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Do I need to get Covid tested before my cruise?

Symphony of the Seas aerial rear

The rules around Covid precautions for cruises change faster than you can say “nose swab.” Travelers find themselves wading through pages of safety protocols, trying to figure out if vaccinated passengers need to get Covid tested before their cruise, who needs a PCR vs. a rapid antigen test, and how long before their sailing they need to get that test.

Vacation prep shouldn’t be this headache-inducing! In this guide, we lay out everything you need to know about getting Covid tested before your cruise.

Do I need to get Covid tested before my cruise?

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Woman taking at home test

Yes. Currently, both vaccinated and unvaccinated cruise travelers need to get Covid tested prior to their cruise. Babies and toddlers younger than 2 years old are exempt from testing requirements.

Most cruise lines now require that passengers get tested before they arrive at the pier, meaning it’s up to you to find a test site and schedule an appointment. Norwegian Cruise Line and Disney Cruise Line operate differently; they do not require advance testing for vaccinated travelers and provide pierside tests to all travelers.

Should I get a PCR or rapid antigen test for cruise travel?

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PCR test

Which test you get depends on whether you’re vaccinated or not. Cruise lines will accept negative test results from either a PCR or a rapid test for vaccinated travelers (the majority of cruisers currently allowed to sail).

Unvaccinated guests must present negative results from a PCR test taken prior to arriving at the embarkation port, and also undergo a rapid test at the pier.

Antibody tests are not accepted by cruise lines at this time.

Related: Got two different Covid vaccines? Cruise lines might not let you sail

When do I need to get Covid tested before my cruise?

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The rules on test timing changed in mid-September 2021 and vary by cruise line. It’s important that you read the fine print to determine the testing window for your specific cruise line and vaccination status.

Carnival, Royal Caribbean, MSC Cruises, Princess Cruises, Holland America, and Celebrity Cruises require vaccinated cruisers to produce negative results from a Covid test taken within two days of cruising. That means if your ship departs on Saturday, you can take the test Thursday or Friday. 

Some lines accept tests taken the day of departure, provided you get the results before you check in for your cruise. Carnival does; Royal Caribbean does not. Check the safety protocol section of your cruise line’s website or your cruise documents for specifics.

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Binax at-home test

Disney Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line do not require a pre-cruise test, but administer a rapid antigen test to cruisers at the pier. Norwegian, which does not allow any unvaccinated guests onboard, recommends that travelers get a PCR, or at least an antigen, test 72 hours before departure, but does not require it.

All cruise lines require that unvaccinated guests (namely children ages 2 through 11) get a PCR test between 24 and 72 hours prior to sailing. In addition, cruise port staff will administer rapid tests to all unvaccinated travelers at the pier prior to embarkation.

Related: Cruise lines that don't require Covid vaccines

Where can I get Covid tested before my cruise?

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Walmart testing site

Where you can get Covid tested depends a lot on where you live. Travelers living in cities or dense residential areas will likely have more options than people who live in more rural locations.

National pharmacy chain CVS offers Covid testing in 45 states, plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Carnival has an agreement with Quest Diagnostics to offer testing at more than 1,500 locations, including at select Walmart and other pharmacies. Disney partners with Inspire Diagnostics to offer Covid testing near its homeports.

Check with your doctor, local pharmacy, urgent care centers, and county or state health department to find out what other testing sites are near you.

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AG card test

In addition, cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean and Carnival accept results from select at-home test kits that are self-administered under the supervision of a telehealth professional. These may only be used by vaccinated guests; home tests are not accepted for unvaccinated children and other travelers.

To be eligible, the home tests must possess emergency use authorization from the FDA, and you must receive documentation of the test results that contains all the necessary information required by the cruise line.

Both Carnival and Royal Caribbean recommend the Abbott BinaxNow Covid-19 Ag Card Home Test, and provide links to order the kits on their websites. Note that the Abbott BinaxNow Covid-19 Antigen Self-Test is not accepted as it is not supervised by a telemedicine specialist.

