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What Is Happening With Test Cruises in 2021?
Exterior on Voyager of the Seas

What Is Happening With Test Cruises in 2021?

What Is Happening With Test Cruises in 2021?
Exterior on Voyager of the Seas
Aaron Saunders
By Aaron Saunders
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After being mandated nearly four months ago by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as the first step in the resumption of cruise operations in the United States, test cruises are no closer to setting sail than they were last fall.
On October 31, 2020, the CDC mandated the use of test cruises as a condition for the safe resumption of cruise operations within the United States as part of its Frameworks for Conditional Sailing.
These test cruises -- officially known as "simulated voyages" in CDC documentation -- generated substantial interest from loyal cruise passengers eager to assist in the restart of cruise operations.
Just days after the CDC's new Framework for Conditional Sailing was released, Vicki Freed, Royal Caribbean's senior vice president of Sales, Trade Support and Service, noted in one of her regular Coffee Chats with agent partners that volunteers may have been needed for these simulated voyages.
The response was overwhelming: less than10 days later, Royal Caribbean set up a dedicated website to handle the sheer volume of queries the line had received from passengers eager to volunteer. The line counted over 5,000 emails and hundreds of social media posts during that timeframe alone.
In mid-November, little was known about these test voyages, how they would work, or what conditions the CDC would impose. Only the bare details were available: passengers had to be healthy, with no pre-existing medical conditions; cruise lines could not compensate or otherwise try to coerce volunteers; and test voyages had to prove health and safety protocols were effective during dry runs of embarkation, muster drills, entertainment, dining and bar service, and even shore excursions.
That's where the story stops.

Details on 2021 Test Cruises Still Unknown

Exterior on Brilliance of the Seas
Nearly four months after the issuance of the CDC's Framework for Conditional Sailing, the directive more closely resembles the organization's previous "No-Sail Order" than ever before.
Technical instructions and guidance on test voyages, along with a host of other in-limbo protocols, has simply not been provided by the CDC to the cruise lines.
"Future orders and technical instructions will address additional activities, to include simulated voyages, conditional sailing, and restricted voyages to help cruise lines prepare for and return to passenger operations in a manner that mitigates COVID-19 risk among passengers and crew members," the CDC told Cruise Critic in an email earlier this month.
"We anticipate the next phase of technical instructions (Technical Instructions for Port and Local Health Authorities Agreements) to be released in the next few weeks."
The lack of clear guidance and technical information has left cruise lines with little information to pass along to consumers, travel agent partners and other stakeholders.
"We don't have dates yet," said Royal Caribbean's Freed, speaking on her February 10 Coffee Chat with travel advisors about test cruises. "We don't have any more information. But as soon as we do, we promise we will get that information to you."
Exterior on Voyager of the Seas
Asked whether Royal Caribbean, or CLIA -- the Cruise Lines International Association, the governing body that represents much of the cruise industry -- could be pushing the CDC and federal government harder for restart plans, Freed noted diplomacy and tact need to take a front seat.
"When you're working with the government, it has to be a partnership," said Freed.  "We can't push them to sail. We have to tread very carefully with them, and we want them to be a good partner.
"We don't have any answers yet, because we don't have any answers."
A spokesperson for Royal Caribbean told Cruise Critic the line was still working on test voyages, and those interested in volunteering would be notified in due course.
"The CDC has made test sailings mandatory and at this point we’re still looking for guests and crew to sail on these.," a spokesperson said in an email. "We’re still working on a date and will let our guests know as soon as possible."
During Carnival Corporation's fourth-quarter earnings call in January, Carnival Corporation President and CEO Arnold Donald stated that it is still waiting on additional guidance from the CDC before it can resume operations.
"It's a work in process," said Donald. "We have calls as often as we need with them…we're on track to be able to do whatever we need to do in a very timely manner to be able to resume cruise."

What Happens Next for 2021 Test Cruises

Ship Exterior on Liberty of the Seas
Until the CDC delivers the necessary technical guidance to cruise lines, no test voyages will take place.
Until those test voyages take place, no cruises from or to U.S. ports of call can take place, either, for the duration of the Framework for Conditional Sailing.
The CDC's framework will remain in effect until November 1, 2021.
While clamping down heavily on cruise activities, the CDC has allowed other forms of travel to continue largely unfettered as the global health pandemic continues to flourish in the United States.
This includes hotels with known COVID-19 outbreak being allowed to continue to operate, and flights with known COVID-19 exposures being allowed to fly both domestically and internationally.
Empty Air Canada A320 Airbus (Photo: Aaron Saunders/Cruise Critic)
One passenger on a United Airlines flight
even died of COVID-19
while onboard a flight from Orlando to Los Angeles.
 The lack of progress being made on test cruises and restart plans as a result of the CDC's reticence to work with individual lines and CLIA is just one of several issues weighing down on the cruise industry at the moment.
Last week, Transport Canada banned nearly all cruise activities in its territorial waters until February 28, 2022, jeopardizing the bulk of cruises scheduled for Alaska, Canada and New England, the Great Lakes and the Canadian Arctic.
New Zealand authorities have also inflamed the situation Down Under, first granting approval for French expedition line Ponant to restart voyages from Auckland for New Zealand passengers, then revoking it at the last minute as the ship neared Auckland.
Ponant canceled the entire season of sailings, affecting over 700 passengers.
Without government cooperation domestically and abroad, the cruise industry faces a long path to recovery ahead.

Updated February 11, 2021

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