You'll miss your cruise if you're not vaccinated in 2021.

Don’t bother booking a cruise if you’re not fully vaccinated. Here’s why

Well, that didn’t take long. The first wave of unvaccinated and partially vaccinated passengers who’ve been denied boarding their cruise ships has washed ashore.

As the cruise industry begins to return to the waterways, mass confusion about the requirements for cruising has ensued. One of the first casualties of this chaos was Joshua Maxwell and his fiancee. They showed up at the dock earlier this month, planning to set sail on Celebrity Cruises’ Equinox. Unfortunately, they weren’t fully vaccinated, and the cruise line rejected the couple and sent them home.

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The twist? Maxwell says vaccination requirements confused cruise line employees, too. As a result, he says the duo were allowed to board the ship and settle into their cabin before being forcibly removed by security hours later.

So what’s going on here?

Maxwell’s unpleasant tale should serve as a warning to would-be passengers everywhere. If you’ve got an upcoming cruise, make sure you’re fully vaccinated, or you won’t be cruising anywhere but back to your house.

Showing up for a cruise — partially vaccinated

Earlier this summer, Maxwell and his fiancee booked the Caribbean cruise. They would board the Equinox in Ft. Lauderdale on Aug. 1.

The cruise itinerary the couple couldn't take because they weren't fully vaccinated.
The itinerary of the cruise the couple would eventually miss because they aren’t fully vaccinated.

On the day of departure, the pair made their way to the port. They were especially excited as this cruise was more than a vacation — the couple planned to marry during the trip.

We arrived at the port early as Celebrity instructed. Before the trip, we both took an RT-PCR test and received negative results. At check-in, we provided those results. We received the first round of the Moderna COVID vaccine, and we shared that information as well. Then, we went through four security checkpoints. At each station, the employees photographed our identification, our vaccination cards, and our negative coronavirus test results.

After that, we boarded the ship, went to our cabin, and unpacked for the eight-day cruise.

After unpacking, the two began exploring the Equinox. It was still several hours before the ship’s scheduled departure.

“First, we had dinner,” Maxwell recalled. “We were happy to finally be on board, and we were ready to set sail!”

But as the couple settled back into their cabin, the evening suddenly took a shocking turn.

You’re not fully vaccinated, and you must leave the cruise immediately!

Maxwell says that as they were relaxing after dinner, there was a knock on their cabin door. It was now just 10 minutes before the scheduled departure of the Equinox.

“A woman who spoke broken English said something about a COVID test, ” Maxwell recalled. “We weren’t sure what she wanted, but I showed her our negative COVID test results, and she left.”

The couple barely had time to ponder the exchange before a more forceful knock hit the door.

This time, Maxwell couldn’t believe his eyes.

Now there were five or six big guys in security outfits standing there. The group leader said we had to leave the cruise immediately because we weren’t fully vaccinated. At that point, these security guards began treating us like common criminals. The news devastated my fiancee. She was crying. 

He told us that we had five minutes to get our things and get off the ship. Then he said that the police were waiting for us outside as if we had broken the law. They just used this as a scare tactic to get us off the boat faster.

Maxwell says he tried to reason with the officers, explaining that they had successfully gone through all security checkpoints.

By this time, we had been on the ship for hours,” Maxwell remembered. “I showed him our vaccination and testing cards, but they didn’t care.”

It was clear from the demeanor of the officer that there would be no negotiating. The couple’s fate was sealed.

Hastily, they tossed all their belongings back in their bags, and the burly guards quickly escorted them off the ship.

And soon, the stunned and devastated couple were standing on the dock, watching the Equinox sail away without them.

Fact: You must prove you’re fully vaccinated to cruise in 2021

Maxwell says he was stunned that the cruise line could kick them off the cruise and abandon them. But regular readers of our site know that he shouldn’t have been surprised. Over the years, we’ve covered many cases where cruise lines have summarily removed passengers from their ships, with no follow-up.

Maxwell called Celebrity immediately and demanded an explanation and a guarantee of a refund. Then his shock turned to rage when the representative explained that there would be no refund.

