After getting the cruise industry and travel agency community up in arms over harsh restrictions on passengers under the supposedly ‘final’ guidance of its Conditional Sail Order, the CDC has quietly relented on some of the strictest requirements.
As Open Jaw reported last week, for cruising to begin again from U.S. homeports on a conditional basis, the CDC said it required – regardless of vaccination status, cruising with:
- physical distancing enforced, as well as 6-feet of spacing between all seating, including already-scarce pool deck loungers;
- the elimination of all self-service food and beverage including buffets and drink stations;
- masking at all times when outside staterooms including taking masks on and off between bites and sips of drinks; and
- mandatory, heavily-restricted ‘bubble’ shore excursions.
It created an uproar over apparent double standards applied to cruising – even fully vaccinated cruise travellers – compared to other modes of transport and the CDC’s guidance for other travel and daily life for vaccinated Americans.
Meanwhile, a third state – Texas – joined Florida and Alaska in a lawsuit designed to force the CDC to permit cruising to begin again unconditionally in the U.S. And some cruise lines, faced with the severe CDC restrictions even for vaccinated passengers – and at the same time, a new law in Florida forbidding businesses to demand proof of vaccination at all – threatened to simply take their ships elsewhere.
This week, the CDC appears to have quietly changed its tune.
The “COVID-19 Operations Manual for Simulated and Restricted Voyages under the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order,” posted on the CDC’s web site has been updated.
And the changes affect at least two of the most punitive limitations on the cruise experience – for the better.
Under the changed guidance, fully-vaccinated cruise guests may:
- “gather or conduct activities outdoors, including engaging in extended meal service or beverage consumption, without wearing a mask except in crowded settings;” and
- “engage in self-guided or independent exploration during port stops, if they wear a mask while indoors.”
The CDC does note that local jurisdictions may have their own requirements for guests, vaccinated or not, to come ashore independently of an organized cruise line shore excursion.
Regardless, these two changes alone completely change the game for any guest considering booking a cruise for the duration of the Conditional Sail Order – or wondering whether restrictions would change the cruise experience so drastically that they would rather wait to book until the CSO is lifted altogether.
We can certainly predict that outdoor dining will be the lodestone of the return to cruising!
But the CDC walking back on these two, key restrictions allow cruise lines and the advisors selling cruises to breathe a sigh of relief and regain confidence in the success of a return to cruising in its biggest market.