We are hard at work preparing safe, impactful, and engaging voyages for Fall 2021, Spring 2022, and beyond! To help set up future voyages for success, we are now mandating all voyagers and crew are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Additional details are available below in the FAQ.
The health and safety of our voyagers and crew are the most important considerations on any Semester at Sea voyage. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are continually monitoring and adjusting our protocols to comply with best practice guidelines and recommendations set by the Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization, U.S. State Department, International Maritime Organization and the Cruise Line Industry Association. Guidelines and recommendations are continually evolving as the science and knowledge base grows. ISE will continue to adapt and adhere to all applicable policies and regulations as they are solidified and post updates here. Given the dynamic nature of the pandemic and the global response, all information provided here is subject to change.
Travel and Itinerary Planning
Will future voyages still happen if travel advisories remain in place?
Determining overall voyage viability and which countries we will call on is a complex process involving many internal and external stakeholders. All itineraries are carefully assessed and each destination (and back-up diversion ports) must meet our health, safety and security criteria. Travel advisories are one component of the assessment criteria; however, a given rating does not automatically approve or deny a specific destination.
How are you handling future itinerary planning?
There are many factors we consider with itinerary planning — the health and safety of our voyagers, our crew, faculty and staff and the people of our host destinations being the utmost priority. We will adhere to, or be better than, CDC and WHO regulations and will call on countries that are compliant with these regulations and/or will accept our regulations and practice. While we can’t predict the future, we can (and will!) put plans in place that allow us to be flexible and adapt as our world changes. Published itineraries have always been subject to changes but in the COVID world, voyagers should assume changes will happen.
The benefit of ship-based travel allows for real-time itinerary adjustments. If a port of call does not meet our high standards for health and safety, then we won’t go and we will call on an alternate port that does. It’s as simple as that. Our health and safety criteria are informed by the U.S. Department of State, our private intelligence and security partner, our insurance providers, our medical staff, and our local partners on the ground in each port of call. Every voyage itinerary is planned with alternate back-up-ports in mind in case we need to divert.
COVID-19 isn't going away... how can I be sure future voyages will be safe?
It will take time for the world to continue adapting to our new reality of living with COVID-19 and for the best practices for preventing and treating the disease to be refined. This is one reason why Semester at Sea has chosen to cancel two voyages. Our staff will be planning and bench-marking off of best practices identified in higher education, the travel industry as a whole, and the cruise industry specifically. Semester at Sea is uniquely situated as a member of each of these industries and relies on expertise from each of them to help guide our health and safety decision-making.
During the voyage, all public areas and surfaces will be disinfected multiple times a day by our dedicated crew.
In April, the World Odyssey ventilation systems will be upgraded to allow constant fresh air exchange, minimizing recirculated air. Air filters will also be installed to increase filtration of airborne particles, including viruses and bacteria.
As a ship-based program, Semester at Sea is accountable to full compliance with all policies and guidelines set forth by the International Maritime Organization. By the time SAS sails again, we anticipate ship-based travel will be well underway worldwide and best practices for preventing and responding to COVID-19 will be more fine-tuned with practices that are proven effective.
What will the SAS-provided travel insurance cover related to COVID?
Treatment for pandemic-related illness is covered on the medical side (doctor visits, medication, hospitalization, medical evacuation, etc.)
The policy Semester at Sea provides through CISI (Cultural Insurance Services International) has two components: medical and security. While services deemed medically-necessary ARE covered, security evacuation for fear of catching a pandemic/epidemic illness is NOT covered. This is not a covered occurrence under the benefit due to the exclusion for endemic or epidemic diseases or global pandemic disease (this is not just this case for this policy — most insurance carriers do not consider it something that is insurable, at least not at this time.)
Voyagers are encouraged to read the full policy and consider purchasing additional coverage for items not included (for example, trip interruption/ cancellation if desired.)
The provided travel insurance will cover COVID-19 testing as long as the individual being tested is experiencing symptoms or has been exposed to someone with COVID-19. There is no limit on the number of times someone can be tested (as long as they are experiencing symptoms or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.)
How do we anticipate future voyages will look different?
While we can’t predict the trajectory of this pandemic nor how the science will evolve to inform decision-making, we can all assume that the next SAS voyage will look different than past voyages.
One of the reasons SAS has decided to cancel two voyages is to allow time for the best practices in prevention and treatment to become more fine-tuned and proven effective. We will be closely following lessons-learned as other organizations in higher education, travel/study abroad, and the cruise industry navigate restarting.
Even in the presence of a potential vaccine, we are planning for the following:
- The capacity of the ship will be reduced to a smaller number than normal to allow for appropriate social distancing.
- Social distancing will be very important at all times when on the ship so capacity in all public spaces and rooms will be reduced to allow for a minimum of 1.5 meters/5 feet of social distancing.
- There will be required and ongoing education and training of all crew and passengers regarding signs and symptoms of significant illnesses, reporting them in a timely manner, and how to prevent and reduce the spread of illness.
- Food will be served by restaurant crew to voyagers from behind the buffet to limit contact with utensils.
