Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings announced it will voluntarily join the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's COVID-19 Program For Ships Operating in U.S. Waters.
The opt-in program replaces the outgoing Conditional Sail Order, which expired at 12:01 a.m. EST on Saturday. The controversial Order -- which succeeded the Agency's original No-Sail Order brought in by the CDC in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in March of 2020 -- lasted for 673 days.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings -- which counts Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania and luxury cruise line Regent Seven Seas among its brands -- has committed to reporting data to the CDC about COVID-19 cases onboard, and to adhering to stringent health and safety protocols developed in conjunction with the CDC.
"The health and safety of our guests, crew and communities we visit is our number one priority," said Frank Del Rio, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings' president and CEO. "We have demonstrated this commitment since our return to service in July of last year, with protocols that exceeded those required by regulatory agencies, including 100 percent vaccination of guests and crew, universal testing of all guests prior to embarkation and routine testing of all crew.
"Furthering our commitment to health and safety, with the expiration of the CDC’s Conditional Sail Order, our three brands have opted into the CDC’s voluntary Program, which provides the cruise industry with a set of operating provisions to protect the health and safety of guests and crew."
Del Rio said NCLH's adoption of the voluntary Program would give guests, crew, travel partners and other stakeholders the assurance that the brands will continue to meet and exceed the provisions laid out by the CDC.
He added: "[It will also] provide unparalleled health and safety protocols not found in any other sector of the travel and leisure space."
By joining the CDC's voluntary program, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings' brands will continue to report data and statistics about COVID-19 cases onboard to the CDC, which the agency will then use to update it color-coded chart outlining cases aboard cruise ships.
That reporting data has sometimes been used against the industry due to its availability. No other form of travel within the United States is currently held to the same reporting standards as the cruise industry, as Del Rio bitterly noted in a conference call last week.
NCLH will also continue to adhere to the policies and protocols developed by its SailSAFE program. Del Rio has been unapologetic about the stringent health and safety protocols developed by the company."
While Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings became the first major brand to commit to the CDC's new voluntary program, other lines are widely expected to join. Cruise Critic has reached out to other major cruise brands to gauge their intentions and will update this article as needed.
Regardless of whether lines opt-in to the CDC's new program, there is little chance of lines abandoning their health and safety protocols now the CSO has expired.
Expect cruise lines departing from U.S. ports of call to continue mandating full vaccination regimens for all eligible travellers, along with masking, testing and physical distancing mandates, well into this year.
Cruise Critic will update this article with more information as it becomes available