The agent pointed out that all guests over age 12 must be fully vaccinated at least 14 days before sailing. Partial vaccinations do not qualify for cruising on Celebrity.

Convinced that the cruise agent was wrong about the vaccination requirements and his refund eligibility, Maxwell next submitted his request for help to the Elliott Advocacy team.

It’s always the passengers’ responsibility to know the required documentation for cruising

Since the beginning of the pandemic, our helpline has been flooded with cries for help from travelers who’ve run afoul of the constantly changing travel requirements. Each one of these cases is worse than the last.

What’s clear is that travelers — and even travel providers — can’t keep up with the changes. It is a difficult time to try to navigate the world during this global pandemic, and our case files prove it.

But the cruise industry has been dormant for much of the past 18 months. As a result, our team hasn’t been seeing the denied-boarding-my-cruise complaints that used to be so common here. However, all that changed in the past several weeks. Maxwell has the dubious distinction of being the first, but he won’t be the last. There are more distraught and confused cruise passengers showing up here each day, unfortunately.

As I read through Maxwell’s narrative, I knew that the cruise line required guests to be fully vaccinated. So I was curious when he said the cruise line didn’t require passenger vaccinations. He was still under the impression that the cruise line had made a mistake by removing him from the Equinox.

I want Celebrity to pay me $15,000 for the missed cruise.  We incurred all these other expenses because Celebrity stranded us in Ft. Lauderdale. We have documentation from the cruise line saying that guests are not required to be fully vaccinated. They left us stranded in Fort Lauderdale, and we were to be married on the trip. We spent a tremendous amount of money, and Celebrity is refusing us a refund. This is a horrible injustice, and we want our money back immediately. (Maxwell to the Elliott Advocacy team)

That cruise document doesn’t say what you think it says about vaccination requirements

Unfortunately, when Maxwell forwarded his paper trail, it was clear that he and his fiance had misunderstood some of the correspondence from Celebrity.

His cruise contract provided a link to the most up-to-date cruising requirements, which didn’t support his theory that unvaccinated adults can cruise.

Since June, the Celebrity website has displayed this information on its site. (Note: on Aug. 1, the cruise line lowered the minimum age for required passenger vaccinations from 16 to 12.)

The vaccination requirements displayed on the cruise line's website make it clear: No vaccine, No cruise.
Fact: All Celebrity passengers 12 and older must be fully vaccinated 14 days before boarding their cruise.

I showed the information to Maxwell and explained that a refund isn’t in the cards when a passenger doesn’t have the required documentation to cruise.

I asked Maxwell if he had something else that I might use to successfully mediate his request.

Unfortunately, that was a dead-end as well.

Mass confusion about vaccination requirements to cruise

Maxwell did have some screenshots of a Celebrity email that indicated that “Unvaccinated passengers over age 16” would need to comply with different rules. But that information was not dated, and it also linked back to the website that said all guests over age 12 must be vaccinated.

Looking through the entire paper trail again, I noted that one week before the cruise, Maxwell had sent an email to Celebrity. In that message, he indicated that he and his fiancee only had one dose of Moderna. He asked if that would be sufficient.

That email went unanswered — although the answer to that question was always on display on the Celebrity website: One dose of Moderna would not be sufficient to cruise on Aug. 1.

But why was this couple allowed to board the Equinox in the first place?

I decided to contact Celebrity to try to find out.

Asking Celebrity if this partially vaccinated couple will receive a cruise credit

Hello Celebrity friends!

We’re working on a case over here in which a Celebrity customer, Joshua Maxwell, (and his fiancee) appears to have misunderstood the vaccine requirements for cruising at this time. They showed up at the dock on Aug. 1 with a negative COVID test and a vaccine card with just the first dose of Moderna. For some reason, they were allowed to board the Equinox and settle into their cabin. They even went to dinner and then returned to their cabin before security came and told them they had to leave immediately. Security escorted them off the ship, and the cruise sailed without them.

