Potential Volunteer Cruise Passenger? Here’s What To Expect

With the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention releasing more guidelines for the cruise industry to restart, it has also published a set of guidelines for so-called volunteer cruises, which will be between two and seven days in length.


  • Cruise lines will need to test embarkation and disembarkation procedures, as approved by U.S. port and local health authorities as part the cruise ship operator’s Phase 2A agreements, including procedures for terminal check-in.
  • Cruise lines will need to run all regular onboard activities, including seating and meal service at dining and entertainment venues.
  • Passengers will take part in medical evacuation procedures.
  • The cruise operator will also need to simulator the transfer of symptomatic passengers or crew, or those who test positive for SARS-CoV-2, from cabins to isolation rooms.
  • Onboard and shoreside isolation and quarantine, as per the terms of the cruise ship operator’s Phase 2A agreements, of at least 5% of all passengers and non-essential crew.
  • Recreational activities that the cruise ship operator intends to offer as part of any restricted passenger voyages, e.g., casinos, spa services, fitness classes, gymnasiums.
  • Private-island shore excursions if any are planned during restricted passenger voyages. The following measures must be observed on the private island:
    • Only one ship can dock at the island at any one time.
    • A routine screening testing protocol must be implemented for island staff who are expected to interact with volunteer passengers or crew.
    • Mask use and social distancing must be observed on the island.
  • Port of call shore excursions if any are planned during restricted passenger voyages. The following measures must be observed on port of call shore excursions:
    • Self-guided or independent exploration by passengers during port stops must be prohibited.
    • Shore excursions must only include passengers and crew from the same ship.
    • Cruise ship operator must ensure all shore excursion tour companies facilitate social distancing, mask wearing, and other COVID-19 public health measures throughout the tour.
    • Cruise ship operators must have a protocol for managing persons with COVID-19 and close contacts at all foreign ports of call. 

Other key takeaways:

  • The minimum number of required volunteer passengers for each simulated voyage must be at least 10% of the maximum number of passengers permitted onboard for restricted voyages.
  • The cruise ship operator must advise volunteer passengers of CDC’s Travel Health Notice for COVID-19 and Cruise Ship Travel prior to the simulated voyage. At the cruise ship operators’ discretion, this information can be provided via linking to CDC’s webpage, through email, or written letter to the volunteer passengers.
  • All volunteer passengers must be informed in writing that they are participating in a simulation of health and safety protocols that are unproven and untested in the United States for purposes of simulating a cruise ship voyage and that sailing during a pandemic is an inherently risky activity. 
  • All volunteer passengers must be at least eighteen years old or older on the day of the simulation and at the time that their consent to participate is obtained.
  • The cruise ship operator must ensure all volunteer passengers have either:
    • Proof of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 using an S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-authorized vaccine or a vaccine product that has received emergency use listing from the World Health Organization (WHO); or
    • If not fully vaccinated, written documentation from a healthcare provider or self-certified statement that the volunteer passenger has no medical conditions that would place the volunteer at high risk for severe COVID-19 as determined through CDC guidance.
  • The simulation must be conducted with the signed informed consent of all participants and not as a condition of employment or in exchange for consideration or future reward. 
  • All volunteer passengers must be evaluated for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 prior to embarkation and disembarkation.
  • Cruise ship operators must educate all volunteer passengers about the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and the need to notify cruise ship medical staff immediately if symptoms develop.
  • All volunteer passengers must agree in writing to post-disembarkation specimen collection for COVID-19 testing at 3 to 5 days after completion of the simulated voyage. Cruise ship operators are advised that as a condition of receiving a COVID-19 Conditional Sailing Certificate, at least 75% of all volunteer passengers must provide their post disembarkation specimen to the selected laboratory.

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