In March 2020, the entire cruise industry made history when it announced it would voluntarily suspend sailing in the United States for 30 days. To further ensure cruises were halted, there was also a “No Sail Order” put in place by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Of course, the original suspensions of only a month proved to be far too optimistic. In total, cruise lines were suspended for nearly 500 days before any of them returned to sailing at all from the United States. Now, they are in the midst of a measured and deliberate return.
The CDC, which had extended a “No Sail Order” multiple times, allowed that order to expire at the end of October 2020. Now, it has given cruise lines a “Framework for Conditional Sailing.” This order lays out a pathway for cruises to get back to sailing, but not without meeting stringent requirements.
The good news for cruising is that as of June 26, 2021, the first ship — Celebrity Edge — returned to sailing from the U.S. More cruise lines and ships are returning slowly but surely.
We’ve laid out all the dates that major cruise lines have trips scheduled to return (or have already returned) to sailing from the United States. As you’ll see below, the 2021 summer looks promising for a return to cruising for cruise lines, although anything can happen given the virus.
Note: Dates mentioned are scheduled return dates for cruises from the U.S. In some cases cruise lines might start sailing in other regions earlier than the dates listed below.
CDC Framework and Its Impact on the Resumption of Cruises
With the new "Framework for Conditional Sailing," cruise lines now have a much clearer path to getting back to sailing, though certainly not easy.
While the framework lays out a path, there are no actual dates specified within the process. There are, however, certain steps that the CDC says cruise lines must follow.
The framework itself is a series of measures that cruise lines must take, falling into four categories:
- Testing and protection of crew onboard cruise ships in U.S. waters
- Simulated voyages with volunteer passengers to test new policies
- Certification process through the CDC to be fit for sailing
- Return of paid-passenger cruises in line with CDC protocols
Within each of these categories are multiple measures cruise lines must take in order to complete the framework. Once completed, then the cruise lines can apply for a "Conditional Sailing Certificate" to return to sailing.
For a full explanation of all the steps and their requirements, see our article here.
Recently, the CDC eased some rules for cruise lines if they sail fully vaccinated trips where 98% of crew and 95% of passengers have the shot. For instance, if a cruise ship sails a fully vaccinated trip, they can skip the simulated voyages, drastically cutting down the time needed to meet the CDC requirements.
So far cruise lines have followed two different paths. Some are opting to sail with less than 95% vaccinated passengers. In this case, they are sailing simulated voyages and also having masking and distancing rules on the ship.
Cruise lines sailing above the 95% threshold -- such as Carnival -- can forego the test cruises. As well, life on the ship is different as masking and distancing aren't required except in certain instances.
Cruises Return, But Still Months Until All Ships Are Back
The process of cruises returning is like nothing the industry has seen before. There is no precedent. That makes it more difficult to understand exactly how it will play out.
The process has been slow so far with the CDC, but it is starting to ramp up more quickly. Already, several major lines including Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, and Carnival have officially returned to sailing, with many more scheduled in the weeks and months ahead.
But the full return of ships will take many more months to play out -- even if all goes well. Carnival has said that it plans to have 15 ships sailing (slightly more than half its fleet) by the end of October.
All of this, of course, is dependent that a rise in virus cases doesn't impact the return and vaccines continue to work against the virus.
Keep in mind that this situation is truly unprecedented. There is simply no way to know exactly when cruises return until the ship leaves the dock with passengers.
Below are the latest return dates for U.S. sailings, based on currently scheduled cruises.
Carnival Cruise Lines: Resumed Sailing July 3
Carnival -- arguably the world's most famous cruise line -- wasn't the first cruise line to return to sailing from the United States. However, it was among the earliest to return.
Its first cruise from the U.S. departed Galveston on July 3, 2021 aboard Carnival Vista. It was followed the next day by Carnival Horizon, sailing from Miami. Now the cruise line plans to have 15 ships sailing by the end of October, with the vast majority of passengers sailing vaccinated.