The couple said Celebrity informed them that they will not receive a refund nor future cruise credit. Apparently, this couple was planning on getting married during this cruise, so it’s particularly troubling for them. Is it true that they’ve forfeited even a cruise credit? I note that they sent an email to Celebrity on Jul. 25 asking for clarification of the vaccine rule. But the email went unanswered. It seems that if Celebrity had answered them at that time, they could have canceled and received a future cruise credit.

We’ll be publishing an article about this couple’s experience, so we want to make sure we’ve got the details clear. Is there any way for this couple to receive a future credit? Thank you! 🚢😊 (Michelle to Celebrity)

After a few days with no response, I started to feel that Celebrity didn’t intend to delve into this case with me. Typically, if a company can resolve a matter, I will quickly hear back from our contacts. Of course, we know that if a passenger threatens a lawsuit or there are other parts of the case the company doesn’t wish to discuss publicly, it will tend to stay quiet. But I thought there might be a possibility that the team had overlooked my email, so I sent a follow-up.

Asking Celebrity again for clarification for this couple — and our readers

Can your team provide a statement about how and why the couple was allowed to board the Equinox without proof of complete vaccination? The documentation the couple received prior to sailing seems a bit contradictory/ murky. They tried to get clarification a week before the cruise set sail.

Unfortunately, even though they booked the cruise directly with Celebrity, they say that no one from your team responded to clarify that they would not be allowed to sail with only one dose of Moderna. Had someone responded to that email, they could have canceled with a full future credit at that time. Instead, they say, that they received an update that implied that unvaccinated guests over age 16 would simply need to follow additional safety protocols. I’ve included the copy of the email under my signature that they say led them to believe they could sail on Aug 1. without being fully vaccinated.

We have a large audience of cruisers, so, in the interest of those passengers, we want to make sure that we’re making it very clear what cruisers should expect as the industry sets sail again.

Lastly, given the somewhat unclear instructions to this couple, would your team consider offering them a future cruise credit? Thank you. 🚢😊 (Michelle to Celebrity)

What does Celebrity’s silence mean?

Now, a week later, it’s clear that Celebrity doesn’t intend to discuss Maxwell’s case. I assume that this means there are parts of Maxwell’s experience that the cruise line doesn’t want to comment on. But in the last contact with the cruise line, the representative reiterated to him that Celebrity would offer no refund or credit. And we still have no clarity as to why Celebrity allowed this couple onboard the Equinox without the required vaccination documentation.

The Celebrity website says that “Proof of vaccination records will be recorded and may be reviewed for signs of fraud.” So I asked Maxwell if he was certain that at check-in he told the cruise agents that he only had the first dose of Moderna and that his vaccine card only showed one dose.

“I absolutely told them we only had one dose,” Maxwell told me.

Unfortunately, without Celebrity weighing in, we have no way of knowing what happened here. It’s a strange story, to be sure. But I’ve reached the end of what our team can do for this couple.

The bottom line: If you aren’t planning on getting vaccinated against the coronavirus or you’re only partially vaccinated, you should forget about cruising in 2021. All of the major cruise lines require passengers 12 and over to be fully vaccinated two weeks before departure at this time.

For Maxwell’s part, he says he will continue to fight on.

We work very hard for our money, and to have it stolen like this should be illegal. We won’t give up on this.

Fact: You can’t cruise without being vaccinated. Here’s what you need to know

  1. Check the vaccination requirements of your cruise line.
    Don’t check vaccination requirements only one time! Check them over and over and over. Cruising and entry requirements to international destinations are constantly changing. If you choose to travel during this most precarious time, you’ll need to commit to additional travel planning steps. Checking, checking, and cross-referencing are required for a successful journey right now. Oh, and did I mention checking again and again?
  2. Consult with the CDC
    You’ll always want to consult with the CDC before you plan an international adventure during the pandemic. It’s important to note that the CDC continues to recommend that travelers not set off on cruise adventures right now, even if fully vaccinated.
  3. Check the State Department before your cruise.
    The Department of State continues to provide warnings about cruising during the pandemic. To be clear: The State Department does not recommend cruising at this time because of the threat of the coronavirus.
  4. Consult with your physician
    Make sure you’re healthy and can travel. Your physician is the best source to discuss whether a cruise is right for you in 2021 — vaccinated or not. Before you set off on any trip, you should consult with your doctor. Be sure to get your physician’s medically-based guidance about your ability to travel. Never rely on Facebook and other social media “doctors” to make decisions that could literally cost you your life.