- Dining hall tables will be spaced for proper social distancing.
- It is most likely that meal seating times will be assigned to voyagers.
- The MV World Odyssey has ample outdoor dining options which will be utilized as much as possible.
- Public areas and cabins will have continuous fresh air exchange and a Merv 13 filtration system will be installed.
- Field Programs and Field Classes will be carefully planned with approved Tour Operators to ensure safe protocols are in place in each port including hygiene, mask wearing, social distancing and venue/activity planning.
- The potential for modifications to the program structure to allow for more effective contact tracing and exposure management.
As evidenced by our decision to cancel two voyages, ISE is committed to running a program that exceeds health and safety standards and stays true to our mission. SAS will sail again. It will look different (just as everything in our lives is now looking different), but it will still be the transformative adventure of a lifetime. Semester at Sea is committed to remaining the leader in comparative, international experiential travel.
How will in country travel and Field Programs be affected?
We can reasonably expect that being able to travel independently or with others in some of the countries we visit will be permitted by those countries. We can also reasonably expect that some countries will welcome us to disembark in their country and explore, but only on organized SAS Field Programs or Field Classes.
Semester at Sea will be monitoring all countries on the itinerary and the Voyage Leadership team will keep you informed as far ahead of arrival as possible in each country relative to what the specific rules or requirements will be. Field Programs and Field Classes will be carefully planned with approved Tour Operators to ensure safe protocols are in place in each port including hygiene, mask wearing, social distancing and venue/activity planning.
What if a Semester at Sea voyage is canceled at any point prior to embarkation?
If a Semester at Sea voyage is cancelled prior to embarkation, all participants will receive a full refund of all program fees paid to the Institute for Shipboard Education. Note: Application Fees are not refundable. However, students and Lifelong Learners may transfer to a future voyage, pending cabin availability, at no additional cost. All other external expenses related to international travel such as passport and visa fees, immunizations, and flights are not included in our refund policy.
Review the full cancellation and refund policy (section 3c) of the Participant Contract here.
What if a Semester at Sea voyage itinerary is modified due to COVID-19 or any other reason?
If a port diversion is needed for any reason during an active Semester at Sea voyage, every effort is made to replace a missed port with the Diversion Ports listed under each voyage on our website. Program Fees are not refunded in the case of an itinerary adjustment. Any in-country travel booked through Semester at Sea will be fully refunded. In-port excursions and flights purchased through third-party providers are not refundable through Semester at Sea; participants should consider travel insurance.
Review the full cancellation and refund policy (section 3c) of the Participant Contract here.
Health & Safety Procedures
Will masks be required on future voyages?
At this time, we anticipate wearing masks will be mandatory when not outside on the decks, in your cabin, or eating in the restaurants.
What are the medical services and capabilities like on the ship?
Trained Medical Staff
One of the great parts about studying abroad with Semester at Sea is that you travel with a team of U.S. licensed health professionals ready to support you 24/7 no matter where you are in the world.
While sailing, the clinic is staffed by two MDs, two nurses, and two additional high-level medical providers (MD, DO, PA, or NP). There is a provider call system in place, so help is always available. In addition, Semester at Sea has made the decision to add 1 additional physician to the medical team onboard to manage the coronavirus prevention, testing and treatment protocols.
The clinic aboard the MV World Odyssey is staffed with U.S. licensed health professionals and is equipped to handle common emergencies, urgent cases, & provide short-term follow-up for exacerbation of chronic conditions. The facility is most consistent with that of an urgent care clinic in the United States or Europe. We are capable of stabilizing voyagers with severe respiratory distress, including that seen with COVID-19. This includes oxygenation, intubation, and ventilation with a transport ventilator before an emergency evacuation is commenced.
Going forward, the medical clinic will have improved and enhanced medical equipment and PPE for treating critically ill patients with COVID-19 or other serious illnesses. The clinic will be redesigned to separate and treat those passengers with suspected infectious diseases from those without.
The clinic is not established to take the place of a primary care provider & participants are instructed to bring ample supplies of the home medications with instructions for appropriate use for the entire voyage. If evolving medical conditions cannot be adequately addressed at the clinic, we work with numerous health care partners to meet the medical needs of the voyager in port. Occasionally, there are emergent needs that require a voyager to return home for additional medical care to ensure their safe recovery.
In cases requiring advanced and/or emergent medical attention, the onboard health team works closely with our international crisis management partners to determine the most viable course of action (including helicopter evacuation.)
How will the medical screening process work in the future? What if I'm at high risk for severe illness from COVID?
All voyagers must visit their primary care physician and complete a health history form within six months of embarkation. Each health history form is reviewed by our medical staff on an individual and confidential basis and follow-ups are conducted as required.
Acceptance to sail with Semester at Sea is made on an individual, case-by-case basis. ISE does reserve the right to deny participation to any individual deemed too high-risk to sail for their own good or the good of the shipboard community.
