When will cruises start again in the U.S.?

when will cruises start again coronavirus
Photo via Wessel Blokzijl/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)
  • The final no sail order for cruise ships expired at the end of October
  • Cruise lines are still working through plans for better sanitation practices 
  • Buffets might become a relic of the past

Major cruise lines in the U.S.—including Royal Caribbean, Europe’s MSC, and Carnival Cruise Line—were suspended from sailing ships that carried 250 or more passengers for the first eight months of the coronavirus pandemic. That barricade is now gone. So, when will cruises start again?

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “no sail order” originally was set to expire on July 24, it was reported that the CDC had extended it through the end of September and eventually October. That no sail order ended up expiring at the end of October. Still, a number of cruises aren’t booking trips until 2021, including the Queen Mary 2 and the Queen Victoria. Carnival Cruise Line also won’t set sail until March 2021 at the earliest.

Some cruise lines like Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Norwegian, and Oceania have canceled all of their cruises through the end of December 2020. Making matters worse, the first Caribbean cruise to return during the pandemic, the SeaDream 1, had to return to its port of origin in Barbados after some passengers tested positive for COVID-19 in November.

CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield wanted to extend the no-sail order until Feb. 21, but he was overruled by the Trump administration, according to Axios. That decision has drawn the interest of Congress.

Instead of extending its no sail order at the end of October, the CDC introduced a “phased approach” to reintroduce ocean cruising.

According to the guidelines, “As of October 30, 2020, CDC will take a phased approach to resuming passenger operations. The initial phases will consist of testing and additional safeguards for crew members. CDC will ensure cruise ship operators have adequate health and safety protections for crew members while they build the onboard laboratory capacity needed to test crew and future passengers. Subsequent phases include simulated (mock) voyages with volunteers playing the role of passengers to test cruise ship operators’ ability to mitigate COVID-19 risk, certification for ships that meet specific requirements, and return to passenger voyages in a manner that mitigates COVID-19 risk among passengers, crew members, and communities. The phases are subject to change based on public health considerations and cruise ship operators’ ability to mitigate COVID-19 risk.”

Not every cruise line will survive. That’s true of Blount Small Ship Adventures, the 54-year-old line which served the U.S. and the Caribbean and which put its three ships up for sale in late August and ceased operations.

In the meantime, cruises are using this time to finalize plans for when they can safely resume trips. Golin-Blaugrund told USA Today that the whole cruise industry is taking a “holistic approach.” They don’t seem to be taking on the idea that the industry is doomed because of the pandemic—and in fact, Mediterranean Sea cruises began ramping up again in mid-August, but they’re only open to residents of Europe’s Schengen Area. Even those cruises haven’t gone smoothly, as one cruise ship was temporarily halted after a number of people on the boat falsely tested positive. In October, Singapore announced cruises can return as long as they don’t stop at any ports along the way.

Meanwhile, cruise ships that have been retired are beached at a shipyard in Turkey and are preparing to be sold for scrap.

Cruise lines will have to implement better sanitation practices for ships and terminals, enhance passenger and crew screening with rapid tests and temperature checks, require social distancing, modify or eliminate buffet dining options, enhance on-board medical capability, and conduct new training for crew members. And if you don’t follow the rules, at least on an Aida Cruise, you could get barred from boarding.

“Although we are confident that future cruises will be healthy and safe and will fully reflect the latest protective measures, we also feel that it is appropriate to err on the side of caution to help ensure the best interests of our passengers and crew members,” Golin-Blaugrund said. “The additional time will also allow us to consult with the CDC on measures that will be appropriate for the eventual resumption of cruise operations.”

Though cruise line stocks have taken a beating since the pandemic began, at least one expert believes people will flock to cruises once again in the future. Dr. William Lang, a former director of the White House Medical Unit, told MarketWatch, “People will tend to forget about [virus risks on cruises]. It’s a time-limited phenomenon on cruises.”

Sources: USA Today, Washington Post, CDC

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