Cruise Features

CDC will let you take a cruise from the US, you just won’t want to

The CDC’s updates to the Conditional Sailing Order regarding the resumption of cruises from the US were initially welcomed by the cruise industry, but now the latest guidance issued by the agency has effectively taken all the fun out of the cruise experience.

As a result of the CDC’s draconian new rules, which call for social distancing, mandatory mask wearing (whether you’ve had a vaccine or not), restrictions on the use of dining areas and the elimination of the cruise ship buffet, the cruise industry is up in arms.

Cruise ship buffets will no longer be allowed under new CDC regulations

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Norwegian Cruise Line President & CEO Frank del Rio has called the new rules “absurd”, while Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has called the CDC’s approach to resuming cruises in the United States a “joke”.

What is all the fuss about?

The new rules from the CDC. The agency’s latest guidance impacts the cruise experience significantly, removing many of the activities and experiences that cruise passengers enjoy the most.

More and more details are emerging about the new CDC regulations released this week. The biggest issue, apart from the other 74 separate protocols, regards meal service.

According to the CDC’s updates, cruise lines will need to provide pre-packaged meals for passengers to collect (in a social distanced manner) and meals on demand for consumption in the room or on the outer decks (if no social distanced space is available in dining rooms).

All the chairs and loungers on outer decks will also need to be socially distanced, severely limiting capacity all over the ship and forcing the majority of passengers to eat in their cabins. Fun.

And if you are lucky enough to nab a table in the dining room or a nearby cafe to eat your pre-packaged meal, you’ll need to keep your mask on, and only remove it or lift it from your face to sip your drink or take a bit of food.

The Buffet will need to become a sit-down service, with significantly reduced capacity due to social distancing – everyone else will need to collect a packaged meal

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The exact wording from the CDC is: “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.”

Another controversial protocol regards shore excursions. The CDC mandates that during port calls, passengers must be prohibited from self-guided or independent exploration – and when on an organized tour they must socially distance and stay away from locals.

The problem with this is that most North American cruise passengers are repeat cruisers who have visited all the popular Caribbean ports several times.

Everyone has a favourite local restaurant, beach or area that they like to return to while ashore, independent exploration is the whole point of their desire to return to the Caribbean.

Why is the CDC only announcing these measures now?

They’ve been released as part of the move to phase 2B and 3 of the Conditional Sailing Order. The delay in moving from phase 2 to phase 3, and the CDC’s refusal to communicate any of these new regulations until now, was part of what has infuriated the cruise industry about the Conditional Sailing Order in the first place.

The cruise industry has been asking for clarity regarding the third and fourth phases of the Conditional Sailing Order for several months, but the CDC has only provided these additional details now.

The CDC has not clarified whether these dining and shore excursion rules apply to all ships or only those without a vaccine mandate

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The result is that once again the cruise industry is going back to the CDC asking for clarity on how the rules will be enforced and whom they will apply to (all ships, or only those without a vaccine mandate? All passengers or only those who aren’t vaccinated?).

“I seriously doubt we will be able to stand up a vessel out of a US Port in July, while August is also in jeopardy. And it’s all because of the disjointed guidelines from the CDC,” said Frank Del Rio, President & CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings.

Do the rules apply to all cruise lines sailing from the US?

The short answer is no, they’ll (apparently) only apply to cruise lines that aren’t mandating full vaccination from cruise passengers, which is what several cruise lines have done in Europe and the UK as part of their return to service there.

The issue is complicated by Del Rio’s statement that the rules may apply to all cruise lines, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ intense opposition to allowing any company to mandate vaccination before doing business.

Florida is home to the busiest cruise ports in the world, such as Miami, so De Santis’ new bill is a major problem for cruise lines

Florida Governor Rick DeSantis has even signed into law a bill that will prevent cruise lines from requiring guests to be vaccinated.

The executive order states that: “Businesses in Florida are prohibited from requiring patrons or customers to provide any documentation certifying COVID-19 vaccination… to gain access to, entry upon or service from the business”.

It will take effect on July 1st, 2021, but faces legal challenges from within and from outside the state.

This will make cruising in July almost impossible, not just because of the difficulty in enforcing the new regulations, but also because many North American cruise passengers don’t want to be forced to take a vaccine in order to cruise, while the vast majority are vehemently opposed to mask mandates.

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