After countless stops and starts for the U.S. cruise industry over the past 14 months, the definite light at the end of the tunnel appears to be on the horizon.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Wednesday told cruise lines, according to a report by both USA Today and Reuters, that they could start sailing again in July.
According to the reports, the CDC will allow cruise lines to resume passenger trips in July if they are fully compliant with the Conditional Sail Order (CSO).
That order will now allow cruise lines to skip simulated test voyages if 98% of crew members and 95% of passengers are fully vaccinated, it also required cruise lines to submit Phase 2A port agreements “as soon as possible” in order to meet that July goal. The CDC also promised to respond to applications from cruise lines for simulated voyages within 5 days instead of the previous 60.
“We Acknowledge that cruising will never be a zero-risk activity,” Aimee Treffiletti, head of the Maritime Unit for the CDC’s COVID-19 response, said in a letter to cruise lines this week according to USA Today.
While many cruise lines have announced plans to restart away from U.S. ports, and many are already sailing, Thursday’s news marks the start of the end of a major period of uncertainty for the industry.
In a statement on Thursday, Royal Caribbean Group CEO Richard Fain applauded the news and mentioned that the CDC’s timetable could even mean hope for this year’s Alaskan season.
"Last night, the CDC notified us of some clarifications and amplifications of their Conditional Sail Order, which addressed uncertainties and concerns we had raised," Fain said.
"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."
While the CDC had been previously holding firm on a November restart for the industry, the July timeframe was mentioned not only by a number of cruise line executives but by U.S. Senators who also wanted to get ships sailing. Earlier in April, three U.S. Senators—Marco Rubio (R-FL), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), and Rick Scott (R-FL)—introduced a new bill that would revoke the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) current Conditional Sail Order on cruises and allow cruise lines to start sailing out of U.S. ports.
The act, called the Careful Resumption Under Improved Safety Enhancements (CRUISE) Act, would have required the CDC to provide COVID-19 mitigation guidance for cruise lines to resume safe domestic operations by July 4. It was the third bill introduced over the last year aimed at helping the cruise industry regain normal operations. Two other bills, including one aimed at allowing ships to sail to Alaska without having to stop in Canada, failed.
All three Senators, along with Congresswoman Maria Elvira Salazar (R-FL), who is leading companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives, come from states that have cruise ports hubs and are most negatively affected by the cruise ship ban.