Cruise Life Magazine Vol. 1 No. 9

November 2021

In This Issue

  • Cruising and Covid-19
  • Duty Free Allowances
  • Travel and Laundry

Cruising In The Age Of Covid


The Covid-19 pandemic literally stopped the cruise industry in its tracks. Cruises were cancelled and ships stood mostly empty often anchored offshore for almost a year or more. Now, nineteen months after the outbreak ships are again taking on passengers and an increasing number of passengers are eager to return to cruising.

Still for the foreseeable future Covid-19 will continue to be a consideration in planning and actually taking cruises. Just recently the American CDC extended their Covid requirements for cruise ships using American ports well into 2022. In addition cruise ships will have to contend with the Covid-19 policies of dozens and dozens of countries and even some individual cities on their itineraries.

Traveling, Vaccinations And Testing

Politicians, governments, bureaucrats, medical experts and companies are now fighting over how strict or how lax policies need to be in order to keep people safe while also preventing the spread of Covid-19. For that reason your plans for taking a cruise may encounter a number of different requirements regarding vaccination, testing and documentation.

Because there is no such thing as a consistent policy from country to country or even from one city to another, you are going to have to do some research regarding the most recent policies just before you go.

There are three simple steps that can help you as you plan:

First you need to get your documents ready and add them to your passport or cruise packet. Americans need to have a CDC Covid Vaccination card for most international travel and if you don’t have one chances are you’re not leaving the country or getting on that cruise ship*1.

Next you need to research where to get your Covid tests, how much they cost and how long does it take to get results. Basically there are two major categories of tests, the PCR test and the Antigen test. You need to know about getting both since the required test can be different depending on the country visited as well as how recently the negative test can be for entry.

Finally you should create a file for all the places you’re going, what the requirements are for vaccination proof and tests and time requirements. You will need to update this information regularly before your travel date.

Getting To The Cruise Port

If you’re cruising out of the United States the process isn’t complicated. As of right now domestic air travel has little restrictions as there is no requirement for a Covid test or proof of vaccination to fly domestically to 49 of the 50 States (Hawaii is the exception).

One consideration is the possibility of having a positive test result upon returning to the United States. Currently the CDC rule requires you to quarantine in the port if your plan was to fly or take public transportation home. If you plan included driving home you will be permitted to head home with a warning that you must quarantine at home.

For international flights you will need to prove that you meet the destination countries testing and/or vaccination requirements before you can board your flight..

Embarking On Your Cruise

Most U.S. based cruise lines are now doing antigen tests in the terminal at the time of boarding. A positive test will normally keep you from boarding the cruise. During the cruise you are also likely to be required to get more antigen tests as well as a final test the day before disembarking. In most cases the tests are at no charge to the passengers.

During the cruise each port of call will have there own Covid requirements. Some will require a recent negative test while others require passengers coming ashore to stay on cruise organized tour. There are also some cruises that are concerned about U.S. CDC requirements for returning to the United States and work at keeping their passengers inside a Covid free bubble. That means only going ashore in cruise organized tour.

Covid Policy And Life On Board

On board the ship you can expect to experience mask wearing requirements and social distancing rules. No sitting at tables next to another occupied table, seats at shows and in lounges will require empty seats between passengers and keeping six feet apart in lines. Longer cruises with a few days of negative test results will usually relax these requirements. Should you test positive during the cruise you will usually be quarantined in your statement and your fellow passengers will be subjected to additional tests. At disembarkation you will have to follow CDC rules.

Looking To The Future

Looking back a year most of us thought the pandemic would be mostly over by now and the cruise business would be getting back to normal. At present, with a few exceptions, the cruise destinations being offered are still fairly limited. The Mediterranean and the Caribbean are the majority of the offerings over the next few months with Alaska cruises starting up in the Spring.

Going forward we can expect two or three possibilities. First we could see Covid really begin to burn itself out. This would be the fastest way to return to normal but unfortunately with outbreaks still popping up around the world this is looking less likely over the next year.

Another possibility is that the medical world continues to get better at dealing with Covid, rendering it a non-lethal viral disease like seasonal flu and the cruise industry approaches Covid very much like it handles the Norwalk virus – serious onboard but manageable. There is enough pent up demand from people wanting to get back to cruising that this is a likely possibility.

Finally things could improve only marginally going forward with sporadic, serious outbreaks continuing around the world with this becoming the new normal. In this scenario the cruise business will continue to offer more cruises, passengers will keep book cruises while demand grows more slowly and everyone will have to adapt constantly changing itineraries and associated travel plans.

What will most likely happen is a blend of the above scenarios but we will all have to learn to adapt to tomorrow’s new normal.

U.S. Customs Duty-Free Policy

Now that Caribbean cruising is starting up again a lot of passengers are planning on taking advantage of Caribbean duty free liquor policies. Unfortunately there is a lot of misinformation regarding what is allowed and while making a mistake can cost a bit in extra duty it can also cost you a lot of time while the agents try and figure out the duty and fill out forms. Following are the current policies on bringing back purchases from foreign countries duty free, especially liquor and tobacco in what amounts and from where.

