101 Days Without Sailing: Cruise Suspension Reaches New Milestone

Today marks a disappointing milestone. It is now 101 days since the entire cruise industry stopped sailing from the United States.

Cruise Ship Docked in Miami

While some cruise lines had already stopped sailing a day or two before, on March 13, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) — an industry group that counts all the major lines as members — announced the pause.

At the time, the suspension, which went into place at midnight on March 14, was set to be only 30 days. Since then, cruise lines have suspended sailings again and again. Seemingly each month another extension has been announced.

Today, the industry as a whole is targeting a return after September 15, 2020. Individual cruise lines are looking beyond that. Carnival, for example, has suspended trips until at least September 30.

Major Hurdles to Returning

While 101 days is a milestone, it’s far from the end of the suspension. If cruises return in mid-September, it will mark more than 185 days that sailings have stopped.

There is no guarantee that sailings will be able to return then, however. There are a number of hurdles that must be cleared before trips can resume.

Perhaps the most concrete issue is the CDC’s current “No Sail Order.” The order keeps ships from operating in U.S. waters until it is lifted. Currently that order is set to expire on July 24, however it could be extended (it’s already been extended once).

In this order, the CDC pointed to the spread of COVID-19 on cruise ships as a major issue. It further stated that the CDC “finds that cruise ship travel exacerbates the global spread of COVID-19… and has not been controlled sufficiently by the cruise ship industry or individual state or local health authorities.”

That CDC statement points to two other hurdles that must be overcome.

First, cases continue to spiral in the United States. On March 14, when the suspension went into place, there were 2,773 total cases of COVID-19. Today, there have been approximately 2.4 million.

Those cases continue to grow. In early April, new cases per day topped out above 30,000 per day, before declining to about 20,000. Now daily cases have spiked above 30,000 again.

C19 Cases in the USA
Cases are back to rising in the United States. (Chart courtesy of https://www.worldometers.info/)

In other words, during the past three months there has seemingly been no improvement in the number of cases in the United States, despite other countries being able to get the virus under control.

For example, Italy — which made headlines due to the severity of the outbreak — saw cases peak above 6,000 per day in late March. Two months later the daily cases were fewer than 600.

Second, the CDC mentioned cruise lines controlling the spread of the outbreak. In this area, we are getting some clarity.

Many cruise lines are announcing the changes they are making onboard to return to sailing. Moves like online check-in and staggered boarding are going to be more common, as are temperature checks, fogging staterooms with disinfectant, reduced capacity for sailings, and even onboard COVID tests available.

Virgin Voyages even says its goal is to eventually find a quick and simple test to where only those who test negative for the virus are allowed on the ship.

Still No Clear Return Date

More than 100 days into the suspension, it’s unfortunately not any clearer exactly when cruises will sail again.

While there are hurdles to overcome, so much depends on the spread of the virus itself. As long as cases continue to soar uncontrolled in the United States, it’s hard to picture cruises coming back.

Cruise lines have made clear that while they hope to return by the dates announced, it is not set in stone.

In an interview with Cruise Critic late last month, Carnival CEO Arnold Donald said, “I don’t when we will sail again. I think there’s going to be so much more alignment around what makes sense from a public health standpoint regarding this virus in the coming weeks than there has been. The more clarity there is, the easier it’s going to be to organize around it.”

For now, however, the days only continue to add up.

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