Here are the most current vaccination requirements for the major cruise lines

Keep in mind, as entry requirements to foreign countries change, the cruise lines will need to adjust their vaccination requirements. You must check your cruise line’s and destination requirements right up until it’s time to head to the port.

These are the most up-to-date vaccination cruising requirements for the major carriers.

  • Princess Cruises
    For sailings through Dec. 31, 2021, Princess Cruises passengers are required to be fully vaccinated at least 14 days before embarkation. Princess requires guests to have proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test at check-in (performed within two days of embarkation). Any guest who can’t or won’t be vaccinated will not be permitted to cruise at this time. As of Sept. 4, 2021, NCL says “Pre-cruise testing and additional health screenings will be conducted at the terminal for extra measure.”
  • Norwegian Cruise Line
    For cruises through Dec 31, 2021, NCL guests must provide proof of vaccination completed at least 14 days before boarding. Passengers also need to bring documentation of a negative COVID test done not more than three days before embarkation. Until further notice, children who aren’t old enough to receive a vaccination against COVID can’t cruise.
  • Royal Caribbean
    For all sailings, Royal Caribbean requires guests over age 12 to be fully vaccinated at least 14 days before departure. At this time, Royal Caribbean expects to keep this requirement in place through Nov.1, 2021. Note: Because of the stance against vaccine requirements for cruisers by the governor of Florida, August sailings from Florida had murkier guidelines. As of September 1, the rules are clear — all passengers 12 and above must prove that they’ve been fully vaccinated. All guests ages 2 and above must also provide negative COVID test results completed within three days of sailing. Note: For cruises departing after Sept. 13, passengers will need to have a negative COVID test taken within 2 days of sailing.
  • Viking Cruises
    “Until further notice, Viking requires all guests to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus at least 14-days before cruising.” Guests must provide this vaccination proof to Viking at least 14-days before sailing. “Any guest who fails to comply with the vaccination and documentation requirements will be denied boarding without refund, credit, or compensation.” It appears that at this time, Viking requires its passengers to take a complimentary COVID PCR test before embarkation. It’s critical to review the entry requirements for all ports of call on your itinerary.
  • Carnival
    Carnival requires guests 12 and older to be fully vaccinated at least 14 days before departure. However, Carnival appears to be one of the only cruise lines considering issuing medical exemptions for guests who can’t be vaccinated. It’s critical that passengers who intend to request an exemption read through the requirements very carefully. Carnival will not grant all exemptions, so travelers should not assume the cruise line will approve their application. There are a variety of additional requirements and restrictions for unvaccinated guests who receive the waiver. Additionally, all Carnival passengers over age 2 must present a negative COVID test within 72 hours of departure regardless of their vaccination status. Note: For cruises departing after Sept. 13, passengers must have a negative COVID test performed within 2 days of embarkation.
  • Celebrity
    Celebrity requires all guests 12 and older to be fully vaccinated at least 14 days before boarding their cruise. Each week, more countries are requiring proof of negative coronavirus status for entry. So it’s a good idea to schedule a test before departure, whether your sailing requires it or not. Note: For cruises departing after Sept. 13, guests will need a negative COVID test completed within 2 days of their sailing (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Elliott Advocacy)

Finally, it’s important to note that all cruise lines have the same policy on this topic. It’s always the passenger’s responsibility to know and meet all of the requirements for cruising. No refunds or credits are provided when a would-be cruiser doesn’t have the proper health or ID documents to sail. Now more than ever, it’s imperative that travelers read all the documentation sent from the cruise line. If you don’t, you could end up spending thousands of dollars for a vacation you’ll never take. And that’s no fun at all.😢

*Last updated on Sept. 4 to reflect the new COVID testing requirements for most cruise lines that will go into effect on Sept. 13.

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