The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has finally removed all travel advisories for cruises, meaning it no longer sees cruise holidays as representing a higher risk of COVID-19 contagion than other forms of travel.
The top US health agency dropped its cruise health travel notice after two years of essentially telling Americans not to take a cruise, and demand for cruises has surged in the days following the move.
Carnival Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International, the two largest cruise lines in the world, have reported record demand for cruise bookings.
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According to Carnival Cruise Line, the March 28-April 3 period was its busiest boking week in the company’s history, while Royal Caribbean International said it set two new records last week with the largest single booking day and the highest volume booking week, March 26 – April 1, in its 53-year history.
In fact, demand for cruises has been so high for Carnival that the cruise line has taken the controversial decision to raise its gratuity rates. Effective for all cruises departing on or after May 1st, the increase was communicated via a letter sent to booked guests.
For standard staterooms, the new recommended amount is US $14.50 per person per day, up from US $13.99, while suite guests are now suggested to pay US $16.50 per person per day, up from US $15.99.
These developments come as the CDC effectively stops warning the industry’s largest source market (United States) not to cruise. The US accounted for around 48% of the global cruise market in 2021, even though it was one of the last cruise markets to reopen to cruises following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The CDC has previously been lowering its cruise ship travel warning, going from Level 4 (the highest), to Level 3, and a few weeks ago, Level 2. Virgin Voyages, the world’s newest mainstream cruise line, part of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, was one of the first to respond to the CDC’s move.
“We’re absolutely thrilled to see that the CDC recognizes that it’s time to remove the Travel Health Notice website,” said Tom McAlpin, CEO of Virgin Voyages. “While we feel this was a long time coming, we recognize this move as a demonstration of all of the hard work this industry has done to ensure that we’re offering the safest way to travel.”
“It’s refreshing to see them meet us where we’re at, and clearly where our consumers are at considering the major uptick in demand we’ve seen,” he added.
Holland America Line also said that the removal of the travel advisory for cruising was recognition of the work the industry has done to mitigate the risk of catching COVID-19 at sea.
“The CDC’s removal of its health notice related to cruise travel is an important step forward in recognizing the work we have done to protect our guests,” said Gus Antorcha, President, Holland America Line.
“At Holland America Line, we continue to operate vaccinated cruises and have created a safe and healthy environment for our guests, our teams, and the communities we serve, helping to ensure cruising is among the safest forms of socializing and travel,” he added.
While the cruise industry was one of the worst-hit travel sectors when the pandemic emerged, and suffered a number of outbreaks of the virus aboard cruise ships at sea, a range of health and safety measures have been put in place to counteract the pandemic, such as pre-cruise testing, social distancing, mask mandates, vaccine policies and enhanced sanitation.
Following the widespread uptake in vaccination in key source markets such as North America and Europe, many of these measures have now been relaxed, primarily mask mandates, but there has not been a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 infections reports by cruise lines.
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