- Carnival Vista from Galveston sailing July 3
- Carnival Horizon from Miami sailing July 4
- Carnival Breeze from Galveston sailing July 15
- Carnival Miracle from Seattle sailing July 27 through September 14
- Mardi Gras from Port Canaveral sailing July 31
- Carnival Magic from Port Canaveral sailing August 7
- Carnival Sunrise from Miami sailing August 14
- Carnival Panorama from Long Beach sailing August 21
- Carnival Glory from New Orleans sailing September 5
- Carnival Pride from Baltimore sailing September 12
- Carnival Dream from Galveston sailing September 19
- Carnival Miracle from Long Beach sailing September 27
- Carnival Conquest from Miami sailing October 8
- Carnival Freedom from Miami sailing October 9
- Carnival Elation from Port Canaveral sailing October 11
- Carnival Sensation from Mobile sailing October 21
Royal Caribbean: Resumed Sailing July 2
Royal Caribbean made its original pause announcements in two different segments. First, the company announced it suspended U.S. sailings starting March 14. Then, starting on March 15, Royal Caribbean suspended its cruises around the world.
Originally the company planned to return to operations in mid-April 2020. After multiple extensions, the first U.S. sailing departed Miami aboard Freedom of the Seas on July 2, 2021.
Other ships currently or planning to sail from the U.S. include:
- Serenade of the Seas from Seattle
- Ovation of the Seas from Seattle
- Independence of the Seas from Galveston
- Odyssey of the Seas from Fort Lauderdale
- Symphony of the Seas from Miami
- Allure of the Seas from Port Canaveral
- Mariner of the Seas from Port Canaveral
So far, Royal Caribbean has planned its return with simulated cruises, giving more leeway regarding unvaccinated passengers. While adults (and kids over 12) on most cruises (except those departing Florida) require the shot, kids ineligible for the vaccine are also allowed to sail.
Celebrity Cruises: Resumed Sailing June 26
Celebrity Cruises made history as being the first line to make a return to the United States. When Celebrity Edge departed Fort Lauderdale on June 26, it marked the first major ship to sail from the U.S. in roughly 470 days.
Other ships scheduled to sail from America in 2021 include Celebrity Equinox, Millennium, Summit, Reflection, and Apex.
In addition, ships have already returned to other parts of the world.
Norwegian Cruise Line: Resume Sailing August 7
As of March 2020, Norwegian made the call to suspend voyages across their fleet worldwide. The plan was for the ships to resume sailing in April 2020, but the suspension was lengthened multiple times. It's now been extended through July 2021 for the U.S., with cruises returning in August.
According to the NCL, the first cruise scheduled from the United States is a trip from Seattle to Alaska on August 7.
Notably, there is some question if that cruise will sail from Florida, where trips are scheduled starting August 15. Norwegian has been firm that it wants to sail with 100% of passengers vaccinated. However, Florida law says businesses can't require proof of vaccination from customers.
This has led to tension between the state and the cruise line. Recently, the cruise line's parent company filed suit to be able to sail fully vaccinated from the state. It's not clear what will come of the suit or NCL's restart plans given the desire to sail fully vaccinated from Florida.
Disney Cruise Line: Resume Sailing August 9
Disney suspended sailing along with the other major cruise lines. Originally it said that the suspension would last through the end of March 2020. Then it extended that date for all four of its ships to April 12, with trips resuming on April 13, 2020.
Now, according to a notice on its website Disney will resume sailing in August from Florida, with some U.K. cruises for the Disney Magic as well.
The first Disney cruise ship scheduled to return from the U.S. is the Dream on August 9, 2021, from Port Canaveral. It will sail on 3 and 4-night trips to Disney's private island, Castaway Cay.
MSC Cruises: Resume Sailing August 2
MSC is a global cruise line and has ships sailing worldwide, but it is making inroads into the United States with some of its newest and largest vessels.
In the United States, trips are scheduled to begin again August 2, 2021 according to CruiseIndustryNews.com. The first trip will be aboard MSC Meraviglia, which will offer short 3 and 4-night cruises to The Bahamas, including its private island, Ocean Cay.
