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Safely Setting Sail

When the global COVID-19 pandemic began, the cruise industry was one of the very first to be affected.

Before a vaccine, test or any other way to track and contain illness, cruises were seen as incubators of the novel coronavirus, due in large part to the spectacle of a few ships forced to remain at sea due to active cases.

Now, in 2022, all that has changed. Not only are cruise ships safe, they may be the absolute safest way to travel, thanks to a rigorous safety program involving testing, vaccinations and emergency response plans. The CDC's COVID-19 Program for Cruise Ships was launched at the start of this year and requires:

  • COVID-19 testing as a requirement for embarkation.
  • Frequent surveillance testing of crewmembers.
  • At least 95% of passengers and crew to be fully vaccinated.
  • Additional trained medical personnel to be onboard.
  • Predesignated isolation rooms and quarantine procedures.
  • Enhanced cleaning and sanitation.
  • Robust reporting and data collection, reporting the ship's medical status daily to the CDC.

As of right now, all Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) members operating from U.S. ports have chosen to opt in to this program. Cruises have begun in other countries as well, such as Canada and Brazil, and they require full vaccination for ALL guests and crew members, among other protocols.

Combine all of these health protocols together and you end up with a trip that's safer than most, according to Ron Gulaskey, Associate Vice President of Global Corporate, Incentive & Charter Sales for Celebrity Cruises. For some travelers, cruises are actually all they're willing to do right now.

"I can't think of any safer place a group can vacation than on a cruise," Gulaskey said. "When a group goes to an all-inclusive resort, most have testing but not vaccine requirements, plus they don't block access to others entering the property. A group guest can be at a hotel bar or in the lobby and people come in off the streets, and nobody knows if they have COVID or had a vaccine. They also realize all the hotel staff leave the property at night and are potentially exposed before coming back the next day."

On cruise ships, however, everyone is vaccinated and tested within 48 hours of boarding. No visitors are coming on and off the ship, which means out at sea, you're as safe as can be.

In fact, Gulaskey said passengers on ships lately seem to be extra happy due to the comfort and escape the trip provides. Being able to socialize with strangers without fear is a nice respite from the stress and uncertainty of everyday life.

"People are so much more relaxed and happy on the ships because they are more comfortable with their health and those around them. The crew and officers are so excited to be back on board, too. Even though they are still wearing masks, you can see their smiles underneath."

Of course, the guests relaxing doesn't mean the rules are relaxed. Celebrity still has rooms set aside if needed for isolation, plus nurses and medical crew available, on top of weekly meetings to specify protocols while doing whatever they can to not get in the way of guests' vacation experience.

As we move into summer of 2022, the future looks bright for the cruise industry and its avid fans. Those who've sheltered at home for two years are ready to get back out there, or even try cruising for the very first time. Gulaskey is excited for people to see all the renovations and improvements made during the cruise ships' down time in harbor.

"We will have so many people coming out after COVID and seeing and traveling with family and friends once again! The cruise lines are slowly filling their ships again and whether you are sailing alone, as a couple, or with a family or in a group, the prices and excitement will never be better than they are right now."

Written by Josh Veal for Groups Today.

This article originally appeared in the May/June '22 issue of Groups Today.


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