The Cruise Industry Wanted to Get Back Into U.S. Waters Early. The CDC Said No

The CDC's Conditional Sailing Order leaves the cruise industry treading water

Cruise Ship in New York
Jeff Spielman / Getty Images

After suffering through over a year of cruise bans, changing protocols, and other uncharted setbacks, the cruise industry is fed up, eager to get back to sailings in the United States—but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just told them no.

Last October, when the CDC announced it was finally letting the seven-month-long No Sail Order expire, it used the same breath to introduce a new Conditional Sailing Order (CSO). Under the new year-long order, the CDC announced their plan to have the U.S. cruise industry work its way back out into the waters via a phased reopening—one that would carefully follow CDC guidelines for mandatory practices and protocols specifically created for COVID-19 safety.

Nearly half a year later, cruise lines are still waiting for word from the CDC on phase one details. Meanwhile, after a handful of bumps, cruises have already started successfully sailing in other parts of the world. Most recently, Celebrity, Crystal Cruises, and Royal Caribbean announced scheduled sailings as early as June from the Bahamas.

This week, the cruise industry’s last drop of patience with the CDC seems to have evaporated. Any successful restart for the industry is good news, but the CDC’s silence is essentially banning the cruise industry from their largest market: the U.S.

On Wednesday, March 24, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), whose members represent 95 percent of the world’s ocean-going cruise capacity, asked the CDC to move the CSO end date to July, citing the trade organization’s justifications for the request. The trade association has also noted that their proposed timeline was in-line with the White House’s own goal to have the country back to some semblance of normalcy by July 4.

“Over the past eight months, a highly-controlled resumption of cruising has continued in Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific—with nearly 400,000 passengers sailing to date in more than 10 major cruise markets,” CLIA’s President and CEO Kelly Craighead said in a statement on Wednesday. “These voyages were successfully completed with industry-leading protocols that have effectively mitigated the spread of COVID-19. Additional sailings are planned in the Mediterranean and Caribbean later this spring and summer.”

They didn’t have to wait long for the CDC to answer—the order will remain in effect until Nov. 1 as planned. Caitlin Shockey, a spokesperson for the CDC, recently commented on the matter, stating, “Returning to passenger cruise is a phased approach to mitigate the risk of COVID-19. Details for the next phase of the CSO are currently under interagency review.” Information on the CDC website remains unchanged since December 2020 when the agency shared technical instructions for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 amongst the crew.

“The outdated CSO, which was issued almost five months ago, does not reflect the industry’s proven advancements and success operating in other parts of the world, nor the advent of vaccines, and unfairly treats cruises differently,” said CLIA’s Craighead. “Cruise lines should be treated the same as other travel, tourism, hospitality, and entertainment sectors.” 

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