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FAQ: What Are the Latest Cruising Rules From the CDC?

Senior Editor, News and Features
Aaron Saunders

Apr 14, 2021

Read time
4 min read

On April 1, 2021, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released additional technical guidance for cruise lines as its long-standing Framework for Conditional Sailing continues to sideline the majority of the U.S. cruise industry. Last spring it issued an extended no-sail order that was renewed several times before being replaced by the Conditional Sailing Order in October of 2020.

We break down what the ruling means – and what cruisers can expect as long as the CDC's guidance remains in place.

Does the CDC order apply to cruises around the world?

No. The CDC's Framework for Conditional Sailing only affects passenger ships carrying over 250 people (passengers and crew) intending to operate overnight cruises 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. Ships in the United States that are American flagged and carry fewer than 250 passengers and crew are also exempt.

The CDC order places limiteations on cruising from the U.S. until at least November 1, 2021. Will my cruise set sail?

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 cruise lines look to the UK, Caribbean and parts of Europe and Asia to restart in.

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 can absolutely not proceed, these cruises technically remain active.

I have a cruise booked for November 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.

My cruise starts in Vancouver / Seattle but sails to Alaska. Will it be canceled?

Canada has banned all cruise traffic through February 28, 2022, effectively cancelling any departures to or from Canadian ports of call for the remainder of the 2021 season.

However, sailings to Alaska from Seattle face a double-whammy: they cannot sail under current CDC restrictions and, even if they could, they are still reliant on Canadian ports of call to satisfy the U.S. Passenger Vessel Services Act, which stipulates foreign-flagged ships must call at a "distant foreign port" in order to sail roundtrip from the U.S.

I'm booked 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.

I'm vaccinated against COVID-19. Why can't I set sail?

Under the CDC's current guidance, being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 is not enough protection to be allowed to resume cruise operations from the United States. Numerous cruise lines have, however, already begun mandating full vaccination against COVID-19 for all passengers and crew.

How is the Industry responding?

For the past year, the cruise industry has tried to work with the CDC, and continues to do so. However, as 2021 enters the spring and summer months, growing calls from the industry and U.S. political figures to allow ships to set sail by July 2021 are starting to be heard, providing some limited hope that cruises can resume from the United States this summer.

However, cruise lines have begun seeking alternative homeports in the Caribbean, Asia, UK and Europe in an attemmpt to restart cruise operations.

Updated April 14, 2021
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