On April 9, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an extended no-sail order for all cruise lines intending to operate to, from or in American waters for 100 days -- or until the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic is no longer considered to be a public health emergency by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Armed with the report and questions from Cruise Critic's message boards, we break down what the ruling means – and what cruisers can expect over the next few months.
Does the CDC order apply to cruises around the world?
No. At this point, the order only affects passenger ships over 250 people (with the total including both guests and crew) intending to operate overnight, or multi-night, voyages that depart, arrive, or cruise from territorial waters and waterways of the United States. This does, however, include regions like Hawaii, Alaska and territories like St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Does the CDC order only affect foreign-flagged cruise ships?
No. This order applies equally to both American and foreign-flagged passenger ships, excluding ferries and government-operated vessels.
The CDC order bans cruising from the U.S. for 100 days or until the pandemic is no longer a public health emergency, but my cruise line has only announced suspensions through May or June. Why is there a discrepancy?
The CDC's ruling only applies to sailings in American waters. Voyages departing from Europe, Canada and other foreign countries to foreign ports of call could potentially still go ahead. As the situation with the pandemic is very fluid, cruise lines are carefully assessing the situation to see if there will be itineraries that can be operated in parts of the world where the pandemic has passed. Those dates may not necessarily match the dates of the CDC ruling; if a cruise line has the all-clear to operate voyages from Norway or Greece at that time, it may initiate a soft resumption of service with one or two ships overseas before the CDC order is lifted.
Cruise lines are trying to adjust sailings and itineraries as the pandemic progresses. That involves a tremendous amount of behind-the-scenes work from operations and itinerary planning professionals, not to mention the Herculean task of securing alternate berthing and provisioning arrangements.
Until it is obvious that itineraries from foreign ports of call can absolutely not proceed, these cruises technically remain active.
I have a cruise booked for July 1. My cruise line hasn't canceled yet, but that falls in the period outlined by the CDC. Should I cancel?
Deciding whether to cancel is a personal decision, as options and offerings could vary from line to line and sailing to sailing.The advantage of waiting for the cruise line to cancel is that if the cruise line to pulls the plug, it might offer incentives that go above and beyond the standard cancellation policies. It also might allow you to choose between a refund or a future cruise credit. If you initiate cancellation, there could be a penalty fee, depending on your cruise line, or you could be limited in your options for receiving a refund.
Are river or coastal cruises through the United States affected?
It depends – if your ship can carry over 250 people (passengers and crew) then you won't be able to sail, even if your cruise is operating solely within the United States on an American-flagged vessel.
The restriction on size means that some cruise lines, like American Cruise Lines and UnCruise Adventures, are able to operate because their vessels meet this requirement. Others, like American Queen Steamboat Company, will be sidelined due to the larger size of their vessels and will have to adhere to the CDC's new guidance.
My cruise starts in Vancouver, Canada, but sails to Alaska. Will it be canceled?
Under the current CDC restrictions, yes. While the CDC has no influence over Canadian or other foreign ports of call, it does apply in its own regional and intercoastal waters – and that includes Alaska.
While it is possible that cruise lines may modify itineraries to focus only on Canadian ports of call until the CDC ban is lifted, no companies have announced plans to do so yet. A few lines were planning to offer Canada-only voyages on the East Coast later this fall that leave and depart from Canadian ports of call, after the CDC ban's 100 days, so it's always a possibility.
I'm on a transatlantic crossing between the United States and Europe or the UK. Will my voyage be affected?
Yes. Under the current regulations, voyages departing from or arriving into American waters and ports are suspended. It is possible that some transatlantic crossings could be modified to depart or arrive from non-American ports of call, but as of this writing no official changes have been made.
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the world's largest cruise industry trade organization, has responded by saying the government is unfairly singling out the cruise industry over other areas of the travel industry, like flights and hotels. Is this a fair reaction?
To get a better answer to this question, Cruise Critic spoke with Vicky Garcia, COO & Co – Owner, Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Representative.
"At the beginning of this crisis, many consumers wrongly believed that Covid-19 was isolated to cruise ships, when it was in fact a growing public health crisis worldwide," Garcia said. "As we see today, people are getting the virus from normal day-to-day activities such as going to work or even the grocery store, so it's clear that coronavirus has affected every aspect of business, not to mention the entire travel industry.
"I am proud that the cruise lines have come together to work on improving their collective cleaning procedures as well as communicating with onboard team members, travel advisors and consumers."
What will the response from the industry be?
The cruise industry will likely take a measured approach to these new guidelines. Expect to see new safety and sanitization measures introduced to sailings that will likely be revealed over the coming months.
"We very much value our relationship with the U.S. authorities, and will continue to work with these important agencies in our shared commitment for the health and safety of passengers and crew, which is the industry's number one priority," CLIA said in a statement released to media on April 10.
Once the CDC is satisfied that cruise lines have met all of its specific requirements for how to handle operations during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, and once the bulk of the virus has been brought under control within the country, cruises from and to the United States will be given the green light again.