The CDC continues to finesse the guidance for cruise lines in the Conditional Sailing Order, which is intended to provide a pathway to the resumption of cruises from US ports.
The latest updates to regulations impact the onboard dining and port call experience, with the CDC indicating that ship buffets will not be allowed, and only passengers on an organized shore excursions will be allowed off the ship in port.
Norwegian Cruise Line has already confirmed changes to its onboard buffet to mitigate the risk of COVID-19, and there have been rumours that Royal Caribbean will either do away with the buffet or adapt it as well.
This is the first time, however, that a government agency has explicitly made changes to regulations regarding the cruise ship buffet, a popular staple of the cruise ship experience.
The CDC will require any cruise ship sailing from a US port to eliminate any self-serve food or drink options, such as buffets, salad bars, and drink stations. It will also require cruise lines to enforce social distancing in all venues onboard.
To make this possible, it recommends cruise lines provide alternative meal services options, such as prepackaged grab-and-go meals, for consumption on open decks or in individual cabins.
The latest updates to the Conditional Sailing Order are aimed at minimizing the risks associated withpassengers congregating indoors for dining, during which face masks (another mandatory requirement) will need to be removed.
Social distancing will need to be enforced on outdoor deck spaces as well, with sun loungers placed six feet apart – with deck space limited on any cruise ship, this will significantly reduce the number of people that can lounge by the pool or dine outdoors.
The CDC has clarified, however, that families and groups travelling together can move chairs and loungers closer to one another. How cruise lines will police this remains to be seen.
Another safety protocol confirmed by the CDC regards port calls, and matches regulations being enforced in Europe, where cruises resumed last year.
According to the CDC, cruise lines sailing from US ports will need to “prohibit self-guided or independent exploration by passengers during port stops”.
This means all passengers will only be allowed off the ship as part of an organized shore excursions, and operators of these shore excursions will need to “facilitate social distancing to allow for at least 6 feet (2 meters) between individuals who are not traveling companions or part of the same family”.
While ashore guests will also need to observe “mask wearing, cleaning and disinfection, and other COVID-19 public health measures”.
The CDC also said cruise lines should limit shore excursions in foreign ports of call to countries listed as Level 1: COVID-19 Low in CDC’s COVID-19 Travel Recommendations by Destination, which would take a number of Caribbean destinations out of itineraries.