This Week in Cruise Recovery: Rough Waters With CDC, Ports But Some Encouraging Signs

It’s been a rough week for oceangoing cruise lines. While many voyages have sailed safely with guests having fun aboard and ashore, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has also spread quickly across the globe. That's beginning to cause hiccups for the cruise industry in some areas.

Most notably, late last week the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) raised its Cruise Travel Health Notice (THN) to Level 4, the health agency's most severe warning. The CDC now recommends that consumers avoid cruising right now. That decision brought out strong reaction from Cruise Lines’ International Association (CLIA) as well as several top agency and consortia officials.

Speaking their mind in Travel Agent's story were Margie Jordan, owner, Jordan Executive Travel Service in Jacksonville, FLAlex Sharpe of Signature Travel Network, David Harris of Ensemble Travel Group, John Lovell of Travel Leaders Group, and Brad Tolkin of World Travel Holdings. They cited unfairness in the way cruising is "not compared" with what's happening on land.

They also stressed the cruise industry's science-backed health and safety protocols. Most ships require vaccinations and pre-cruise testing for both guests and crew. Demonstrating the strong measures one cruise line has taken to protect guests and crew members, see Travel Agent's first-hand story about Viking's PCR lab onboard all ocean ships and the “daily” PCR testing program for guests and crew.

Encouraging Updates

Just prior to the CDC announcement, though, Royal Caribbean Group had issued an update for investors about the virus' impact on its three oceangoing cruise brands' operations as well as "intel" on advance bookings.

The line's statement said that since cruising restarted in the U.S. in June 2021, its cruise lines' ships have carried 1.1 million guests with only 1,745 people testing positive—a positivity rate of just 0.02 percent. That's positive statistically when compared with general population infection rates on land.  

Avalon Expression
Avalon Waterways had a good report related to its 2021 river cruise season. Photo by Avalon Waterways.

In addition, on the river cruise front, Avalon Waterways told Travel Agent on Monday that it had operated more than 100 cruises in summer and fall 2021 across Europe, Egypt and the Galapagos Islands. For those voyages, all guests were routinely tested toward the end of the cruise in preparation for their journey home.  

In a stellar result, the line said that it ended the 2021 cruise season (including some Rhine River holidaytime cruises) with no COVID-19 positive cases among either passengers or crew members. 

Island Entry Changes

But another challenge for ocean lines is surfacing. Some cruise ships schedules have been impacted as Caribbean/Bahamas destinations have either added new entry requirements for cruise passengers or turned ships away entirely given onboard COVID-19 cases.

For example, Puerto Rico now requires a negative COVID-19 test result taken no more than 48 hours pre-arrival for cruise guestsSt. Thomas in the U.S.V.I. also strengthened its entry requirements to require a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of arrival. 

As a result, late last week, Royal Caribbean International’s Odyssey of the Seas canceled calls at San Juan and St. Thomas. Instead, the ship spent another day at sea and also called one day at Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic.

Last week, Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2—sailing its first transatlantic voyage since restarting operations—skipped a port call at New York City. After a number of guests and crew tested positive for COVID-19, the line decided that the ship would continue directly to Barbados to secure more crew members. It's returning to the United Kingdom this week. 

Also, on December 29, the Bahamas prohibited the MSC Seashore from calling at MSC Cruises' own private Bahamian island, Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve, given that there were some positive COVID-19 cases aboard.

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