Sorting Out Conflicting Regulations

If you’d like to know see a bureaucratic nightmare is like, try looking up COVID vaccination requirements for a multi-country trip. My friends and I are now less than 120 days from a Disney Cruise around three countries in Western Europe before heading across “the pond” to Bermuda and New York City. This has been quite the research project, especially for someone who would prefer to focus on the fun aspects of the cruise. Still, if I want to get on and off the boat, I have to sort through a lot of web sites. This matter could have been solved by some direct and simple guidance from Disney. Instead, my fellow passengers and I get the research project.

Starting with the Basics

I’m honestly not that worried about COVID-19 right now. My willingness to engage in non-essential travel more or less demonstrates that. What’s been concerning me and my traveling companions is what we need to do to make sure we are all compliant with the appropriate rules and regulations regarding traveling to our various ports of call.

The Disney Cruise Line (DCL) did provide guidance for boarding their ship. The page includes information about all the measures DCL is taking to reduce the risk of COVID exposure on their ships. The key prompts for understanding the mechanics of what to do about COVID are: COVID Vaccination, COVID-19 Testing, and Face Coverings.

DCL provides reasonably straightforward standards for what they mean by “vaccinated.” When it comes to face coverings, they are now optional for all indoor locations on the ship and not required outdoors. Good so far.  Where things start to go off the rails is when you click on the drop-down window for information about COVID-19 Testing. You get a notice (early on, for which I applaud them) stating, “Testing requirements for sailing out of Europe differ.” You can then click on a prompt reading, “Learn more.”

On the “Know Before You Go” page for Europe, you’re again provided with information on what they consider “vaccinated” for boarding a Disney ship in a European port. You are also informed that you have to provide proof of your vaccination status or proof of a negative COVID-19 test via a company called Prenetics (more on that in a moment).

That would seem to cover things, right? Not so fast.

If you scroll past the Prenetics notice, you’ll see another section titled “Country-specific Government Entry Requirements.” The first two paragraphs of this section will start you further down the rabbit hole:

Certain European countries may have COVID-19 vaccination, testing and documentation requirements for entry that are independent of and in addition to Disney Cruise Line’s health and safety protocols.

For example, some countries may require a COVID-19 booster dose to enter the destination or port of call if the Guest’s final COVID-19 vaccine was administered more than 270 days before arrival. In these instances, Guests should consider completing a booster dose at least 14 days before arrival into the country.

And then there’s this innocuous paragraph, which reduced my satisfaction with DCL tremendously:

Guests are responsible for checking and meeting all requirements or restrictions that may be in place for travel to any homeport or port of call that is part of their cruise itinerary. Guests who do not meet the country-specific government entry requirements may be unable to reach their point of embarkation to board their cruise, or unable to debark the ship at certain ports of call or their final destination.

What this reads like to me is a polite way of saying, “You need to look up each country’s rules and regulations. If you can’t figure them out and are denied the right to leave or reboard the ship, too bad.”

Below this are links to specific countries’ rules, including Spain, Italy, Denmark, and England. Links to rules France and Bermuda, two destinations included on our itinerary, are not included. What is one to think? That there are no special requirements for those locations? I won’t get into the intricacies of the individual countries’ rules, but just the site for Spain caused me to do more digging and head scratching than I expected. I finally decided to go to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for their guidance on the UK, France, Spain, and Bermuda. Those pages included further guidance links from the U.S. State Department (UK example here). Digging another layer down, I found that I needed to get a COVID test within 24 hours of leaving the country! That would have been a helpful fact for Disney to include on their site!

Things didn’t get much simpler when I clicked on the link to see about the prescreening to be performed by Preneetics. You have to create an account with Prenetics within 15 days of your sailing date. Their site has information for obtaining a PCR testing kit from Disney’s medical partner in Spain, but there’s nothing about any other port, such as Dover in the United Kingdom, where we are scheduled to depart. I might find information about what to do. I had to reread the Disney site and the Prenetics site to figure out that you need to submit proof that you are already vaccinated (but not sick or symptomatic) or have had a letter from a doctor saying that you have recovered from COVID and been COVID-free for 90 days. It seems that I still need to get tested for COVID at the port in Dover because they provide the following distinction in system responses:

What is the difference between clear to arrive and clear to sail?
Clear to arrive means that you’ll need to do an antigen test with us when you arrive. Clear to sail means that your Proof of 90-Day Recovery has been approved, so you do not need to do an antigen test at the port.

So from this it seems–and I could very well be wrong–that if you’ve been sick and recovered, you can just walk on board, while if you’re healthy and vaccinated, you’ll have to get tested for COVID at the port. That seems backward to me.

Lessons Learned

The technical writing point here is that there is a LOT of language on the site regarding what you need to do to prove you’re safe to board a Disney ship in Europe…and that was just on the Disney site. If you do the proper due diligence, you quickly discover a lot more reading that you have to do…and not all of the guidance is clear. However, it seems quite clear that if you don’t do all this reading, you might find yourself not enjoying a European cruise on the Disney Cruise Line. Maybe it’s better on other cruise lines, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Consider this a plea for help from the traveling public, Disney: Make it clear what we need to do, when, and where. Not everyone is as interested in reading regulations as I am, they just want to go on vacation.

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About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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