The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday extended its Conditional Sail Order for cruise ships until next year, adding the agency plans to move to a voluntary program after that.
The CDC extended the order through Jan. 15, 2022, citing the spread of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus, according to agency reps.
"The procedures put in place to resume passenger operations have successfully averted overwhelming onboard medical facilities and burdening shoreside hospital resources," the CDC wrote in a statement.
The order applies to all foreign-flagged ships that can carry at least 250 people with an overnight itinerary. The order required all cruise ships in the United States to complete simulated test cruises unless 98% of crew and 95% of passengers were fully vaccinated.
The agency first implemented the Conditional Sail Order after lifting its "No Sail" Order in October 2020. The order, however, is non-binding in Florida.
When the order expires, the CDC said it plans "to transition to a voluntary program, in coordination with the cruise ship operators and other stakeholders, to assist the cruise industry to detect, mitigate, and control the spread of COVID-19 onboard cruise ships."
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"This transition will continue strong measures to detect, mitigate, and control the spread of COVID, and it will align with other travel orders including the global contract tracing and global testing orders," the CDC added.
In addition to requiring ships to follow certain rules, the CDC has recommended cruise passengers and crew be vaccinated and advised older travelers or those with underlying conditions against going on a cruise, even if they are fully vaccinated.
The CDC also recommends cruisers get tested one to three days before their trip and then again three to five days after their trip, regardless of their vaccination status. Unvaccinated travelers should also self-quarantine for seven days after their cruise, even if they test negative.
Several cruise lines have implemented strict vaccine policies, allowing them to skip the need for test cruises, including those under Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, which has fought court battles to defend its vaccine mandate.
Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. When she's not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.