In a letter to the cruise industry by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it said that cruising could restart by mid-July in U.S. waters. The letter was obtained and reported by USA Today.
The announcement comes amid growing tensions between state governments that heavily rely on cruise tourism—such as Florida and Alaska—and the CDC. USA Today adds that the letter followed a month of twice-weekly meetings between the CDC and cruise industry representatives.
Earlier in April the CDC provided cruise lines with more technical details to allow for the industry to restart sailing from U.S. ports; however, many lines were left wanting more. To note, the "Framework for Conditional Sailing" Order (CSO) is still in effect and more information was needed from the CDC to begin "test cruises" (required by the CDC prior to any revenue cruise resumption.
With the latest news it’s important to note the CSO remains in effect. According to USA Today, the CDC came out with five clarifications to allow for the resumption of cruises:
- Ships can bypass the required simulated test voyages carrying volunteers and jump to sailings with paying passengers if 98 percent of crew and 95 percent of passengers are fully vaccinated
- The CDC will review and respond to applications from cruise lines for simulated voyages within five days, a review previously expected to take 60 days
- The CDC will update its testing and quarantine requirements for passengers and crew on sailings with paying passengers to align with the CDC's guidance for fully vaccinated people (for example, instead of taking a PCR lab test ahead of boarding, vaccinated passengers can take a rapid antigen test upon embarkation)
- The CDC has clarified that cruise ship operators may enter into a "multi-port agreement" rather than a single port agreement as long as all port and local authorities sign the agreement
- The CDC has clarified guidance on quarantine guidelines for passengers who may be exposed to or contract COVID-19 (for example, local passengers may be able to drive home and passengers who have traveled by air to cruise may quarantine in a hotel)
Laziza Lambert, a spokeswoman for Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the trade association for 90 percent-plus of the world's cruise lines, told Travel Agent that CLIA was "encouraged by the communication from the CDC Wednesday evening" and looks forward to learning more. Right now, CLIA's technical experts are reviewing the information. She also noted that clarifications received from the CDC show positive progression—and, importantly, a demonstrated commitment to constructive dialogue, which is the key to restarting cruising. "It also shows that the voices of community leaders and the wider cruise community are being heard—and we are very grateful for that," Laziza said.
"We are looking forward to resuming operations out of various ports around the world in the coming months. In addition, we have had very constructive dialogues with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in recent weeks about resuming cruising in the U.S. in a safe and healthy manner," said Richard D. Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Group, in a statement following the announcement. "Last night, the CDC notified us of some clarifications and amplifications of their ‘Conditional Sail’ Order, which addressed uncertainties and concerns we had raised. They have dealt with many of these items in a constructive manner that takes into account recent advances in vaccines and medical science. Although this is only part of a very complex process, it encourages us that we now see a pathway to a healthy and achievable return to service, hopefully in time for an Alaskan season."
A spokesperson for Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. told us: “Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings is currently actively engaging in further discussions with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with a shared goal of cruising from U.S. ports this summer and is encouraged by the ongoing constructive dialogue that resulted in recent meaningful modifications to previously issued technical guidelines and the incorporation of vaccines.”