If you’re like me, you probably had a vacation (or two) canceled by the dreaded pandemic (I’m kinda tired of the “C” word, aren’t you?). On March 14th of this year, the CDC directed cruise lines to voluntarily suspending operations for 100 days. That seems like forever ago, and, at the time, I remember thinking that was crazy! Well, ever since the initial 100 days ended, the deadline was extended multiple times. Travel advisors (including me) worked tirelessly for months (with no pay) to get future cruise credits and, at times, refunds for our clients.
Well, my friends, I have some good news! Last week the CDC let the “no sail order” lapse and replaced it with a new order called “the framework for conditional sailing.” This is huge, you guys! It’s not the end of restrictions, mind you, but it provides a clear pathway to being able to sail again. This is excellent news for cruisers all over the US (including all of my clients who have cruises scheduled for Q2 next year)!
What does lifting the CDC’s no sail order means for Cruisers?
Thanks to ASTA’s hard work (the American Society of Travel Advisors), who lobbied for months to convince the CDC to lift the order, this is the first step toward resumption of cruise operations from US ports.
This new Conditional Sail Order, which highlights several strict guidelines that cruise lines will have to adhere to prevent the spread of Covid-19, means that numerous steps are being taken to ensure a safe reintroduction to cruising.
Most cruise lines have been working in cooperation with the CDC and medical and science professionals for several months to establish their own rigorous health and safety protocols, led by Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, who partnered to form the Healthy Sail Panel.
How soon will I be able to take a cruise?
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves and pop the champagne cork too soon! An extensive list of requirements that cruise lines must meet before being allowed to sail again, including each ship acquiring a conditional sailing certificate to operate in US waters, are outlined in the Conditional Sail Order.
This includes testing and training for all crew, simulated sailings without passengers, and demonstration of strict adherence to stringent health and safety protocols. This includes extensive testing, quarantine measures, and social distancing requirements. It’s unknown how long these phases will take to complete, but it could be as soon as February.
The Conditional Sail Order requires that cruise lines submit all of the necessary documentation at least 60 days before being approved to resume passenger operations. Once a cruise line gets the all-clear (i.e., conditional sailing certificate), they will be able to sail with passengers onboard as long as they:
– Advise all prospective passengers of the risks of cruising during COVID-19.
– Cruises with an itinerary of no more than seven days.
– Test all passengers/crew for COVID-19 on embarkation disembarkation days, with results aquired before they are allowed to board or depart the cruise.
– Immediately test any crew or passenger who reports symptoms with a rapid COVID test, along with their close contacts.
– Report all test results to the CDC.
– Mandate Face masks and social distancing on all ships.
Everyone on board and during excursions will be required to wear masks whenever physical distancing cannot be maintained, including in terminals, onboard ships, on private islands, and during shore excursions. The order also requires air management and ventilation strategies that increase fresh air onboard to mitigate transmission risk.
What health & safety measures can be expected?
Ships will be required to provide rapid COVID testing of all passengers and crew on both embarkation day and disembarkation day. Onboard testing will be developed in coordination with the CDC to test all symptomatic travelers, including crew members and future passengers. Modifications will be made to meal services and entertainment venues to ensure that physical distancing can be implemented.
What if someone tests positive for COVID-19?
Passengers who test positive for coronavirus before boarding a cruise ship will be denied boarding. Those who test positive onboard a vessel will be isolated and then transferred to a dedicated facility onshore. All other passengers and nonessential crew will be required to quarantine. Cruise lines will have to have adequate medical equipment and expertise to treat seriously ill passengers who come down with coronavirus on the ship until they can be safely transported to a hospital.
Will I be allowed to go on shore excursions?
At first, shore excursions will be limited to private ports-of-call and with approved tour operators. Cruise lines are vetting tour operators to ensure that they comply with some of the same health and safety protocols that are required onboard ships, including physical distancing, PPE, and cleanliness.
Under the CDC’s new requirements, only cruise ships with an itinerary of less than seven days will be allowed to sail . This applies to cruise ships operating in US waters, and the period may be shortened or lengthened based on public health considerations.
When is a good time to book my next cruise?
The short answer is YESTERDAY! Those with FCCs in hand have likely already rebooked into 2021, and given that the number of cruises will be limited at first, availability will be tight, and we’re already seeing shortages of space. Couple this with the recent promotions of free drinks, gratuities, wi-fi, and onboard credit (and flexible terms), many cruise lines are offering to entice guests to sail again, and you can see why now is an excellent time to book your next one. If you don’t care to wait for the big ships to set sail, you could always opt for one of the smaller ships whose capacity is under the CDC’s threshold of 250 passengers. SeaDream Yacht Club has a 54-cabin/108 passenger yacht that sails from Barbados with an exquisite itinerary that sails through St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean…AND THEY ARE SAILING RIGHT NOW!
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