Battle of the Seas: Cruise Lines vs. the C.D.C.


In the United States, flights are filling up, hotels are getting booked, vacation rentals are selling out and car rental companies are facing a shortage because of spiking demand.

But one sector remains stalled: the cruise industry.

Cruise ships sailing out of United States ports have been docked for more than a year following a series of outbreaks of the coronavirus onboard vessels at the start of the pandemic. Now, cruise companies can restart operations only by following rules laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in October.

Earlier this month, the C.D.C. published a set of technical guidelines to help cruise companies prepare their ships to start sailing again in line with those rules, which were set out in the agency’s Framework for Conditional Sailing Order. But the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the industry’s trade group, called the instructions “so burdensome and ambiguous that no clear path forward or timetable can be discerned.”

Cruise companies have asked the agency to revise its guidelines to factor in the speedy rollout of vaccinations and allow for U.S. sailings to restart in July. But the C.D.C. has not yet provided a firm date, and under the current rules, cruise ships must follow a monthslong process that includes simulation voyages to test out their health and safety protocols, followed by a review period.

Ms. Sell, and other health experts say that requiring everyone onboard to be vaccinated against the coronavirus is one of the best ways to prevent outbreaks. Several cruise lines have made vaccinations a requirement for smaller U.S. river cruises and foreign sailings.

But while Gov. DeSantis is arguing for cruises to restart, he has also issued an executive order banning Florida businesses from requiring proof of vaccination from people seeking to use their services. The governor’s office said that the order prohibits all cruise lines from requiring vaccine certificates for their Florida operations.

The C.D.C. recommended vaccinations in its latest technical guidance, but stopped short of making them a requirement, avoiding a conflict with Florida.

Requiring vaccinations appeals to at least some would-be cruisers. “I’m really excited to get back on a cruise, but I don’t think I could fully relax and enjoy it if everyone on board wasn’t vaccinated,” said Molly Osborne, an avid cruiser based in South Florida. “It would be a great shame if we had to travel to other U.S. ports to get on a ship. Florida is the cruising capital of the world.”

Still, Ms. Osborne said she is open to traveling abroad to get on a cruise if the C.D.C. doesn’t lift its ban by the fall. “I haven’t booked anything yet as I’m waiting to see what happens, but if the only way to go this year is from the Caribbean, then I’ll probably do it.”

Experts from the C.D.C. and White House staff met with cruise line executives and industry leaders last week to discuss the details of the Conditional Sailing Order.

“The objective of the meetings are to mutually review the top priority issues of the cruise industry to work out implementation details of the CSO, including the impact of vaccines and other scientific developments since the CSO was issued in October 2020,” the agency said in a statement. “This goal aligns with the desire for the resumption of passenger operations in the United States by midsummer, expressed by many major cruise ship operators and travelers.”



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