Notably, MSC has some practice in sailing in the new environment. They've had a number of sailings in Europe under new regulations and seem to be successful in keeping passengers healthy.
Princess Cruises: Resume Sailing July 25
Princess has been the cruise line perhaps most impacted by the crisis. At least two of its ships had virus outbreaks in the early days of the crisis, leading to headlines around the world.
It also made the news by being the first major cruise line to announce a voluntary suspension of cruising, which was quickly followed by other lines. Princess originally announced it would stop all cruises from March 12 through May 10, 2020. Of course, that's now been extended multiple times.
Princess paused operations through most of July, but now plans to sail from Alaska, departing Seattle starting July 25 aboard Majestic Princess -- 500 days after stopping sailing in 2020.
Holland America: Resume Sailing July 24
Holland America suspended departures around the world through July 2021, after pausing back in March 2020. But at the end of July the cruise line will make its return, with a cruise sailing from Seattle.
The cruise line will start sailing to Alaska from Seattle, beginning on July 24 aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam. From there the line will return to sailing around the world, including Greece, Italy, Spain, and more U.S. departures later in the year.
What Will Cruising Look Like When It Does Resume?
It's clear that when cruises do come back, in some cases it's going to look very different than it did going into the crisis. While a number of requirements have been announced, it's unclear how long they will be in place. Like everything else during the crisis, expect the situation to be fluid as the world re-opens. It's also clear that sailings with fully vaccinated passengers will look different than non-vaccinated sailings, at least at first.
Of course, just like venues on land, there will be new procedures in place on the ship. This will run the gamut from more frequent sanitation to reducing touch points on ships.
Don't be surprised when are fewer deck chairs by the pool and they are spaced farther apart. And crew members will wear masks while on duty. Also expect cruise lines to ask passengers to wear masks when distancing isn't an option (such as elevators) if on an unvaccinated cruise.
Note that these rules are relaxed if 95% of passengers on the ship are vaccinated. In that case, masks and distancing are optional for the cruise lines. As well, there will be areas reserved only for vaccinated passengers if sailing on a ship that's under the 95% threshold.
At check-in, it's likely that the procedures put in place during the outbreak will stick around for months or years to come.
That means you can expect things like temperature checks before boarding. As well, there will be health questionnaires with a heavy emphasis on symptoms of COVID-19.
Check-in is going to move more online to reduce the interaction and crowds in the terminal. Also, expect staggered boarding to spread out the number of passengers entering the terminal at any one time.
One other item that's going to be in place according to the CDC framework is mandatory COVID tests for passengers before they board if unvaccinated (this doesn't apply to vaccinated cruise passengers). Another test is required by the CDC for unvaccinated passengers at debarkation on cruises longer than four days.
Will a shot be required to sail from the United States? That will be up to the specific cruise line. Some lines like Norwegian Cruise Line have already said they will require all passengers have the shot. Carnival is opting for sailings with 95% of passengers having the shot, but granting a small amount of exemptions.
Royal Caribbean requires the shot on many cruises for those eligible, but kids can still sail without (but will need testing and different rules).
Then there is Florida. The state doesn't allow businesses to require proof of the shot. Instead, lines are encouraging passengers to be vaccinated and implementing charges for testing and travel insurance if not.
The best idea is to go ahead and get vaccinated if you want to cruise. This way you can sail on any line and not see potential extra charges or restricted access on the ship.
Slow Resumption of Sailings
As cruises do resume, it's not that there will be no cruises and the next day you'll see a full schedule of sailings.
“I think initially we will come out operating smaller than we did than before we went into this," said Carnival CEO Arnold Donald. "That’s because there won’t be some light switch. Every destination won’t open simultaneously."
What's happening is exactly that. As cruises resume, they are doing so slowly. Only some ships resume service while others are prepared for ready as cruise lines show that they can handle sailing in the new COVID-19 world.
No matter when the cruise lines resume sailing, or the changes made, it's clear that getting back to normal is going to take some time unless everyone has the shot.