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Carnival cruises requiring unvaccinated passengers be insured before boarding

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First cruise ship to leave U.S. port since pandemic returns with groundbreaking captain 01:49

Unvaccinated passengers who want to board a Carnival-owned cruise ship must first buy a travel insurance policy worth at least $10,000, according to a recently announced company rule. 

The insurance requirement takes effect July 31 and applies to excursions leaving from Florida, Carnival said on its booking website. Carnival has four Florida ports, in Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando and Tampa. 

Proof of travel insurance will be required at the time of check-in. The insurance policy must be in the name of the traveling passenger and must feature $10,000 per person in medical expense coverage and $30,000 coverage for emergency medical evacuation "without COVID-19 exclusions," Carnival said. 

The policies are expected to add about $100 to $200 per person to the total costs of a standard cruise, based on a 2020 analysis by LendingTree on the average cost of travel insurance.

Unvaccinated passengers who don't have insurance won't be allowed to board and their ticket purchase won't be refunded, Carnival said. 

Insurance proof will be waived for passengers under age 12, the company said, as the FDA has not yet approved the use of COVID-19 vaccines for children in that age group.

"This policy is consistent with the practices of other lines who are also restarting their operations, and in the best interests of our guests who are unvaccinated," a Carnival spokesperson told CBS MoneyWatch in a statement Tuesday. "This is important coverage to have should they encounter a medical situation during their cruise."

Carnival did not specify how long the rule will be in place.

Cruise ships resume operations in U.S. waters this summer 00:24

Earlier this month, rival cruise line Royal Caribbean unveiled a similar travel insurance requirement for unvaccinated passengers on its Florida-based cruises, in addition to testing and other health protocol requirements. 

Royal Caribbean's rule requires that policies feature a minimum $25,000 of coverage per person for medical expenses and $50,000 for COVID-related quarantine and medical evacuation. Unvaccinated passengers will need policies for trips planned between August 1 to December 31, Royal Caribbean said. 

Travel insurance rules are likely the result of a jurisdictional tug of war between cruise lines and the state of Florida and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said James Hardiman, a travel and leisure industry analyst at Wedbush Securities. 

Carnival and other cruise lines were granted permission by the CDC in April to resume sailing in U.S. waters by mid-summer so long as 95% of customers and 98% of crew are vaccinated against COVID-19. However,  Florida has a law prohibiting companies from requiring that customers be vaccinated against COVID-19. It's a law that Norwegian Cruise Line is legally contesting in Florida. 

"I think the travel insurance — along with other onerous and sometimes expensive hurdles that unvaccinated passengers need to overcome — is a way to strongly encourage passengers to be vaccinated without requiring it," Hardiman said. 

Return to U.S. waters

Insurance mandates are sprouting up as cruise lines are preparing to welcome back travelers for the first time in a year. The cruise line industry suffered multibillion-dollar losses in 2020, but officials are hoping pent-up demand will usher in a profitable summer of 2021. 

Carnival said it lost more than $2 billion in the quarter ended May 31 and has lost more than $14 billion since the coronavirus pandemic began. Chief Financial Officer David Bernstein said the company is burning through $500 million a month to simply stay afloat but its $9.3 billion in cash and short-term investments is enough for it to return to normal operations.

Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean has reported $1.1 billion in losses for the first quarter of 2021 and $5.8 billion in total losses for 2020. The company said it's burning through about $300 million in cash monthly. 

Federal judge blocks CDC's COVID-19 cruise ship restrictions in Florida 06:42

Although vacationers are returning to cruises, the experience hasn't necessarily been smooth sailing.

Last month, Royal Caribbean had to postpone a cruise on its Odyssey of the Seas ship after eight crew members tested positive for COVID-19. Also last month, passengers aboard its Adventure of the Seas and Celebrity Millennium cruise ships tested positive after end-of-cruise testing.

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