Cruisers are celebrating that the CDC have let the no-sail order expire in the USA. Unfortunately though, what replaces it, does not set a date for cruising to resume, and puts in place a series of hurdles to overcome before they can. So, is this the good news we all hoped it would be?Cruisers are celebrating that the CDC have let the no-sail order expire in the USA. Unfortunately though, what replaces it, does not set a date for cruising to resume, and puts in place a series of hurdles to overcome before they can. So, is this the good news we all hoped it would be?
In this article, I am going to unpick the CDC’s 40-page “Framework For Conditional Sailing” that replaces the expired no-sail order, and the 3-stages cruise lines now have to go through before cruising can resume in the US.
I will discuss what cruise lines have to do before they can start cruising out of US ports, and the changes we will experience in cruising across the next year as a result.
On a positive note, there is a framework for the cruise industry to work on in the USA. It’s not entirely what the lines were hoping for, hence the more cautious and reserved comments initially from the lines. But it is something to work on.
On the other hand as I discuss this new framework, and the likely time scales for cruising, it is important to remember that the CDC remains hostile towards cruising and its resumption.
They have a Level 3 travel notice that states (and I quote) that the “CDC recommends that travelers defer all cruise travel worldwide”. This advice is not being lifted as part of this process, and the new framework requires this advice appears in cruise marketing materials, and be pointed out to people as they book cruises from now on. So this context is important to near in mind.
Before I look at the 7 key changes to cruising that this framework will create, what are the 3 stages I mentioned earlier that lines have to go through to be able to cruise with paying passengers?
Stage 2 : Crew Safety & Testing Capability
The first stage is the lines have to demonstrate that they can keep their crew safe, while simultaneously building testing capacity and facilities for testing of crew and passengers.
This stage is more onerous than it sounds on the surface, for some lines anyway.
First off, every crew member on ships planning to operate in USA waters have to be tested no later than the end of 2020, using a CDC-approved lab.
Also all lines have to join and follow the CDC Crew Management Plan, introduced not long after shutdown. One key rule requires crew being housed in individual cabins, which could be a challenge for some ships as crew accommodation is usually based on sharing. Lines currently in the plan, like Celebrity Cruises, have housed crew in empty passenger cabins. So lines will have to figure this out for when ships resume sailing with passengers.
Not all lines are currently in the plan, such as Carnival Corporation, and others like Disney and Norwegian, whose ships left USA waters during lockdown. So they will have to go through the process to join or rejoin.
Stage 2 : Simulated Cruises
Once lines pass the crew and testing capability stage, then have to run “simulated cruises” with CDC oversight. These are to test the entire process and protocols and will involve volunteers, mostly likely cruise and industry employees and their families. They may not actually cruise anywhere hence them being called “simulated cruises”.
These will replicate all the embarking, testing, social distancing, mask wearing, dining, entertainment and also run a quarantining and evacuation of passengers drill in a simulated Covid outbreak.
Stage 3: Conditional Sailing Certificate
Based on the results of these simulated cruises, the lines can then apply for a “Covid-19 Conditional Sailing Certificate” to start sailing with paying guests. Lines cannot commence sailings without a certificate.
How long it will take the lines to get all the requirements in place to proceed through the 3-stages is unknown. And, of course, we need to remember that the CDC decides when lines have met the conditions to move through each stage.
Some industry insiders have suggested in various press reports I ahem seen that this could could be months not weeks. But we will only really understand and know this as lines start to work their way through the three stages.
Changes To Cruising
Once that is all done and cruises resume, what are the changes we will experience as cruisers as a result of this Framework?
The changes to cruising go beyond what the cruise lines had proposed and submitted to the CDC, and there are 7 that I think are worth focusing on:
Firstly, the CDC will be able to, as a condition of the Covid-19 Conditional Sailing Certificate, set pretty much everything about cruises including passenger and crew capacity, itinerary, ports of call, length of voyage and on-board and shoreside activities. Many of these issues though are covered by the cruise line plans submitted via things like the Royal Caribbean / Norwegian Cruise “Healthy Sailing Panel” proposals. But the CDC retain the right to overrule these. We will certainly see cruises sailing at lower capacity.
Secondly, cruises out of USA ports must be 7 days or less while the order is in place, which is currently until November 2021. So if like me, some of your booked cruises in the next year are longer than 7 days then I think we should expect the lines to be reducing the itinerary or replacing them.
Thirdly, the CDC framework allows for, what they call, a tailored and flexible way forward by allowing ships that meet the requirements to sail, while those that have not can’t. So, different lines could move through the stages at different paces and so we may not see all lines resume sailing at the same time.
Fourthly, passengers have to be laboratory tested for Covid-19 shoreside before boarding the ship, and obviously only people testing negative can board.
But in a key addition, which has surprised many, is that everyone also has to be tested before they can disembark. Italian lines have been doing this in Europe as it is required by the Italian government. So some precedent on this one.
The tests have to be the swab PCR type, and not the fast 15-minute antigen tests. This will mean, as with the Italian lines, waiting about 70 minutes for results, making embarkation a more lengthy process.
Crew have to be tested weekly under the CDC rules. New crew have to be tested before boarding and then quarantined for 14 days before starting duty.
Fifthly, the lines have to follow existing CDC guidance on masks and face covering usage, hand washing, cleaning and physical social distancing. So, much to many cruisers dismay (based on comments and discussions on my channel and across cruise message boards) use of masks looks to be required certainly inside and possibly in some outside settings.
The lines have to, which was part of their proposed protocols, reduce capacity and enable distancing in all venues like theatres, pools, casinos, bars and dining venues. This was already addressed in the cruise line proposals, and so most cruisers should be expecting this, even if some are less keen on them.
Sixthly, if there are cases on board amongst crew or passengers, the infected will be immediately isolated in single occupancy cabins and the rest of the passengers and non-essential crew will all be quarantined in their cabins.
Significantly, the cruise will be terminated and the ship returns to the US embarkation port. From there the line will then send symptomatic guests into private medical centres they have contracted with, and the other guests will be disembarked and returned home using non-commercial transportation.
Future cruises on that ship will have to be cancelled until CDC agrees they can resume.
Seventhly, while these rules apply to ships sailing in US waters, they also apply to any ship that the line intends to bring back to USA waters at any time during the order period, so before November 2021. So this will have an impact and effect beyond cruises sailing out of USA ports too as lines move their ships seasonally to other regions like the Mediterranean.
There is at least one area that I was surprised was not covered in the CDC framework specifically, and this was around how much freedom cruisers would be allowed in ports. Cruise line proposals require passengers only being allowed off the ship on cruise line excursions, to allow the bubble created through on-board protocols to be maintained, and reduce risk passengers are exposed on land. This is not discussed in the framework document at all. So one to watch.
The expiration of the no-sail notice is good news, however, the CDC “Framework For Conditional Sailing” includes more layers and demands than cruisers and the lines were hoping for. There is though a framework to work on, and it is now up to the lines and CLIA to work through these to find a way ahead.
At this stage, it is too early to be able to say when paying guests will step back on board a cruise out of USA ports, and how enthusiastic the CDC will be in getting lines through the stages. But we know what has to happen to get there. So much to watch out for over the coming weeks and months.
ABOUT TIPS FOR TRAVELLERS
Gary Bembridge’s Tips For Travellers aims to help you make more of your precious travel time and money on land and when cruising the oceans or rivers of the world. To help you, in every video I draw on my first-hand tips and advice from travelling every month for over 20 years and average of 10 cruises a year.
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