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How To Prepare For Your 72-Hour Pre Cruise Covid Test

covid antigen rapid testing

There is a lot of anxiety about the requirement to have a negative COVID-19 test 72 hours before a cruise and frankly what seems like a simple task can be quite complicated. At this point, most of us have had at least one covid test since the pandemic began and so fundimentally this one shouldn't be much different. Unfortuantely that just isn't true since you have false positives and false negatives that could result in you having to forfeit your vacation plans at the last minute. Here are some ways that you can prepare so that this process is less stressful and less likely to prevent you from embarking on your cruise.

Let's get this out of the way first - 72-hours is an arbitrary number and unfortunately doesn't even take into consideration that travelers may actually become infected DURING their travel to the ship. However, it is something that is important to take seriously as it can help prevent others from becoming sick if you discover you are infected. Luckily there are many places that you can get rapid tests today, including most pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS as well as locations inside many major airports. 

Unfortunately if you discover a day or two before sailing that you have tested positive, it may simply be too late to do anything about it. As such, our first piece of advice is ...

Be As Safe As Possible For A Week (or two) Before Traveling

Even if you are vaccinated and feel like the virus poses minimal risk to your health, you can still test positive. We don't make the rules, but we need to follow them if a cruise vacation is in our future. This means that you should avoid family gatherings, wear a mask wherever you might interact with people, and practice all those other social distancing measures that we've become familiar with.

Get A Tested Before The 72-Hour Window

Our recomendation is that you should get a test at least 72- hours before you depart for your cruise, even if you won't be embarking till sooner. For instance, if you are flying to Seattle for an Alaska cruise this year, wouldn't it be better to know a couple week early? If you tested positive, now you can make plans to potentially cancel your trip. While a positive test is NOT nessisarily the end of your vacation, at least you know what the landscape in front of you looks like. We suggest that you actually take your test two weeks ahead of time and then take another within the 72-hour window. This way you know that you are healthy at the time of the first test and can be even more safe in those weeks leading up to your vacation.

If your test does turn out to be positive, you also now have the option to cancel completely or make sure to isolate completely for two weeks leading up to your departure date. Not only will this help avoid having to cancel your travel plans but it will also help reduce the spread of the pandemic. Unfortunately most people don't realize they are even infected till they begin to show symptoms and those who are vaccinated may never know until they are tested. By getting tested early you can break that cycle.

If Your 72-Hour Before Traveling Test Shows Positive, Don't Freak Out

There are two scenarios there and one of them is simply that the test is a false positive. Unfortunately for many people, by the time they get the results back they are already in the process of traveling to the cruise port. If you do test positive, the first thing you should do is mask up immediately. Protect those around you from any potential spread. Next, talk with your doctor to ask for guidence and recomendations.

We don't recomend that you travel AT ALL if you have a positive test till you have gotten confirmation that it is accurate. However, a single test isn't the end of the line. 

While PCR also known as PCR/NAAT tests will usually take 48-hours to return the results, rapid tests can be returned within hours. Different cruise lines and destinations may have different requirements so make sure to check the individual cruise ship policies to make sure you don't waste your time, money, and emotions on something that isn't right. In addition, guests on many cruise lines will be required to take an additional antigen rapid test in the terminal before boarding. 

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Most cruise lines will require that if you have an initial positive test - either PCR or Antigen - that you will be required to take a secondary PCR test. If that second PCR test also comes back positive you will not be allowed to board. While the standard PCR covid tests take 48 hours (sometimes more) to return, you can often find private facilities that can execute the tests more rapidly. Many of those facilities will cost extra but you should contact your doctor for advice and recomendations if this is the situation you are in.

Cruise Line COVID-19 Testing Policies

Norwegian Cruise Line

Holland America Line

Royal Caribbean

Princess Cruises


If you do test positive before your cruise, most cruise lines will allow you to apply your balance to a future cruise. So that is one less thing to worry about. For additional information, always contact your travel advisor. 

Cruises To Hawaii Are A Different Matter

While cruises from San Diego and Los Angeles to Mexico are pretty easy in terms of vaccine and COVID-19 testing requirements and so are cruises to Alaska from Seattle ... cruises to Hawaii have other testing requirements. While (as of July 8) vaccinated passengers are not required to have a negative test, this could change any time and the state has and continues to tighten restrictions on both unvaccinated as well as vaccinated guests in terms of what can and can't be accessed. However, these visitors will be required to upload their proof of vaccination to the state's website and carry proof of vaccination upon arival as well.


Where To Get A COVID-19 Test Before Your Cruise

Most parts of the country have fast and easy access to covid-19 tests. Most of these will even be free or covered by your insurance. There are also federal programs to cover the cost if you are uninsured. For instance, pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens are a great place to visit since they are easy to get to an are located in most cities where you will be departing from as well as your home town.

CVS's Minute Clinic even has partnered with Norwegian Cruise Line to coordinate testing data and ensure the tests are free to cruise guests. All you will need to do is enter your Guest Reference ID Number and their online form will take care of the rest.


Get Another Test When You Return Home!

While most folks who are vaccinated face very little risk of severe illness, traveling is inherently risky right now in terms of COVID exposure. It is almost guaranteed that if you travel through a major airport or other crowded area that you will be exposed to the virus at some point. That doesn't mean you will become infected and it also doesn't mean you will have any symptoms. However, it is a peace of mind effort that we should all consider upon returning from a trip. 

Likewise, it is a good idea to practice enhanced social distancing as well and wear your mask in public for at least a week after coming home from your cruise. This will help reduce the likelihood that you will inadvertantly spread it to others around you.