Since the March 2020 suspension of cruising, it’s been a crazy time in the industry. That’s even an understatement.
Thousands of trips were cancelled, entirely new protocols were created, and there’s been endless speculation about when and how ships will return. The false starts to return have been countless, but now those sailings finally look to be on the horizon.
But if you thought the past 15 months have been a wild time, the next 60 days promise to be perhaps even more ground-breaking in the history of cruising.
In the span of only two months we are set to get answers to some of the biggest questions facing cruising at the same time that we will almost certainly see a massive push to restart both in the United States and abroad.
Here’s a look at all the major developments that look to happen in just the next two months.
Restart of Global Cruising
Starting off is that finally cruising is set to make a major restart around the world, with trips definitively scheduled in the Caribbean, the UK, and Europe.
Now, if you listen to cruise executives, cruising has largely been back for months. Yes, trips have sailed in some spots here and there. About half a million passengers around the world have taken a cruise since trips were first paused in 2020.
But let’s not kid ourselves, cruising isn’t really back in force just yet.
This summer, that will change. Lines like Royal Caribbean and Norwegian have trips scheduled from departure ports in the Caribbean and elsewhere. There are also several lines returning to sailing from England, Greece, and other parts of Europe.
In short, we’ll start to see most lines finally make their return since the pause that began almost a year and a half ago.
The Return of U.S. Cruises
Next, is the big change that we’re all excited about — a likely restart of cruising from the United States. Finally it looks like there is some agreement from both the government and cruise lines that a July restart is possible. But it’s also been made absolutely clear that while it’s possible, it’s not set in stone.
Carnival for instance has cancelled all their July trips except for a handful of sailings from Galveston and Miami. Norwegian Cruise Line has said due to the time it takes to get a ship ready, they wouldn’t sail from the U.S. until August.
So will cruises actually return in July? At this point it is promising. Having both the CDC and cruise lines say it is possible is a big deal. The CDC also seems to be relaxing some of its rules, and the industry has said positive things about meetings with them recently. Plus, the vaccine has been a breakthrough the industry desperately needed and seems to be working as well advertised.
So we think some cruises — definitely not all — will set sail in July from the U.S., but don’t be surprised if it’s pushed until the back half of the month just to give a little more time. That’s about 60 days from now.
Will Vaccines Be Required?
Then, there is the question of vaccine requirements. This is one we will likely know the answer to sooner rather than later, but we should definitely know within the next two months if you will need the jab to be able to sail.
Some lines like NCL have already made the call and said you will, at least starting out. Other lines have either pushed off announcing a decision or required some trips to sail with vaccines while others don’t have to at this time. Expect the big players to start making their policies public in the days or weeks ahead as we get closer to a possible return date.
Remember, if cruise lines sail fully vaccinated cruises, then the CDC says they can come back much faster — including skipping test cruises. So will cruise lines take advantage, despite potentially upsetting some potential passengers?
We think all the signs point to yes, as we’ve written about several times on Cruzely.
First, as mentioned, several lines or specific cruises have already said they will require the shot. For those that have not, the CDC is simply making it so much easier for lines to sail if passengers and crew are vaccinated. As well, it’s in the cruise line’s interest to sail with vaccinated passengers. The last thing they want is to start back sailing and have an outbreak on the ship.
Cruise lines have mentioned two pathways, which could mean starting back sooner with vaccinated sailings and then returning later with regular sailings.
Easing Rules for Vaccinated Passengers?
One reason that you might want to get that shot if you’ve been putting it off is that the CDC is making it much more enjoyable to sail if you’re vaccinated. And it’s possible that in the next couple of months more rules will be relaxed.
In the past days the agency has said that vaccinated passengers no longer have to wear masks by pools. They can go ashore on their own in ports of call instead of having to be on an approved excursion. And they also don’t have to get tested before or after the cruise if the cruise line decides to allow it. Passengers who aren’t vaccinated don’t get these benefits.
Could more benefits — such as less distancing and fuller ships — be coming for vaccinated cruises in the next month or two? Changes have already started happening and more would definitely be welcomed.
Will Cruises Skip Sailing From Florida?
It seems obvious that with a faster potential return and less of a chance of cases on the ship, that cruise lines would definitely go with fully vaccinated U.S. sailings. But there are two big hurdles that still need to be sorted out, and we should know more in the next 60 days.
First are rules in Florida that say businesses can’t ask for proof of vaccination from their customers. So while the CDC is making it easier to sail with the shot, Florida says you can’t require it. Cruise lines are stuck in the middle, and one CEO has even raised the possibility of not sailing from Florida if they can’t reach an agreement.
Now, this is one that just doesn’t worry us much. Florida is heavily invested in cruise lines and benefits economically from their return. Cruise lines are heavily invested in Florida, which is the cruise capital of the world.
It’s simply in both of their interests to work out some sort of agreement. Not saying it couldn’t happen that cruises go elsewhere, but it would be surprising to say the least.
Are Kids Going to Be Allowed to Sail?
The second hurdle that we should see sorted out is sailing with kids. Since most kids aren’t eligible for the shot, you can’t sail a fully vaccinated cruise and still allow kids onboard. NCL has said that everyone has to have the shot to board its cruises from the time being. But can you imagine a ship like Carnival’s Mardi Gras — which even has a roller coaster for kids — sailing without children?
If a ship sails fully vaccinated, then it means most kids can’t sail since they aren’t eligible for the vaccine. But a cruise ship sailing in the middle of summer without any families onboard? It just seems unthinkable.
This is one where we simply have no idea what’s going to happen. Maybe the CDC will clarify the rules on vaccinated cruises and make it to where kids don’t have to be inoculated? Or maybe the unthinkable actually happens and kids have to wait until non-vaccinated cruises take the longer pathway to get back to sailing.
No matter what happens, it should be answered in the coming weeks.
Without a doubt, the past year and a half has been unlike anything that’s ever hit the cruise industry before. But if you’re a cruise fan, the good news is that it seems we are just on the cusp of a return to sailing. No matter what happens, the next 60 days will be one to watch and help to put to rest some of the big questions we all have.