Disney offers an at-home PCR test for unvaccinated travelers through its partnership with Inspire Diagnostics. Guests who choose this option must complete the test at home and mail back or drop off the test kit three days prior to sailing for a lab technician to review.

Related: What happens when someone tests positive for Covid on my cruise?

What do I show as proof of my negative test result?

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Negative covid test result

Carnival and Royal Caribbean passengers must show proof of negative results, but these results can be printed or digital. We hear that it’s generally more convenient to have a printout that you can keep with your travel documents and pull out as needed. A hand-written doctor’s note is not acceptable proof of your negative Covid status.

The test results must include the following information:

  • Your first and last name
  • Date of birth
  • Name of test administrator (testing facility, healthcare provider, etc.)
  • Type of test (antigen vs. PCR/NAAT)
  • Date and time the test was administered
  • Result, listed as “negative” or “not detected”

Disney Cruise Line guests must upload their negative test results (or their vaccination status) on the company’s Safe Passage website.

Related: CDC warns travelers at high risk of severe Covid-19 to avoid cruises

Carnival Cruise Covid test requirements

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Here are Carnival’s official Covid test requirements.

For vaccinated travelers:

“Effective with sailings as of September 13, 2021, the CDC requires pre-cruise testing for vaccinated guests to be taken within two days prior to the sailing date.”

Carnival had previously considered arranging for testing sites at its terminals, but the logistics proved challenging, and the line did not follow through on that plan.

For unvaccinated travelers:

Unvaccinated travelers must present “a negative PCR COVID-19 test at check-in, taken between 72 and 24 hours prior to the sailing date.... Unvaccinated guests must take an additional antigen test at embarkation, and test again within 24 hours of debarkation on all cruises longer than 4 days. A US$150 per person charge will be assessed to the guest’s onboard Sail and Sign account to cover the cost of testing, reporting and health and safety screenings. Children under two are exempt from testing requirements.”

Royal Caribbean Covid test requirements

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Here are Royal Caribbean’s official Covid test requirements. All pre-cruise tests are taken at the passenger’s expense.

For vaccinated cruisers:

“Vaccinated guests age 12 and older must show a negative COVID-19 test result for a PCR or antigen test taken no more than 2 days before boarding day.”

For unvaccinated cruisers:

“Unvaccinated kids age 2 to 11 must show a negative test result for a PCR or antigen test taken no more than 3 days before boarding day. Kids’ pre-cruise test cannot be taken on boarding day, because that may affect the sample taken during the kids’ test at the terminal. Guests under 2 years of age do not need to complete a pre-cruise test.

“For all cruises, kids will take a complimentary PCR test when checking in at the terminal.”

Norwegian Cruise Line Covid test requirements

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Here are Norwegian’s official Covid test requirements. Note that Norwegian is sailing exclusively with vaccinated passengers at this time.

“All guests will be required to take a COVID-19 antigen test, administered and paid for by the cruise line, prior to boarding and receive a negative result.... We strongly encourage all guests to take a COVID-19 PCR test within 72 hours prior to their sail date as an added precaution. If a PCR test is not readily available, then we encourage guests to at a minimum take a COVID-19 antigen test, prior to travel.”

Disney Cruise Line Covid test requirements

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Here are Disney Cruise Line’s official Covid test requirements. Note that Norwegian is sailing exclusively with vaccinated passengers at this time.

For vaccinated guests:

“Beginning September 13, all Guests, regardless of age and vaccination status, are required to take a COVID-19 test administered by Inspire Diagnostics at the terminal before boarding.”

For unvaccinated guests:

“Guests 11 years of age and younger are not required to be vaccinated, but must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test result (paid for by the Guest) taken between 3 days and 24 hours prior to the date you set sail. The test should be a rapid PCR test or lab-based PCR test. Rapid antigen tests are not accepted.”

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