CDC updates Conditional Sailing Order yet again, relaxing mask and shore excursion rules

After creating an uproar in the North American cruise market over its near-impossible-to-enforce COVID-19 mitigation rules, the CDC has updated the Conditional Sailing Order again.

When the CDC announced that it would require all passengers to wear masks and social distance at all times, even while eating, regardless of whether they had been fully vaccinated, it was not received well by the cruise industry or its passengers.

CDC says passengers will now be able to remove a mask when eating (if they’re vaccinated)

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Norwegian Cruise Lines Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio called it “absurd” to ask passengers to keep a mask on while eating, and potential cruise passengers generally agreed that the whole set of 74 protocols made the cruise experience unnecessarily unpleasant.

Now, the CDC has updated the Conditional Sailing Order again, relaxing two key safety protocols that had caused the most contention.

Under the new rules, passengers who are fully vaccinated will be able to remove their masks to eat, and will be allowed off the ship for independent exploration at ports of call.

The CDC’s Conditional Sailing Order applies to all cruise ships sailing from US ports. Cruise lines have been trying to bring their ships into compliance with the order, but it is filled with strict rules that often contradict one another, which has delayed efforts to restart the US cruise sector.

Passengers will still need to wear a mask in all common areas (except when eating, and only if they’re fully vaccinated)

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In its update, the CDC stressed that its mask mandate remain in effect, cruise passengers must wear a mask at all times, regardless of vaccination status, however, it added a key caveat on its website:

“Cruise ship operators, at their discretion, may advise passengers and crew that—if they are fully vaccinated—they may gather or conduct activities outdoors, including engaging in extended meal service or beverage consumption, without wearing a mask except in crowded settings.”

The CDC will also allow fully vaccinated passengers to go ashore on their own, instead of having to participate in organized shore excursions that enforce social distancing and limit interaction with the public.

“Cruise ship operators, at their discretion, may advise passengers and crew that—if they are fully vaccinated—they may engage in self-guided or independent exploration during port stops, if they wear a mask while indoors. The cruise ship operator is additionally advised that foreign jurisdictions may have their own requirements,” the CDC said in its new guidelines.

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