The days of bringing unvaccinated kids aboard a cruise are winding down. On Wednesday, Disney Cruise Line became the first cruise company to introduce a vaccine mandate for passengers 5 years old and up.
The policy applies to all sailings departing on or after January 13. Until then, the existing rules — which require children to show a negative PCR test taken before departure – will continue to apply. Under the current restrictions, anyone turning 12 within five weeks of departure dates is given leeway, and it is expected that similar provisions will apply to 5-year-olds celebrating recent birthdays.
Though cruise lines generally require vaccinations for any eligible guests, with unvaccinated people subject to restrictions, no major cruise lines have indicated plans to follow Disney's lead. Only one company, Carnival, responded to requests for comment, saying that a decision to expand the vaccine mandates to include 5-to-11-year-olds would be left up to executives at each of its nine individual cruise lines.
Richard Fain, chief executive officer of Royal Caribbean, has been a vocal supporter of vaccine mandates and has said at media events that he expects to require shots for all customers as they become eligible. No plans, however, have been put into place to expand the company's current policies, which currently cover those age 12 and up.
"Disney Cruise Line's new vaccination mandate for kids is likely to boost consumer confidence from the family segment, which has been largely reluctant to return to cruising post-pandemic," says Lebawit Lily Girma, global tourism reporter at Skift, a travel industry trade publication. "It's likely other cruise lines will follow as cruises plan to resume operations and sailing at larger capacities in 2022."
It remains to be seen how the widened mandate will affect Disney Cruise Line's operations, including allowing the reopening of such popular amenities as its kids' clubs, which are still closed in accordance with Covid-19 protocols. The company's spokesperson did not return requests for comment. For guests who prefer not to comply with the new rules, no-fee cancellations will be allowed until December 1.