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What to Know About the Return of Cruising

For many groups, setting sail on the open sea or a picturesque river is their favorite way to travel and see the world. As travel recovery continues to grow, travelers are eager to see the return of cruise ship travel. Recent news from the CDC shows this reality might be slowly but surely approaching.

The CDC recently released guidance for cruise ships to undertake simulated voyages with volunteer passengers as part of its COVID-19 Conditional Sailing Certificate application. With the issuance of these documents, the CDC says cruise ship operators now have all the necessary requirements and recommendations they need to start simulated voyages before resuming restricted passenger voyages. In addition, this release includes the COVID-19 Conditional Sailing Certificate application, which is the final step before restricted passenger voyages.

CDC released the CSO in October 2020 to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 on cruise ships, from cruise ships into communities, and to protect public health and safety. The order introduced a phased approach for the resumption of passenger cruises to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19 onboard. The CDC's recently updated guidance provides technical instructions for simulated voyages.

In the final phase of the CSO, cruise ships operators with an approved COVID-19 Conditional Sailing Certificate application will be permitted to sail with passengers following the requirements of the CSO. CDC said it does not anticipate releasing any additional documents for Phase 4. Instead, they will be updating online documents to incorporate changes to quarantine, testing, color status and lessons learned from simulated voyages.

CDC has said it is committed to working with the cruise industry and seaport partners to resume cruising following the phased approach outlined in the CSO. This goal aligns with the prospective resumption of passenger operations in the U.S. by mid-summer, expressed by many major cruise ship operators and travelers.

Carnival Cruise Line, which has shared they're working toward plans for a possible July restart in the U.S. on select ships, hopes to begin operating sailings on three ships from Florida and Texas.

"We continue to have constructive discussions with the CDC but still have many questions that remain unanswered," said Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line. "We are working diligently to resume sailing in the U.S. and meet the CDC guidelines. We sincerely appreciate the continued patience and understanding of our guests and travel advisor partners and will share additional information as quickly as we can."

From its most recent statement in April, Royal Caribbean has said the cruise line is extending the suspension of some sailings, including all sailings from the U.S. until June 30, while continuing its measured return to service with more sailings scheduled from different regions around the world.

"Safety is the first priority, and we know that cruising can be safe, as we have seen in Europe and Asia," said Richard D. Fain, Royal Caribbean Group chairman and CEO. "The rising number of Americans who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, layered on top of the rigorous health and safety measures we are implementing under the Healthy Sail Panel's guidance, enables us to create a safe environment to take a cruise. We strongly believe that President Biden's stated goal for society to reopen in time for Independence Day is a realistic goal."

Since April 12, 2021, CDC and senior leadership from other relevant federal agencies says they have engaged in twice-weekly meetings with representatives from various cruise lines. The objectives of these meetings have been to engage in dialogue and exchange information with individual cruise line representatives regarding the impact of vaccines and other scientific developments since the CSO was issued. Participants were also given opportunities to ask operational questions about the CSO and published technical instructions.

COVD-19 vaccines play a critical role in the safe resumption of passenger operations, but not all cruise ship operators have announced plans to mandate passenger vaccinations. As more people are fully vaccinated and more drug therapeutics are available, the phased approach allowed CDC to incorporate these advancements into planning for safe resumption of cruise ship travel. The CDC recommends that all port personnel and travelers (passengers and crew) get a COVID-19 vaccine when a vaccine is available to them.

The CDC acknowledges that it's not possible for cruising to be a zero-risk activity for spread of COVID-19. While cruising will always pose some risk of COVID-19 transmission, CDC says it's committed to ensuring that cruise ship passenger operations are conducted in a way that protects crew members, passengers, and port personnel, particularly with emerging COVID-19 variants of concern.

The CDC says it will continue to update its guidance and recommendations to specify basic safety standards and public health interventions based on the best scientific evidence available.

For the latest information on COVID-19 and cruise ships from the CDC, click here.

Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for Groups Today.


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