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The CDC Treats the Cruise Industry Unfairly, Voluntary Program Not Necessary to Have Comfort Sailing, Cruise Critic Readers Say

Executive Editor, U.S.
Chris Gray Faust

Feb 15, 2022

Read time
5 min read

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has been treating the cruise industry unfairly and holding it to a higher standard than other forms of travel, a majority of Cruise Critic readers said in a survey.

The survey of 4,025 U.S. readers was sent out February 13, after the CDC announced new voluntary guidelines for the cruise industry in the U.S. Cruise Critic developed the survey to understand how our readers feel about the recent announcement and the CDC’s ongoing oversight of the cruise industry.

What emerged from the survey results: Cruise Critic readers approve of most of the protocols that the cruise lines have self-imposed to sail, including vaccine requirements for passengers and crew, as well as pre-cruise testing, and prefer using those rather than any new CDC guidelines to determine whether a ship is safe.

A full 63% of Cruise Critic readers also think that the CDC has been treating the cruise industry unfairly compared with other types of travel -- nearly one third of whom feel that while the government started off with necessary requirements, the guidelines have now moved into unfair territory. Only 32% feel that the CDC is currently being fair and that their guidelines are necessary.

What are the CDC Voluntary Protocols?

The complicated new series of protocols released by the CDC last week include stricter quarantine rules for people who test positive onboard, including the inability to retest for false positives and isolation times that are longer than is required by the CDC on land; a new grading system for ships, based on vaccination status; and daily updates from the ship reporting COVID-19 status among crew and passengers.

The cruise lines are expected to let the CDC know whether they will adopt the guidelines by the end of the week. The three cruise lines that make up Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings – Norwegian, Oceania and Regent – said publicly that they would join a CDC voluntary program, but that was before the specific requirements were released.

When the guidelines came out, the cruise industry organization Cruise Lines International Association expressed public concern that the CDC requirements seemed so much more onerous than what is required in other industries, particularly as COVID-19 case loads were dropping and U.S. states have been lessening protocols.

As part of its recent survey, Cruise Critic asked readers for their thoughts on the new program’s protocols. Fifty-three percent said that they did not agree with the CDC guidelines and felt that cruising should be held to the same standards as all other forms of travel. About a third said they supported the new CDC protocols, while the rest did not voice an opinion.

Does 'Gray Status' Matter?

Cruise lines who choose not to follow the CDC's new voluntary guidelines will be given "gray status" on the organization's website. Of the Cruise Critic readers surveyed, 37% said that they would only book with cruise lines that followed the new CDC guidelines.

The majority (58%) said they would feel comfortable booking with a ship that had a gray status – either preferring to review the cruise line protocols themselves and book based on their own comfort level, or they simply aren’t concerned about the safety protocols in place onboard.

Enhanced Cleaning, Vaccine Requirements Make Cruisers Comfortable -- But Masks Do Not

Cruise Critic asked readers which safety precautions from the cruise lines would make them feel comfortable booking. Enhanced cleaning and disinfecting took the top spot, with 79% citing that as an important factor. Vaccination requirements for crew and passengers were important to 72% and 71% of the readers, respectively.

Other onboard protocols that received high votes for engendering comfort included sailing with fewer guests onboard (58%) and pre-cruise COVID-19 testing (51%). Booster requirements for both passengers and crew also received significant percentages of 46% and 47%, respectively.

What passengers considered the least necessary, in terms of onboard protocols? Masks, which is perhaps not surprising as more states shed these requirements. Only 16% of readers said they needed a mask requirement to feel comfortable booking.

Cruise Critic Readers Speak Out

In the survey, Cruise Critic gave readers space to voice more comments on the CDC's latest cruise announcement and ongoing oversight. Many comments spoke of the disconnect between the voluntary guidelines proposed by the CDC and the reality of what the cruise lines have already been doing to keep cruise ships safe.

"Oversight of governmental agency in establishing a 'conditional sail order' standard has helped the cruise industry regain credibility and return to sailing," one reader wrote. "However, there should be a 'middle ground solution' to the seemingly stricter standards. For example, allowing a re-test when a positive test occurs (false positives are real and should be recognized) allowing cruise line and passenger a “win-win” strategy … I feel there are unfair elements of the new conditional sail restrictions and guidelines. The CDC should be willing to work through these to the benefit of both sides."

"The part I don't like are the quarantine restrictions -- being trapped in a special room with no human contact (including, apparently, my party members who are also, apparently, required to quarantine) is disconcerting. I'd want a guarantee of better treatment than that," wrote another.

"Before final payment is made, how will I know the level that my particular cruise ship is aligned to?" asked another reader. "Will I get a 100% refund if the ship does not meet the compliance level that it was when I was booked? I'm happy with maintaining all CDC compliance that has been best practice before this new and difficult to follow set of standards."

And finally, "COVID is a moving target," another reader wrote. "Does the CDC plan to change these requirements as COVID becomes endemic?"

Updated February 15, 2022
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