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CDC ‘Conditional Sail’ Framework: What Does it Mean For Cruising?

Bruce Parkinson

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The return of cruising from American ports will be careful and cautious under a framework just released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

(Photo courtesy of CDC)

One day before a ‘No Sail’ order was set to expire on October 31, the CDC issued an updated ‘conditional’ sailing order that will allow “a phased resumption of cruise ship passenger operations” starting on November 1.

READ: CDC Lifts Cruise Ship Ban

That won’t happen, of course. Cruise lines have lots of work to do before welcoming guests again on ships that have been laid-up for months.

But the lifting of the ban breathes life into the possibility that at least a few ships could sail out of Florida ports before the lights are turned out on a disastrous 2020. 

The ‘conditional’ sailing order comes in the form of a 40-page document detailing a framework of requirements ships must meet before they can be ‘recertified’ and return to offering cruise vacations. 

Here are a few of the topline items:

  • The framework kicks off with requirements for testing crew members and additional safeguards to ensure adequate health and safety protections for crew. 
  • Cruise ship operators will be tasked with building the laboratory capacity needed to test future passengers. 
  • Simulated voyages will be performed to test the cruise lines’’ ability to mitigate illness risk. Once certain benchmarks are met, ships will be certified and allowed to begin a phased return to passenger voyages. 
  • The CDC says its requirements will be subject to change based on public health considerations and the demonstrated ability of cruise lines to mitigate illness risk. 

While the process will be gradual, the appearance of a pathway to reopening after months in limbo is a welcome one for a beleaguered business that was hit with what Royal Caribbean CEO Richard Fain this week called “an unfathomable crisis.”

During an earnings call just a couple of days before the CDC decision, Fain said he was feeling “more positive that we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.” But he added: “That light needs more batteries.” Friday’s CDC decision could just be that spark.

CRUISE LINE CEO: ‘We Aren’t Just Coming Back’

“This framework provides a pathway to resume safe and responsible sailing,” said CDC Director Robert R. Redfield, M.D. “It will mitigate the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks on ships and prevent passengers and crew from seeding outbreaks at ports and in the communities where they live.”

Cruise lines are fully aware they’ll be under the microscope when they get back to business, and that their future recovery and success depends on delivering a safe-as-possible cruise experience. If ever the words “abundance of caution” needed to be said, now is the time. 

Redfield says the CDC, which is part of the Department of Health and Homeland Services, will work in tandem with the industry to navigate a safe return.

“CDC and the cruise industry have a shared goal to protect crew, passengers, and communities and will continue to work together to ensure that all necessary public health procedures are in place before cruise ships begin sailing with passengers.”

Bruce Parkinson has written about cruising and the broader international travel industry for more than 25 years.

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