CDC’s new cruise guidelines don’t answer the burning question: When will cruises resume?

Ron Hurtibise, South Florida Sun Sentinel
·4 min read

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued long-awaited guidelines Friday for getting cruise ships sailing again, but it remains unclear when that could happen.

Cruise industry representatives weren’t sure immediately after the announcement whether cruises could resume from the U.S. this summer.

“We’re hopeful, but we need to review what was just released to gauge that,” said Royal Caribbean spokesman Jonathon Fishman said,

A news release by the CDC summarized technical instructions for resuming cruises, but it did not specify a date to sail.

The announcement follows months of silence from the CDC, to the frustration of the industry, after the agency issued its initial guidance in October.

That guidance was cheered as hopefully offering a pathway to resumption for the beleaguered industry, which has forced to shut down operations a year ago after COVID-19 outbreaks on several ships around the globe.

It stated that “test voyages” would be required to give cruise lines an opportunity to demonstrate that new safety protocols could prevent onboard spread of the virus. It also said that further guidance for the test voyages would follow.

Five months followed with no further guidance, prompting Royal Caribbean and other lines to announce plans to base summer cruises out of ports in the Bahamas and Bermuda, among other locations.

Last week, the industry’s trade association, Cruise Lines International Association, released a statement calling on the CDC to provide the promised guidance so cruising can resume by July from the U.S.

Two days later, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis held a roundtable discussion with cruise industry leaders on March 26 and implied that Florida’s attorney general would go to court to challenge the CDC’s authority over the industry if it did not come up with a plan to let the industry relaunch in the state.

The discussion emphasized the importance of cruising to Florida, with ports in Fort Lauderdale, Miami, West Palm Beach, Brevard County, Tampa and Jacksonville.

Friday’s announcement again specified that simulated trial voyages would be included in the next phase, to “allow crew and port personnel to practice new COVID-19 operational procedures with volunteers before sailing with passengers.”

Royal Caribbean’s Fishman responded to the CDC’s announcement Friday by saying, “It is encouraging to see the new technical guidelines presented by the [CDC].”

The company added: “As we review their guidance, our hope is that it is based on the latest scientific data, including the increasingly significant impact of the vaccines. We will share updates on our plans in the coming weeks, and look forward to real progress that will give our crew and destination partners the opportunity to help us get back to delivering memorable vacations, and for our guests to take the well-deserved time off they’ve missed.”

A spokesperson for Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. expressed disappointment in the CDC’s announcement.

“We are reviewing these new requirements and continue to work toward a path to the safe resumption of cruising in the U.S. while protecting guests, crew and the communities we visit,” the company said in a statement. “While disappointed in this overdue announcement, we remain optimistic that cruising will resume from U.S. ports before the end of the summer.”

Carnival Corp. declined to comment, saying it was reviewing the announcement. A CLIA representative did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Technical instructions summarized in the CDC’s news release on Friday include:

Increasing from weekly to daily the reporting frequency of COVID-19 cases and illnesses.

Updating a color-coding system used to classify ships’ COVID-19 status.

Implementing routine testing of all crew based on each ship’s color status.

Decreasing the time needed for a “red” ship to become “green” from 28 to 14 days based on the availability of onboard testing, routine screening testing protocols and daily reporting.

Creating planning materials for agreements that port authorities and local health authorities must approve to ensure cruise lines have the necessary infrastructure in place to manage an outbreak of COVID-19 on their ships to include health care capacity and housing to isolate infected people and quarantine those who are exposed.

Establishing a plan and timeline for vaccination of crew and port personnel.