The CDC did switch gears. After releasing phase 2A one month ago, the agency has now released 2B and 3 as part of the framework of the Conditional Sailing Order. With the backlash the CDC received on 2A and the subsequent letter released two weeks ago with alterations, we are now seeing the return of cruising take shape.
That being said, we are not there yet. Both phases 2B and 3 contain many procedures and guidelines that the cruise lines will need to adopt, while several regulations will be noticeable for guests onboard the ship.
Certainly restricting some of the more traditional events we are used to seeing onboard, which is the case especially for those voyages without a vaccine mandate.
Two Pathways & Simulated Voyages
The features the CDC now released have been expected or do not differ much from what was previously announced. Most of the guidelines that have now been released focus on the trial voyages cruise ships could choose to undertake. There are two ways in which ships can resume sailings, which revolve around vaccinations:
- Vaccination mandate: Cruise ships can resume without test cruises if 98% of the crew and 95% of passengers are fully vaccinated. These cruises will run relatively normally, with, of course, social distancing and other measures in place.
- No vaccination mandate: Cruise ships can sail; however, they will need to pass a set of stringent rules, regulations, test/ or simulated voyages, and CDC monitored voyages. Cruise ships that will take this roadway will likely take much longer before operations can resume and be subjected to far more strict measures than ships requiring vaccinations.
The requirements for the test or simulated voyages are long and require the cruise lines to be extremely strict in operations:
- Following the Phase 2A agreements between cruise companies and U.S. port authorities, cruise lines must test embarkation and disembarkation procedures, including terminal check-in.
- During simulated, test, and monitored voyages, in addition to serving food and drinks at the dining and entertainment venues, cruise lines will need to run all standard onboard activities.
- Passenger evacuation procedures will be performed during monitored, test, and simulated voyages.
- There should be space for isolation and quarantine onboard and shoreside of at least 5% of the passengers and non-essential crew.
- All passengers on simulated or test voyages will need to be tested before and after the voyage. If passengers do not comply with this testing, and the number runs to 75% of those that have participated, the simulated voyage will not count.
- The following measures must be observed on a port of call shore excursion during restricted passenger voyages:
- During port stops, passengers should be prohibited from self-guided or independent exploration.
- Shore excursions must be limited to passengers and crew from the same ship.
- Tour operators must ensure all shore excursion providers follow COVID-19 public health measures throughout the tour, including social distancing.
- Cruise ship operators must develop protocols for managing passengers with COVID-19 at all foreign ports of call.
These are just some of the requirements for the simulated and test voyages; the complete list can be read on the CDC website. If you are planning to participate in a test voyage, keep in mind that even if you are vaccinated, you will need to adhere to all rules and regulations that are in place for non-vaccinated passengers.
How will your cruise be impacted if you go on a non-vaccine mandate cruise?
It must be said that the CDC is doing its utmost to discourage people from going on cruises where vaccines are not mandated. While the agency offers the opportunity, it is hard to see how the voyages will be enjoyable. Below are some of the restrictions the CDC is placing on the cruise lines on non-vaccinated cruises:
- The CDC now requires cruise lines to eliminate any self-serve food or drink options, such as buffets, salad bars, and drink stations.
- Cruise lines are advised to provide alternative meal service options, such as prepackaged takeaway meals, to minimize risks associated with congregate indoor dining and a lack of social distancing.
- Open deck space will be limited, while all deckchairs and seating must be 6 feet apart unless a family group sits together.
- Face masks must be worn at all times. While the Order permits temporarily removing a mask for brief periods while eating or drinking, removing the mask for extended meal service or beverage consumption would constitute a violation of this Order.
- Want to see a show onboard? The CDC requires cruise ships to provide social distancing between seating areas, such as blocking out seats to allow individuals to remain at least 6 feet (2 meters) apart. The same counts for casinos etc.
Last but not least, the CDC asks cruise lines to implement wearable proximity alerting technology, e.g., proximity bands, to alert the wearer of social distancing infractions to assist with maintaining social distancing protocols.
As you can see, while the CDC provides two different pathways for taking a cruise, the only realistic way a cruise can take place and be enjoyable will be the ones that sail under the vaccination mandate.
Also Read: When Will Cruises Resume in 2021?
While some will not agree with this measure, the cruise lines will likely favor this pathway and could decide not to offer the cruises without vaccinations at all. Both from a position of risk mitigation and cost control and revenue management, this would make sense.
Another pathway is that the CDC could be overruled altogether with the Florida lawsuit which also has the backing of Alaska and just recently even Texas joined in. How that plays out remains to be seen
Sure, some measures will be implemented on the vaccinated cruises, but they are a minor inconvenience compared to the rules and regulations the CDC requires from the non-vaccinated cruises.