CDC Issues Details for Cruise Lines to Begin Test Cruises and Apply to Restart

It appears the restart of U.S. cruising is now on a bit clearer path. Late Wednesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released more guidance for cruise ships undertaking simulated voyages with volunteer passengers as part of the COVID-19 Conditional Sailing Certificate application.

"With the issuance of these documents, cruise ship operators now have all the necessary requirements and recommendations they need to start simulated voyages before resuming restricted passenger voyages," the CDC said in a press release. The cruise lines can avoid those simulated voyages entirely if 98 percent of passengers and 95 percent of crew have received the full COVID-19 vaccination at least 14 days prior to embarkation. 

And, for the first time, the CDC released its COVID-19 Conditional Sailing Certificate application, which the agency called "the final step before cruises can restart as 'restricted passenger voyages.'"

Initial Industry Reaction 

On Wednesday night, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) said it was reviewing the new details provided by the CDC, as did Carnival Corporation, the world's biggest cruise company.

"The technical instructions issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on May 5 confirm that there is a lot of work to do in order to achieve the goal of sailing from U.S. ports this summer," a spokesperson for CLIA told Travel Agent. "We appreciate the CDC’s expressed commitment to this goal and look forward to further discussions on the details of the instruction, including a better understanding of how predominantly vaccinated passengers and crew can accelerate a return to service. Meanwhile, nearly half a million American jobs and livelihoods continue to hang in the balance. The cruise industry will continue to go above and beyond to meet the requirements of the CDC, building on the ongoing resumption of operations taking place in other parts of the world and the demonstrated success of the industry’s protocols and public health measures."

Other travel industry sources told Travel Agent that the CDC action is a positive step, but some also point out that the cruise industry is still being treated differently than other sectors such as hospitality and airlines.

"I am happy to see any progress, especially on National Travel Advisors Day, but at the same time, it’s complex and frankly still unbalanced versus the guidance the CDC has provided other businesses and even Americans in general," says Alex Sharpe, president and CEO of Signature Travel Network. "Lots of work still to do."

CDC Background

In Wednesday's press release, the CDC said it released the "Conditional Sail" Order (CSO) in October 2020 "to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 on cruise ships, from cruise ships into communities, and to protect public health and safety."

The order introduced a phased approach for the resumption of passenger cruises to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19 onboard. But the order was seriously lacking in the type of detail the cruise industry said it needed to plan a restart. 

The latest guidance from the CDC provided technical instructions for simulated voyages, including: 

  • Eligibility and requirements for conducting a simulated (trial) voyage in preparation for restricted passenger voyages
  • Guidance for inspections of cruise ships conducted by CDC during simulated and restricted passenger voyages
  • Operational procedures to assist cruise ship operators in mitigating the risk of spreading COVID-19, including requirements and recommendations on prevention measures, surveillance for COVID-19 on board, laboratory testing, infection prevention and control, face mask use, social distancing, passenger interactive experiences, and embarkation and disembarkation procedures

In the final phase of the CSO, cruise ships operators with an approved COVID-19 Conditional Sailing Certificate application will be permitted to sail with passengers following the requirements of the CSO. The CDC said it doesn't anticipate releasing any additional documents for the next phase. Instead, it will update online documents to incorporate changes to quarantine, testing, color status and lessons learned from simulated voyages.

The agency's press release also said it's "committed to working with the cruise industry and seaport partners to resume cruising following the phased approach outlined in the CSO. This goal aligns with the prospective resumption of passenger operations in the United States by mid-summer, expressed by many major cruise ship operators and travelers."

Adding a bit of background: The CDC said that since April 12, 2021, it (as well as senior leadership from other federal agencies) had engaged in twice-weekly meetings with cruise line representatives for dialogue and the exchange of information. 

Addressing the vaccine issue, the CDC's press release said that "COVD-19 vaccines play a critical role in the safe resumption of passenger operations, but not all cruise ship operators have announced plans to mandate passenger vaccinations." But as more people are fully vaccinated and more drug therapeutics are available, the CDC said that a phased approach will allow incorporation of these advancements into planning for safe resumption of cruise ship travel. 

The CDC recommends that all port personnel and travelers (passengers and crew) get a COVID-19 vaccine when a vaccine is available to them.

The CDC also acknowledged that "it is not possible for cruising to be a zero-risk activity for spread of COVID-19. While cruising will always pose some risk of COVID-19 transmission, CDC is committed to ensuring that cruise ship passenger operations are conducted in a way that protects crew members, passengers, and port personnel, particularly with emerging COVID-19 variants of concern."

For the CDC's views of COVID-19 and cruise ships, visit and

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