(4:25 p.m. EDT) -- Cruise lines -- and people who love sailing on cruise ships -- greeted the news that lines can begin a phased resumption of service with a sigh of relief, as well as more questions.
The 40-page directive from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is called the "framework for conditional sailing" and outlines the lengthy process that cruise lines must go through to begin taking passengers again.
The requirements put forth by the CDC, such as COVID-19 testing for all passengers and crew at both embarkation and debarkation, are, in some cases, more onerous than the industry recommended in its Healthy Sail document that it filed with the agency in September.
Still, at least the lines can move forward with the process of bringing back crew and implementing new procedures on the ships.
Cruise Line Reactions
Cruise stocks immediately soared after the CDC announcement came out Friday. But in their statements, the lines seem to be taking a more measured reaction.
"Today's announcement establishes a pathway for our ships to return to service, and that's an important step in the right direction," the Royal Caribbean Group said in a statement.
"While we are eager to welcome our guests back on board, we have a lot to do between now and then, and we're committed to taking the time to do things right. This includes training our crew in new health and safety protocols and conducting a number of trial sailings to stress-test those protocols in real-world conditions.
"We will continue to work closely with both CDC and the Healthy Sail Panel as we make our plans, and we are confident in our ability to mitigate the risks of the pandemic and protect the health of our guests, our crew and the communities where we sail."
"Carnival Cruise Line will continue to work with the CDC on an eventual return to guest cruise operations," the line said in a statement. "We are evaluating the CDC’s new order that sets out the conditions under which cruising can resume, but there are a significant number of requirements that must be evaluated in the context of our plans to resume operations. We ask our guests, travel advisors and community and destination partners for their patience as we complete our review. We are committed to communicating more details as soon as possible.”
And from Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings: "Today the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) issued the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (the “Order”), a roadmap for the steps the CDC will require for resumption of cruise voyages in the U.S. We will closely review the Order and continue to partner with global and domestic authorities, including the CDC, to chart a path forward."
In an email to customers, Celebrity Cruises President Lisa Lutoff-Perlo noted that the restart would take some time.
"While we are eager to welcome all of you back on board, we have a lot to do between now and then, and we’re committed to taking the time to do things right. This includes training our crew in new health and safety protocols and conducting a number of trial sailings to stress-test those protocols in real-world conditions.
"We will continue to work closely with both the CDC and the Healthy Sail Panel as we make our plans, and we are confident in our ability to mitigate the risks of the pandemic and protect the health of our guests, our crew, and the communities where we sail.
"I know you are as eager to get back to cruising as I am and as soon as we have more information to share, we will. Your continued support as we navigate through this means so very much to all of us at Celebrity Cruises. Please stay healthy and I look forward to seeing you back on board very soon."
The Cruise Lines International Association, the industry's largest trade organization, put out the following statement:
"Guided by the recommendations of leading experts in health and science, including the Healthy Sail Panel (HSP), our members are 100% committed to helping to protect the health of our guests, our crew and the communities we serve, and are prepared to implement multiple layers of protocols informed by the latest scientific and medical knowledge. We will continue to evolve our approach as circumstances evolve.
"The economic consequences of the ongoing suspension of service are felt in communities across the United States, and with hundreds of thousands of jobs at stake, we are committed to resume sailing in a responsible manner that keeps public health in the forefront. We look forward to reviewing the Order in greater detail and working with the CDC to advance a return to cruising from U.S. ports."
Excitement -- and More Questions
On the Cruise Critic boards, members expressed excitement and relief that a plan for resumption was in place, coupled with skepticism and even more questions.
"At least the CDC has finally come out with some information and a 'road map' of sorts for the cruise lines to get back to cruising with passengers. It will be interesting to see how this plays out," farmersfight wrote in a thread.
"I'd say this is a positive sign. And you can bet your bottom dollar that the major cruise lines sailing from the U.S. are going to do everything in their power to meet the guidelines. I'd say out the gate that MSC will do best since they've had more than 2 months sailing in Europe, and their efforts have been very successful,"DCGuy64 wrote in a thread titled "We are back in business."
Many noted that some of the restrictions in the framework seemed difficult to understand. Passengers on the volunteer simulation voyages must have a note from a health care provider that they have no pre-existing medical conditions that put them at a higher risk for COVID-19, for example. That could be subject to interpretation, several posters noted; There has been no medical explanation yet as to why some people suffer more than others when they catch the virus.
"It seems like there are lots of hoops for them to jump thru BEFORE (they) can even announce a start date for cruising," molly361 wrote in a thread.
While some people were eager to volunteer for test sailings, others said they would wait to see what the final product looked like before getting onboard.
Said Hurricane0226 in another thread: "Hopefully cruise lines get it right so they can continue to operate safely."
Many people wondered about their current booked cruises; while all CLIA lines had suspended sailings through the end of November, many people have December and early 2021 cruises booked.
"Not trying to pour cold water on the good news but some people will be disappointed, it seems that many have forgotten about the reduced capacity which means joy for some but not for others," sidari wrote.
Other posters told people to calm down and let the process unfold.
"Simply put, this order is a start-up, temporary order to test systems, tweak them, and get a billion-dollar business going," Joseph2017China wrote. "It is time to sit back, let the experts figure it out, and hopefully sometime in December, actual paying cruises will happen. One step at a time."