It's Been a Wild Few Weeks for U.S. Cruises, But We Have Good News

We might have a return to regular U.S. cruise sailings come mid-July

Couple sitting on rocks at river waving to cruise ship
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Trying to keep up with the status of U.S. cruises over the last month or so has been a bit of a neckbreaker. However, two of the biggest takeaways are that fortune favors the fully-vaccinated, and it looks like—fingers crossed—we might have a return to regular U.S. cruise sailings come mid-July.

A few other things happened, too. Here’s a quick recap of the highlights:

  • The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finally released the long-awaited rules for required trial sailings under their Conditional Sailing Order (CSO), which replaced the No Sail Order when it expired way back in November 2020.
  • Florida had its day in court with the CDC over CSO restrictions.
  • Norwegian, who plans to return with sailings for vaccinated passengers, threatened to pull out of all Florida ports after governor Ron DeSantis passed laws against businesses requiring proof of vaccination.
  • Following the unrest in Israel, Royal Caribbean moved the inaugural season for its new ship, Odyssey of the Seas, from Haifa, Israel to Florida.
  • Carnival Cruise Line confirmed plans for U.S. summer sailings from Florida, Texas, and hopefully Alaska, too.

ICYMI, cruise lines have been fighting the good fight to return to U.S. waters for months, and the most recent pushbacks have centered around the tight restrictions required by the Conditional Sailing Order, which cruise lines have called out as unfair and even "preposterous, impractical, and onerous."

Several cruise lines responded by pleading with the CDC to reconsider the restrictions, emphasizing the newer, looser restrictions afforded to other travel and hospitality industries like hotels, tour operators, and restaurants to restart U.S. sailings by prime summertime. Florida sued the government and is currently awaiting a ruling from the court hearing that took place on May 12, 2021.

The CDC hasn’t budged through it all, but they have given us good reason to believe at least some cruise lines will be able to restart U.S. sailings this summer.

"We acknowledge that cruising will never be a zero-risk activity and that the goal of the CSO’s phased approach is to resume passenger operations in a way that mitigates the risk of COVID-19 transmission onboard cruise ships and across port communities,” stated Aimee Treffiletti, head of the Maritime Unit for the CDC’s COVID-19 response within its Global Mitigation Task Force, in a letter to cruise lines in late April. “We remain committed to the resumption of passenger operations in the United States following the requirements in the CSO by mid-summer, which aligns with the goals announced by many major cruise lines.”

The peak-season summer restart target was also confirmed by spokesperson Caitlin Shockey who said cruising could restart as early as mid-July.

In a separate letter issued on April 29, 2021, the CDC clarified the existing CSO framework guidelines. Most notably, they said cruise lines could bypass mock sailing requirements as long as 98 percent of passengers and 95 percent of crew members on board are fully vaccinated.

On May 13, 2021, the CDC loosened general mask mandates for fully vaccinated folks, stating that anyone who is fully vaccinated doesn’t need to don a mask in most outdoor (and some indoor) activities, including outdoor group settings, regardless of whether other people in the group are vaccinated. These new rules don’t change much in terms of travel since masks are still required on public transport and while in transportation hubs, including planes, trains, airports, and buses, regardless of vaccination status—however, they are great news when it comes to cruising.

While everyone will still need to wear a mask in cruise and port terminals, fully-vaccinated passengers and crew will have more freedom once aboard the ship—going maskless at the pool while enjoying outdoor drink and dining venues as they walk around outdoor areas of the ship, and possibly even while participating in some outdoor ship activities—as long as the cruise line doesn’t impose stricter protocols of its own.

Likewise, shore excursions just got a little more ‘normal’ for the fully vaccinated. The CDC has also given the green light for fully vaccinated folks to explore port destinations independently. Non-vaccinated passengers will still be required to book approved excursions through the cruise line, and all passengers and crew must follow local COVID-19 laws while in port.

Currently, Carnival Cruise Lines is the only cruise line to confirm when and where it will attempt to restart cruising in the United States. The line plans to kickstart sailings in July with cruises on the Carnival Vista and Carnival Breeze out of Galveston, Texas, and Carnival Horizon out of Miami, Florida. However, now that the Senate has passed the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act, a bill that temporarily allows cruises to return to Alaska without routing through Canadian ports, it's likely Carnival will also begin select summer sailings to Alaska from Seattle on the Carnival Miracle. All other U.S. Carnival sailings have been postponed through July 30.

Celebrity Cruises, MSC Cruises, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean have all suspended U.S. cruises or sailings from U.S. ports through the end of June, while Princess Cruises, Holland America, and Disney Cruise Line have opted to cancel U.S. sailings longer than seven nights, as per CDC rules, likely until November 2021.

Holland America, Regent Seven Seas, and Oceania Cruises have all canceled all cruises in general through June 30, while Seabourn has opted to suspend all cruises until July 3. Viking Cruises will run select cruises to Iceland and Bermuda but has otherwise canceled all cruises through June. 

Article Sources
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  1. Reuters. "Fully Vaccinated People Can Shed Their Masks in Most Places - U.S. CDC." May 13, 2021.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Cruise Ship Guidance."

  3. Travel Weekly. "U.S. Senate Passes Legislation to Enable Alaska Cruising this Summer." May 14, 2021