More Cruises Outside the United States… as Pressure Builds on the CDC

Ready to set sail? Cruises continue to come back around the world despite continued upheaval from the health crisis.

Passengers wanting to get to sea can sail from Europe and Asia. Trips from Israel, the United Kingdom, and even The Bahamas and Bermuda are scheduled to begin sailing in the months ahead.

Ships docked in Cozumel
Cruise ships are returning to sailing… just not in the United States yet.

Since the pandemic closed down cruising in March 2020, more than 400,000 passengers have sailed under new protocols in a measured return. According to Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), of those passengers, there have been fewer than 50 cases of the virus — or about 0.01% of passengers.

Even so, cruises from the United States continue to be pushed back. When the “No Sail Order” from the CDC was replaced back in October 2020 with a framework to return, there was hope that a return to sailing was on the horizon.

However, that change also coincided with a massive third spike in U.S. virus cases. Since then, despite a sharp decline in cases — and more than 135 million doses of the vaccine given out to Americans — there is still no definitive answer on when cruises from the United States sail again.

Sailings Scheduled Around the World

While many may not realize it, cruises have returned to sailing for months. Trips from Europe sail with stops and starts as countries there continue to battle the virus. Sailings from Asia have also returned, such as Royal Caribbean sailing from Singapore.

To be sure, these experiences look different than what cruising looked like before the pandemic. New safety protocols have been put in place to limit any cases and spread of COVID. So far, they seem to be successful.

Royal Caribbean Group CEO Richard Fain said his company has sailed with more than 100,000 passengers, with just 10 cases of the virus. And as mentioned earlier, the cruise industry as a whole has sailed with roughly 400,000 passengers, while seeing only about 50 cases.

More importantly, these figures have come before vaccines were widely available. This has given cruise lines the confidence to ramp up future sailings.

In recent days Celebrity announced it will sail from Greece starting in June, as well as St. Maarten. Disney will sail from the United Kingdom this summer. Closer to home, Royal Caribbean has announced summer trips homeporting in Nassau and Bermuda.

And while no announcement has been made on when or where they may sail, Norwegian has cancelled trips on several ships — including its newest vessel, Encore — “as a result of fleet redeployment.”

While you can’t say that sailing is back to normal in other places around the world, you can say that it is back, at least in some capacity. 

However, in the world’s largest cruise market — the United States — no one is sure when sailing will begin again.

Where the U.S. Stands on a Return

Cruise Ship Docked in Miami

“The lack of any action by the CDC has effectively banned all sailings in the largest cruise market in the world. Cruising is the only sector of the U.S. economy that remains prohibited, even as most others have opened or continued to operate throughout the pandemic.”

That statement came from Cruise Lines International Association on March 24, 2021. In a full press release, the organization called on the CDC to drop the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order, letting cruise lines begin planning for a return starting in July.

The statement was by far the most direct we’ve seen from the organization, which claims that since the framework was released in October, there has been no further guidance from the CDC for the resumption of cruises.

CLIA President and CEO Kelly Craighead also called the current order from the CDC “outdated” as it was issued five months ago, before vaccines were approved. She also said the CDC “unfairly treats cruises differently.”

So where do things stand now?

For its part, the CDC has said that the next steps in the framework are “currently under interagency review” and that its orders remain in effect.

That’s not to say that cruises can’t sail by July. In fact, the agency could announce instructions for the next steps at any time. But until there is movement by the CDC, cruises from the United States are in limbo.

Cruise lines have stated that even if the green light were given, it would still take 2-3 months to get a ship ready to sail again. In other words, the idea that cruises might start sailing again in say, April, seems unreasonable.

Farther out — such as this summer — does seem possible if the CDC gave a return its blessing sometime soon.

Currently the major cruise lines have cruises from the United States available for booking starting in June or July. 

When Will U.S. Cruises Return?

So will cruises sail again anytime soon from the United States? Or will American cruise passengers be resigned to heading out of the country to embark on a cruise?

To be sure, no one knows for certain when cruises will return. We’ve held the opinion that sailing doesn’t return until a vaccine is widely and easily available.

On that front, the rollout of vaccines has made tremendous progress. In the U.S., 18% of adults are fully vaccinated and nearly 35% have received at least one dose. Vaccines are also opening up to more people. Experts predict that in the coming months the pace of inoculation will increase as more people are eligible and vaccine supplies increase.

At the same time, cases of COVID have fallen sharply from their peak near 250,000 cases per day. Today they are around 60,000 cases per day on average, but that number has seemingly flatlined. Hopefully more doses will continue to drop the number of cases and their severity.

There is also building pressure coming from both cruise lines and lawmakers to get back to sailing. A meeting in Port Canaveral between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, and cruise executives from all the major lines called on the CDC to figure out the next steps for a return of U.S. cruising.

A number of senators, including Florida’s Rick Scott, have also written to the White House for more information about the plan to resume sailing.

In other words, there is definitely good news for return. Vaccinations are up, U.S. cases are down, and there are growing calls for cruising to come back. Should trends continue, then we think it points to a return to sailing from the United States hopefully sometime this summer.

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