Update: Since first publishing this article in early November, Carnival (as of November 27) now shows as having a completed “No Sail Order” response plan in place with the CDC. They also have a single ship (Carnival Horizon) listed as operating in U.S. waters, compared to 15 for Royal Caribbean.
At a Glance:
- The new CDC framework to return to sailing requires a “No Sail Order” response plan on file and approved by the agency.
- Other lines, including Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and MSC, have this plan already in place, according to the CDC website.
- Carnival Corporation isn’t listed as having an approved plan, and it’s not clear how long the process will take. Other lines went through a lengthy process to have their plans approved.
If you’re a cruise fan, then the CDC’s expiration of the “No Sail Order” is reason to celebrate. With the order no longer in force, the CDC laid out a brand-new framework that gives a pathway to return to sailing.
If you’re a Carnival fan, however, there’s reason to wonder if you may not be back to sailing your favorite cruise line as quickly.
It looks as though Carnival Corporation — the company that owns Carnival, Princess, and other lines — could be behind rivals like Royal Caribbean Group, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd, and MSC, due to not having a “No Sail Order” response plan already approved by the CDC.
To be sure, there is no guarantee that the popular cruise line will return later than others. The cruise industry has never seen anything like the impact of the pandemic or the framework laid out by the CDC. There are still many questions about the timeline to return to sailing for every line.
That said, the language of the CDC’s order does seem to point that Carnival is currently playing “catch up” compared to other cruise lines on this important step that must be completed in order to return.
A New Framework To Navigate Before Sailing
With the new CDC Framework, the government is putting in several requirements cruise lines must meet before they sail again. This path helps to ensure the cruise lines are taking the necessary precautions to keep ships as healthy as possible for both passengers and crew.
The framework spells out four main steps that lines must take:
- Establishment of crew protections onboard cruise ships
- Simulated voyages designed to test cruise line’s ability to mitigate the virus
- A certification process to resume sailing
- Return to passenger voyages in a manner that mitigates risk of COVID
Taken together, it appears that all the steps will require at least a few months to work through. That’s not just because it takes time to complete each step, but timing deadlines set by the CDC also add in delays to a return.
For instance, the CDC requires that each cruise line apply and be granted a “Conditional Sailing Certificate” prior to sailing again. While cruise lines must complete several steps before they can even apply, the government also requires cruise lines apply for certification at least 60 days before the anticipated return-to-sail date.
So even if a ship had completed every step already, it would still be months before they could return due to this requirement.
In short, all cruise lines appear to have some time before they get back to sailing. In fact, the industry as a whole recently suspended cruises from the United States until at least January 2021. This suspension is for all lines, including Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Lines, and Carnival.
But it’s actually the first step in this framework process laid out by the CDC where Carnival looks to be behind compared to rivals.
Why Carnival Appears to Be a Step Behind
As the first step in a return to sailing, the CDC requires cruise lines take measures to protect crew members.
Those measures include having a response plan in place to mitigate COVID on board, testing crew at least weekly on the ship, and submitting reports to the CDC concerning cases onboard.
Here’s quick rundown of the requirements the CDC lists for this step in the framework:
- Have a “No Sail Order” (NSO) response plan submitted to the CDC that is determined complete and accurate
- Continue to submit reports regarding COVID illness on the ship
- Continue to follow the NSO response plan and most current CDC recommendations for COVID-19
- Conduct testing for every crew member on the ship at least weekly
- Crew can only be transferred from ships with no COVID illnesses for the previous 28 days
- Crew embarking from land must be tested before embarking and quarantined immediately
- Continued following of these requirements following an application for a certificate to sail
Where Carnival appears to be trailing is with the first bullet point — the “No Sail Order” response plan.
An approved response plan means that the cruise lines “have met CDC’s requirements to provide a safe environment for crew members to work and to disembark crew safely by noncommercial travel.” The plan should “prevent, mitigate, and respond to the spread of COVID-19 on board to ensure a safe work environment and disembarkation for crew members,” according to the agency.
That may sound simple, but evidently it is not. According to the CDC, there were a number of issues with many of these plans submitted by different cruise lines. In the extension of the “No Sail Order” that was published in July, the CDC described a lengthy review process that required a number of revisions to complete the plans:
“The work-intensive plan review process has involved assessing hundreds of documents from each cruise line to determine if they completely and adequately addressed the elements of an appropriate plan described in the April 15, 2020 Extension. Most plans needed two complete reviews and revisions, with one plan requiring seven rounds of revisions.”
By July, months after plans were first submitted, only one cruise line — Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line — had a plan in place that met all the requirements.
According to the agency, Carnival submitted a plan but told the CDC that it did not intend to have ships return to U.S. waters before the end of the “No Sail Order.” Carnival’s plan was therefore held for review:
What It Means If There’s No Plan in Place
Today, several cruise companies and lines have worked through the process with the CDC to get a “No Sail Order” response plan in place and approved.
A full list of the cruise lines that currently have approved plans is listed on the CDC website. The cruise lines with plans on file include almost all of the major players, from Disney to MSC to Royal Caribbean.
Carnival, however, is noticeably absent from the list:
As well, in the September 30 extension of the “No Sail Order,” the CDC mentioned once again that it was still holding its review of Carnival’s plan.
So what does it mean if a cruise line isn’t listed? According to the FAQ on the CDC’s page, if a cruise line is not listed in its table, then “it means the cruise line is not operating and does not plan to operate any of its ships in U.S. waters during the period of the No Sail Order.”
Take a look:
To our knowledge, Carnival has made no mention of not returning to sailing in the United States as soon as is safe to do so. In fact, Carnival Corporation CEO Arnold Donald has sounded optimistic about the return to sailing in recent weeks, with hopes of returning before the end of the year. (This was before the CDC framework was announced and Carnival Corporation suspended cruises through 2020.)
And to be sure, just because a response plan isn’t on file right now doesn’t mean that one can’t be completed and approved in the coming days or weeks. It’s likely that any cruise line will do whatever it takes to get back to sailing as soon as they can. The CDC says it will update its list of cruise lines with approved plans every Tuesday.
Even so, with the new rules laid out for cruises to return, there are plenty of steps that will take time to complete. The fact that other cruise lines have already completed their response plans indicates they’ve met an important — and seemingly difficult — milestone on the start of the path.
It’s yet to be seen if the lack of a plan could delay Carnival’s return compared to others, but it seems possible given how difficult the process appeared for other cruise lines.
Note: Cruzely reached out to Carnival to ask about the “No Sail Order” response plan and if it would mean a delay in a return to sailing. We have yet to hear back but will update if we do.