After months of uncertainty, it appears that cruise lines will be able to again take to the water before the end of 2020.
On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an updated conditional sailing order for cruise ships that will allow cruise ships to start sailing in North America starting on Nov. 1.
The framework, which can be found in full here, states that cruise lines can now pursue “a phased resumption of cruise ship passenger operations” with “a careful approach.”
Initially, the CDC will require testing and additional safeguards for crew members, it said, along with onboard facilities in place to test future passengers. Then, the CDC is requiring all lines go ahead with simulate voyages “to test cruise ship operator’s ability to mitigate COVID-19 risk.”
All ships will have to meet specific requirements for recertification and then, and only then, can cruise ships start a phased return to service.
“These phases are subject to change based on public health consideration and cruise ship operators’ demonstrated ability to mitigate COVID-19 risk,” the CDC said.
“CDC will issue additional orders as needed that will be published in the Federal Register and technical instructions that will be subsequently posted on the CDC’s website.”
The news brings an end to months of uncertainty for the cruise industry.
The initial “no sail order” from the CDC was issued on March 10, an order that was extended a number of times the past seven months. The order brought an effective halt to the cruise industry in North America, impacting one of travel’s proudest segments and one that brings in more than $50 billion each year and employees more than 300,000 people.
The American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA), most recently, threatened a lawsuit against the CDC should the "no-sail" order not be lifted
Now, with the news, cruise lines can begin their return to some kind of normalcy of operations.
It’s not clear when exactly cruise lines will hit the water. Some have already decided to cancel the remainder of their 2020 sailings, including Disney Cruise Line. Others, like Carnival Cruise Line, have targeted operations to one or two ports, hoping to get a jump on a gradual, phased-in restart of operations sometime this year and Royal Caribbean just this week mentioned on its third quarter conference call that returning to sailing before the end of the year remains a real possibility.
Others who operate heavily out of Europe, including MSC Cruises, have been sailing Mediterranean itineraries for a number of weeks with new protocols already in place.
What is clear is that when cruise lines do officially start welcoming guests back, they will likely do so with a number of new health and safety protocols in place, including universal COVID-19 testing, a policy that CLIA announced would be compulsory for all members lines sailing ships with 250 guests or more.