Family holidays are a huge part of cruising and hundreds of thousands of children take to the seas each year.  Whether it’s colourful waterslides, kids pools and shows, educational activities, arcades or so much more, many cruise ships are specially made to appeal to families to bring their kids on board.

But thanks to COVID, travelling with kids has suddenly become complicated. In the US, for instance, everywhere apart from Florida ships are required to have 95% of passengers vaccinated. Children are of course the last group to be eligible for their COVID vaccines, particularly kids younger than 12.  This creates a tension between cruise lines wanting families aboard but not wanting large numbers of unvaccinated passengers.

It’s particularly worrying for lines such as Royal Caribbean and Carnival, which have branded themselves as family friendly.

The effect has actually already been felt with two unvaccinated children testing positive on a Royal Caribbean cruise out of Florida on Adventure of the Seas. However, all their close contacts were vaccinated and returned negative results after being tested.

Houston mum and Carnival Cruise customer, Cherish Berryman told Click2Houston of her woes in trying to organise a cruise with her kids after booking for a Houston to Caribbean voyage on Carnival Vista, that left on July 3.

Ms Berryman had been unaware that her kids needed a special waiver, until she was flagged last minute while filling out a health assessment survey.

“I clicked that I was vaccinated and I submitted it, and then it came down to my children and I went to do Ivy’s and it said no because she wasn’t vaccinated because she’s 8-years-old and I was flagged.”

Ms Berryman was then told by Carnival customer service that she had to fill out waivers for her children, but it was too late.

“I said ‘Where?’ She couldn’t tell me where, and then she told me they’re no longer accepting the waivers and they’ve already met the 5% of unvaccinated passengers. She said I could still continue on the cruise, but the girls could not sail.”

“There should be a lot of different alerts and reminders for something that important as a waiver that can ruin a trip if it’s not filled out,” said Ms Berryman.

Carnival’s chief communications officer Chris Chiames responded apologetically.

“We know that Ms Berryman and her daughters are disappointed. We are disappointed for them, and we are very sorry that they will not be able to sail with us. We are in the business of giving our guests fun and memorable vacations, and having to cancel reservations is not something we enjoy doing. However, ultimately, we had to do so for a small number of guests because of the requirements we must meet during this initial return to guest operations.”

Perhaps another key takeaway of Ms Berryman’s story is that cruises are going to have more paperwork than you’re used to and you’ll need to keenly read over every detail to make sure you haven’t missed anything crucial.

More to the point, the sad reality is that it appears kids on cruise ships may be a rare sight for some time. This is particularly worrying in Australia where the vaccine rollout is lagging and it’s tough to imagine cruise not only returning, but returning with full families on board anytime soon.

To do the maths, Celebrity Edge recently was the first ship to depart the US in over a year. Celebrity Edge can fit 2900 passengers but was forced to sail at 40% capacity which is 1160 people. Of this 1160, legally 95% had to be vaccinated which is 1102 passengers, leaving room for only 58 unvaccinated children on board. Assuming two children per family, this would mean only 29 families getting to bring their kids on board, a shadow of the family-fun cruising that so many are used to.

This also assumes that lines will even be accepting children, many lines such as Norwegian Cruise Line aren’t accepting children on their returning cruises.

Their website reads: “The safety and security of our guests, crew and communities we visit is our number one priority. In order to provide the safest cruise experience possible, all guests and crew will need to be fully vaccinated for all sailings with embarkation dates prior to October 31, 2021. Therefore, minors who have not yet been eligible to be vaccinated will not be permitted to sail on these voyages. Minors who have been fully vaccinated are welcome to sail.”

It’s extra salt in the wounds for Australian’s who are clamouring for the return of cruise.  When it does return, they might not be able to set sail with their families alongside them.