Duty-Free Exemption

The duty-free exemption, also called the personal exemption, is the total value of merchandise you may bring back to the United States without having to pay duty. You may bring back more than your exemption, but you will have to pay duty on it. In most cases, the personal exemption is $800 ($1,600 from U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, or Guam). There are limits on the amount of alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, cigars, and other tobacco products you may include in your duty-free personal exemption. The differences are explained in the section below regarding alcohol.

The duty-free exemption (Generally $800) applies if:

  • The items are for your personal or household use or intended to be given as gifts.
  • They are in your possession, that is, they accompany you when you return to the United States. Items to be sent later may not be included in your $800 duty-free exemption. (Exceptions apply for goods sent from Guam or the U.S. Virgin Islands.)
  • They are declared to Customs and Boarder Patrol CBP. If you do not declare something that should have been declared, you risk forfeiting it. If in doubt, declare it.
  • You are returning from an overseas stay of at least 48 hours. For example, if you leave the United States at 1:30 p.m. on June 1, you would complete the 48-hour period at 1:30 p.m. on June 3. This time limit does not apply if you are returning from Mexico or from the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • You have not used all of your exemption allowance, or used any part of it, in the past 30 days. For example, if you go to England and bring back $150 worth of items, you must wait another 30 days before you are allowed another $800 exemption.

How much alcohol can I bring back?

How much alcohol can I bring back from a U.S. insular possession (U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, or Guam) duty-free?

As long as the amount does not exceed what that state considers a personal quantity*, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will allow you to enter the U.S. with up to five liters of alcohol duty-free as part of you exemption – as long as at least four liters were purchased in those insular possessions (U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa or Guam), and at least one of them is a product of that insular possession. Additional bottles will be subject to a flat duty rate of 1.5% and subject to Internal Revenue Service taxes which needs to be calculated based on alcohol content and volume.

Please note, only one liter of alcohol purchased in a cruise ship’s duty-free shop is eligible for a duty-free exemption unless at least one bottle purchased on board is the product of an eligible Caribbean Basin country**, then you will be allowed two liters duty free. If you buy five liters of alcohol in – say – the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), and one of them is the product of the USVI, then you would have reached your duty-free limit. Any additional purchases made on board in a duty-free shop would be subject to CBP duty and an IRS tax.

If you buy four bottles in the USVI, one of which is a product of the USVI, then you could purchase one additional bottle from the onboard duty-free, and it would be eligible for duty-free entry.

If you have not exceeded your duty free exemption, you are no longer required to complete a customs declaration. As you pass through immigration you will be questioned about your purchases. If they include alcohol, be sure to have your purchase receipts readily available. The Officer may want to see them as proof of where the purchases were made. Place of purchase as well as quantity determine whether duty and taxes will be charged.

* Most States restrictions on the amount of alcohol that can be brought into that State apply only to residents of that State. Usually people transiting a state are not subject to those restrictions, but sometimes regulations change, and if this is a matter of utmost importance to you, you can check with the state Alcohol Beverage Control Board where you will be arriving to find out what their policies are.

** Most Caribbean Basin countries are considered beneficiary countries for purposes of this exemption. (Anguilla, Caymen Islands, Guadeloupe, Martininque and Turks and Caicos are not eligible)

Tobacco products allowance

In accordance with 26 U.S.C. § 5702(c), “tobacco products” means cigars, cigarettes, smokeless tobacco (snuff or chewing tobacco), pipe tobacco, and roll-your-own tobacco.

Returning resident travelers may import tobacco products only in quantities not exceeding the amounts specified in the personal exemptions for which the traveler qualifies (not more than 200 cigarettes and 100 cigars if arriving from other than a beneficiary country and insular possession).

Once every 31 days, a resident returning from travel from American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), or the Virgin Islands of the United States may import 1,000 cigarettes (5 cartons), not more than 200 of which acquired elsewhere than in such locations, within the returning resident’s $1,600 exemption from duty and taxes.

Cruising TipsCloths & Laundry

Having enough clean clothes while traveling can be a problem. If you’re on a ship, laundry services can be pretty costly although “frequent cruisers” on some lines get free or reduced pricing on a limited amount of laundry. If you’re traveling on your own, you may be able to get laundry services at your hotel but that also comes at a premium price. The other alternative is to find a laundromat (more common in the US then overseas) and spend a few hours washing, drying and folding.

A better solution is to travel with clothes that wash and dry quickly. There are any number of brands on the market that are lightweight and can be washed in a sink and then hung to dry in the bathtub/shower. The advantage here is that these clothes take up less room in your suitcase, generally wrinkle little or not at all and, because they can be quickly washed, you can pack fewer items.

Three great products to help you handle your own laundry are a universal sink stopper, travel size packs of detergent and an inflatable hanger. The sink stopper is necessary when you end up with a sink that doesn’t have a good stopper. The travel size detergent packs take up little space and, because they are single use, they can be disposed of as you use them. The travel hanger takes almost no space and can be blown up when needed and then deflated when it’s time to move on.

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