While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has now provided a "Framework of Conditional Sailing Order" to allow the return to cruising from U.S. ports, it’s not going to be a speedy process for most lines, given the CDC's required steps and procedures.
This week, Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings have all extended their “pause” in cruise operations for some or all brands through December 31, 2020. In addition, MSC Cruises announced extension of its “pause” in operations for three Florida-based ships.
From one trade perspective, “we are certainly very pleased that the CDC has allowed the 'No Sail Order' to expire and pave the way for the safe reopening of cruising," said David Harris, CEO, Ensemble Travel Group, citing the nonstop advocacy efforts led by CLIA and supported by other trade organizations such as the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA).
"However, it is important to note that the [new] CDC order does contain several requirements and conditions that will still result in several months before cruising can fully restart," he said.
Harris noted that CLIA has set a “very high standard” on the health/safety side with 79 recommendations for preventing and mitigating the spread of COVID-19 on ships, including testing, face coverings and temperature checks.
“But, certainly allowing the previous order to expire is a step in the right direction, he said. “We fully support and endorse CLIA’s efforts to reopen this vital sector of the travel industry and we look forward to assisting with selling passengers as soon as we are allowed to do so."
A Careful Return
For Carnival Corporation, the pause in cruising through December 31 applies only to Carnival Cruise Line, Cunard North America, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Seabourn. The line’s Costa Cruises and AIDA brands, for example, are already sailing limited cruises in Europe.
He said the company continues to work with the CDC and global government and public health authorities, as well as top medical and science experts around the globe, on a comprehensive plan for the eventual restart of cruising in North America.
Royal Caribbean Group cited a “healthy return to service” as the primary goal as it suspended sailings for its brands through December 31 and said it's working with the CDC and others on the restart.
The company also noted that Celebrity Cruises has already suspended its 2020-21 winter program in Australia and Asia, and Azamara had suspended its 2020-2021 winter sailings for Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and South America.
One exception to the operational pause through December 31? Royal Caribbean International's sailings from Singapore on Quantum of the Seas (for Singaporeans only), recently approved by the government, will operate as planned starting in December.
Florida-Based Sailings Paused
Also, MSC Cruises announced an extension of its operational pause in U.S.-based sailings through December 31. Impacted are sailings of three Florida-based ships: MSC Seaside at Port Canaveral, and MSC Meraviglia and MSC Armonia at PortMiami.
Guests booked through MSC Cruises USA or affiliated U.S.-based travel advisors on the impacted sailings will be offered a 125 percent future cruise credit (FCC) of the original cruise fare, which can be applied to a replacement cruise on any MSC ship and any itinerary through April 30, 2022. Alternatively, passengers can request a refund.
Travel Agent previously reported—in our original story about the CDC decision—that Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings extended its global pause in operations for its Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Oceania Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line brands.
A Clear Path
Still, cruise lines, cruise fans and travel advisors are happy that a path is now open for cruise lines to review the required CDC procedures/steps and move forward with plans to sail once again in 2021.
“What a great way to end [last] week with the CDC issuing guidelines for the restart of cruising,” said Betsy Geiser, vice president, Uniglobe Travel Center, Irvine, CA. She looks forward to hearing more from the cruise lines on how they’ll proceed.
She also hopes to be invited on a ship soon to see first-hand what clients will experience as they start sailing again. Overall, Geiser emphasizes: “While we know it is still going to take some time to sort out the protocols, it offers a nice bright light at the end of a very long tunnel.”