say 95% are taking it very seriously. Many even wearing them outdoors where it isn’t required

    I traveled to Italy in June and had to mask everywhere, even outdoors. Was a minor inconvenience when you consider the reward was few to no tourists overrunning the city. As of now, I feel the same about this cruise: worth it to have such an empty ship. Food is great as usual, drinks flowing, and no crowds anywhere onboard

  34. @DLF

    If democracy means people like you voting and deciding the course of our lives, it’s something we don’t support.

    Freedom is not 51% of people deciding for the other 49%.

  35. Gary – Well written. I am a prime example of the problem with cruises right now.

    We were booked on Uniworld river cruise departing 19DEC along the Rhine – due to the spike in Omachron cases in Europe we pleaded with Uniworld to allow us to reschedule for a later date or give us a credit. Blatantly refused. They told us “Use it or Lose it”. So we went.

    All good until Day 6. They disembarked 4 pax and 2 crew both with positive Covid tests and some with symptoms. One of the crew was the stewardess serving us breakfast. Sure enough, that evening I did not feel well. Took the train to Brussels after disembarking the following day, and sure as shit, I tested positive for Covid.

    I am triple vaxed. So now here I sit on day 5 in Brussels hoping to get a negative covid test to return home. I’m furious with myself for having gone but that is water under the bridge.

    Be careful which cruise you book and be aware that if you test positive the return trip can become very costly!

  36. I’m embarking the 2nd week of January!!!! No concerns about being in the 0.02% of passengers who may test positive on-board. The odds are EXTREME that I leave this cruise happier, tanner, healthier, and more enriched than if I had sat at home watching fear-TV.

    If you are abstaining from vacations right now, then good for you. But if you desire a vacation after 2 years of restraint, then CRUISING IS THE SAFEST, CLEANEST place to be right now. The % of infected (untested) people walking around in your grocery store is sooooo much higher than the % infected on ships.

    People are seriously going to their grocery store, walking in Covid mist, and then slamming cruise ships. Rolling my eyes. The most important lesson that SHOULD’VE been learned in the pandemic is “MAKE AN EFFORT TO ASSESS YOUR OWN RISK”.

  37. @Jackson Waterson

    Democracy is majority rules! 51% is the majority. It has been that way, since 1787! And it will ALWAYS be that the MAJORITY rules!

    You don’t like it, then fucking move out of the USA! I’m sick and tired of listening and reading this bullshit!

  38. @JohnB – We aren’t a democracy, and with good reason – under your logic, 51% could decide to sacrifice the other 49% to appease the rain gods and you’d think it legitimate. Instead, we are a constitutional republic with certain things set beyond the ability of even the majority to impose on a minority.

    I’m sick and tired of listening and reading about how Internet turds don’t even understand the basics of how our government works. Just because someone has a majority of one doesn’t mean they get to cram down whatever they want on the group that has one less vote, unless you want to grant that power to to the other side when power shifts, which it will. There was a lot of thought put into how our government functions, which is basically to not function unless there is a wide consensus, and not even then for certain things.

  39. @C_M

    Wow the ignorance is plainly in sight! You claim that America is something else…..now claiming America is not a democracy. Go back to your hole in the ground and place the rock over the opening!

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