Individuals in COVID-19 high-risk categories (such as age 70 or older, immunocompromised, or those with chronic diseases such as heart, lung, liver, or kidney disease, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, or cancer) are encouraged to apply for future voyages. These individuals, however, will require a higher level of screening by our medical team and will need current documentation from their private physician regarding their ability to travel.
During the voyage, all participants should anticipate additional and frequent screenings and testing according to the best practices for prevention and treatment available at the time.
Can we/will we test every participant before they get on the ship?
The MV World Odyssey will have COVID-19 testing capabilities on the ship, and all voyagers and crew will be tested prior to boarding and multiple times throughout the voyage.
In addition, all voyagers and crew will have their temperature taken every day while at sea and all individuals boarding the ship, including passengers, crew, vendors, immigration officials, etc. will be screened for symptoms consistent with COVID-19 (or other infectious diseases) and have their temperature taken upon boarding.
SAS will continue to monitor this evolution and adapt the program accordingly as required (without compromising our commitment to our mission!)
What happens if someone tests positive for COVID-19?
While vaccinations can prevent severe disease, no vaccine is 100% effective. Considering this, and the evolution of virus variants, it is still possible for vaccinated participants to test positive for COVID-19 during their voyage. Voyagers should plan and adjust their expectations knowing there is the possibility, though much less likely post-vaccine, that they could have to self-isolate or quarantine either on the ship or in port.
We do not yet have specific details to share regarding shipboard and/or in-port isolation and quarantine policies as the science and data evolves, so do the projected COVID-19 cruise ship policies. We currently have allocated nine cabins onboard reserved exclusively for the purpose of self-isolation/quarantine if needed. The cruise industry will be subject to specific protocols for how all ships must handle positive cases. We anticipate these protocols will mirror the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, but could be more conservative given the nature of ship-based travel. As CDC and cruise industry regulations become available, Semester at Sea must be in 100% compliance with those regulations and we will share updated policies and procedures with voyage participants.
If a COVID-19 positive voyager is required to self-isolate or quarantine, either on the ship or in port, Semester at Sea will ensure the voyager is well-cared for. Voyagers will be monitored and supported by our shipboard medical team throughout their diagnosis and recovery. We will also have dedicated staff to support the voyager including helping them to remain connected to the program (coursework, extracurricular programming, etc.) and facilitating reunification with the shipboard community. Specific arrangements with each port will be secured ahead of time so a plan for shore-based treatment, recovery and repatriation home (or return to the ship) will be well known to the captain and crew in advance if required.
Semester at Sea has been managing student health situations for more than 57 years. We have carefully designed our itinerary to ensure access to medical services. Our partnership with AXA Travel Insurance provides for the care of sick or injured students in-country and their return home or their return to the ship, when the time is right. Students may opt for additional insurance protection through Semester at Sea that refunds 75% of program fees and tuition if they are advised to medically withdraw from the program. More information about these insurance products will be available as the voyage approaches.
Are there medical facilities in each port that can treat COVID-19 should I acquire it during the voyage?
Through our contract with CISI (Cultural Insurance Services International), Semester at Sea receives medical capability briefings for each country prior to arrival from AXA Assistance. These briefings provide lists of preferred medical facilities that indicate they have been vetted by their local representatives to provide quality and reliable care. These preferred facilities also have an established direct-bill arrangement with AXA to assist with prompt care and logistical response.
In the event that on-site medical care does not meet the needs of an individual (related to COVID-19 or otherwise), AXA would coordinate a transfer to another facility that can meet the needs.
Will a COVID-19 vaccine be required on Semester at Sea voyages? What if I’ve already recovered from COVID-19?
Yes, beginning with the Fall 2021 Voyage, proof of Covid-19 vaccination is now a sailing requirement. This requirement is in place to help protect our shipboard community, (including students, Lifelong Learners, faculty, staff, and crew) and the residents of the countries we visit and to help lay the foundation for a successful voyage.
This policy is currently in place for all future voyages and there are no exceptions to this policy. You must be vaccinated regardless of whether you already had COVID-19. View CDC Frequently Asked Vaccine Questions here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/faq.html
While we know that most voyagers do not have access to a vaccine at the time of this initial announcement, based on continuing research done by our medical consultants and reported by medical authorities on inoculation timelines, we anticipate that the majority of all voyagers will have access to the vaccine by this summer. We will continue to communicate with all voyagers as updated timelines and documentation requirements become available.
Which vaccine should I get?
All participants on upcoming voyages will need documentation indicating they have received the recommended dose (or dosages) and any recommended boosters of a COVID-19 vaccine approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), or the European Medicines Agency (EMA). If voyagers do not have access to a FDA or EMA-approved vaccine and/or boosters, our Medical Team will review alternate vaccines on a case-by-case basis.
Semester at Sea is not requiring or recommending a specific vaccine (e.g. Johnson & Johnson vs. Moderna vs. Pfizer-BioNTech, etc.). The current recommendation is to get any one of the approved vaccines as soon as you are able.
Examples of initial enhanced COVID-19 preventative protocols (on top of routine best practices) include:
* Future voyage protocols may vary, depending on the state of the virus (and any other public health concerns).